|Portuguese prime minister Pedro Passos Coelho accompanied by his wife, their daughter (in his arms) and his stepdaughter (right)|
What they miss is that migration to Portuguese-speaking Africa is hardly a new trend. Over the past few years, these countries have witnessed a significant surge in Portuguese arrivals, with the inflow of remittances from Africa rising sharply. According to the economist and now minister of economy Álvaro Santos Pereira, it increased 254-fold between 1996 and 2009.
Angola is now one of the favourite destinations for Portuguese migrants: about 100,000 Portuguese live there, whereas in Mozambique the estimates point to 20,000. In both cases the trend is the same: officially, there are now more Portuguese living in those countries than Angolans and Mozambicans living in Portugal (about 26,000 and 3,000 respectively). The trend can also be explained by the increase of Portuguese investment in these countries. Angola, for one, is the main importer of Portuguese products outside Europe.
In Portugal, the mainstream media has reported the new migration wave as a kind of new El Dorado. In glossy magazines, successful migrants are pictured wandering around big villas, bossing around teams of servants. But, particularly in the Angola case, there's another part of the picture that you'll only get if you chat with some of the Portuguese who flee there to live in a non-democratic country which now dictates economic rules to its former colonisers. The reversal of power relations between the former colonised and former colonisers may finally force Portugal to confront the issue of race.
This represent a considerable cultural shift. For years, modern Portugal has been struggling to find a way of talking about national identity and race. Even though Portugal has racial profiling, race crime and the daily subordination of black people by whites, most Portuguese would deny that their country has significant "racial problems" – that's what they have in America, France or the UK. Such attitudes are a hangover from the dictatorship years and the "luso-tropicalism" ideology created by the Brazilian Gilberto Freyre in the 1950s, which spread the idea that the Portuguese were better colonisers – and that ongoing British or French soul-searching over race was a result of "bad colonising".
Unlike America, Portugal has never got its head around hyphenated identities. There are luso-africanos, but you'd be pushed to hear anyone use that compound on the street, and it's even controversial in an institutional context. The term "black-Portuguese" is unheard of; the word "race" itself so rarely mentioned that it sounds strange and foreign. The terms you do hear people use are "second-generation immigrants", "immigrants' offspring" or, with cosmopolitan pretension, "new Portuguese". It sends out a clear message to non-white Portuguese: however hard you try, you'll always be newbies in this country (conveniently ignoring the fact that a black presence in Portugal dates back to the 15th century).
There are ideological reasons behind this attitude too. Some argue that identifying people by their race is discriminatory. There seems to be a similar logic behind the fact that Portuguese authorities keep no data on ethnicity or race. Take the recently released census data, which confidently predicts the population is now heading for more than 10 million, but remains completely race blind. Unofficial figures are contradictory and unreliable. (There could be 300,000 black Portuguese, I was told a year ago by one researcher. Another said there were 500,000. Another thought the number was much higher.)
You might argue that none of this should matter, of course. And yet, without appropriate data, can you honestly argue that the lack of social mobility in poorer communities has more to do with class than race, as some argue? Ignoring race completely means burying your head in the sand, and accepting Portugal as a country that is uniformly white. We are race blind, but not for the right reasons.
The recently appointed prime minister, the conservative Pedro Passos Coelho, is married to a black woman. In contemporary Portuguese politics, this is still a novelty. Will that make him more sensitive to questions around race? Will it make us talk more openly about race? Until now, nothing on his agenda makes us think so. Source: Guardian
His wife Laura Maria Garcês Ferreira was born (1974) in Guinea-Bissau and is a Physiotherapist. Her father is mixed Portuguese and Cape verdean and her mother is mixed Portuguese and Bissau-Guinean. She is married to Passos Coelho since 2004.
A video (2006) of Amnesty International made for an anti-racism campaign to combat the Portuguese intolerance against African, Brazilian and Chinese immigrants
Angolan-born Francisca Van Dunem is Portugal's first black minister