My first memories, first smells and sounds are of Angola, coloured by its African geography of heat and flavoured by its culture, spirituality and music. My experience of the continent was brief, since a handful of years later my parents returned to their homeland in Portugal, where I was raised in the northern grape-growing hills of Beira Litoral. Backpack on my shoulders, I began travelling on my own at the age of fourteen, first within Portugal and soon into the rest of Europe and the gates of Asia. Later, with my first steps into adulthood, I travelled and worked around the world for four years, having along the way also lived and worked in Canada, England and Australia. After seeing chunks of the planet and crisscrossing several longitudes and latitudes, I elected Canada as my desired place to drop new roots. I have chosen to live in this country, Canada, because I cherish a society where cultural diversity is encouraged.
I presume that I have struggled with challenges similar to those faced by immigrants anywhere. Issues of identity; of belonging and alienation; of integration, assimilation, and yes, also resistance to my country of acolhimento—shelter. I have boomeranged between Canada and Portugal while feeling neither Portuguese nor Canadian, and longing for that which I perceived missing on either side. In my state of separation, I have experienced torment and confusion, feeling separate from either culture. Exacerbating the experience, people have at times related to me as though I might be an alien, my voice revealing the accent of a newcomer.
With time, I realized I undermined myself by accepting other people’s views of me as my own. I realised I was the one uncertain of who I was, the one who accepted their vision of myself. I began to find peace and balance when I refused to fit myself to the real or perceived demands from the state, the community and the nations on either side of the Atlantic, and refused accepting their expectations and judgments as my own. I know now I am the one who can change what I feel about who I am. This metamorphosis began by accepting the differences and contradictions within me. I now feel 100% Canadian and 100% Portuguese, and no one else can alter that feeling. I will present you with a poem that might illustrate my arrival at this new understanding of myself.*
Diversity, as important in the construct of an individual identity as in the larger society, implies a vision of multiculturalism beyond clustered and isolated cultural islands dotting a country. I propose a multiculturalism rooted in the individual rather than the group, a personal cultural mosaic allowing you and me to interweave and belong to a complex hive of cultural heritages, languages and relationships.
I write in either English or Portuguese, as my mind travels the two linguistic landscapes. I know some of you do not speak or understand Portuguese; therefore at times I will translate the Portuguese. At other times I will not. I believe it is important to experience the sounds and sights of unfamiliar tongues, to embrace the experience of not knowing. I trust that meanings will surface as you observe the unfamiliar words of Portuguese. We can practice not understanding another and still be present for the experience.
In my life, I have engaged in a conscious effort to question the inherited values of cultural heritage and not merely swallow them through habituation. I want my values, including my cultural values, to reflect my conscious choices. This work of filtering and evaluating the cultural air one breathes and of making conscious choices is lifelong and requires stamina and perseverance. At the same time the recompense is exquisite. Culture is not born of immaculate conception or genetically acquired; it reflects the time and effort invested in cultivating its practice. Identity unfolds in action. As I choose to see myself as 100% Canadian and 100% Portuguese, I need only to share some of its traits to feel my full membership. I am an atypical Portuguese and an atypical Canadian. I am a Portuguese who has not eaten meat for twenty years, who eats olives for breakfast, dresses in all the colours of the rainbow. I am an odd Canadian too, one who does not apologize when, on a crowded bus, the person next to me has just stepped on my foot. I do not play the 6/49 lottery or watch ice hockey. It is my participation at a political, social and community level that provides me with cultural membership in the Canadian and Portuguese societies. I am an engaged citizen in both cultures. I no longer need to be glued tight on all sides of my being to feel connected and to discover a sense of belonging to either culture.
essay excerpt ©1998paulodacosta
Beyond Bullfights and Ice Hockey
The Architecture of a Multicultural Identity
- Paperback: 208 pages
- Publisher: Boavista Press; (2015)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0996051139 ISBN-13: 978-0996051132