Travelling Spirits, Localizing Roots: Transnationalisms, Home and Generation among Portuguese-Canadians in British Columbia

Abstract

The objective of this article is to address the relation between transnationalism and intergenerational transformations of the notions of home and belonging. While doing an ethnographic research in Vancouver, British Columbia, it was possible to pinpoint the existence of two discourses about Portuguese-Canadian ethnicity. The first one, centered on the Holy Ghost festivals, (re)produces an idea of ‘azoreanness’, albeit fragmented along the islands of origin, and is linked to specific social networks that go from Vancouver to the Azores. It is essentially fostered by the migrants that arrived in the region after the 1950s and to whom the festas are a constant reminder of the emotional, symbolic and social ties with these Atlantic Islands. The second discourse is fostered by the children of these migrants, which moved away from the Holy Ghost festas and the Portuguese Catholic Parish, and is centered on a notion of portugueseness. This enactment of a national identity has to be interpreted in the context of Canadian multicultural politics and specific diasporic politics developed by the Portuguese authorities in the region. Simultaneously, this second discourse is also part and parcel of an intergenerational social mobility process. Based on this ethnographic case study, this article has two main arguments: on one hand, I want to show how home and homeland are fields of struggle for hegemonic representation in the public domain and and on the other hand how such debates have to be interpreted in relation to local and transnational political contexts and subjectivities.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    This article is part of my participation in the project Ritual, ethnicity and transnationalism: The Holy Ghost festivals in North America Reference: PTDC/CS-ANT/100037/2008.

  2. 2.

    The Azores is an archipelago of nine volcanic islands—Flores, Corvo, Graciosa, Terceira, São Jorge, Pico, Faial, São Miguel e Santa Maria—located in the North Atlantic Ocean.

  3. 3.

    About this concept of home, Karen Fog Olwig (2002: 216) further argues that “(…) these two understandings and practices of home mutually reinforce and implicate one another. A home will not become a nodal point in concrete relations involving socioeconomic rights and obligations unless it receives some sort of recognition and validation through narratives and other kinds of symbolic expression among interacting individuals. Similarly, social and economic practices of home will have an important bearing on the kinds of narratives of home, which will be related by the individuals involved.” This paper corroborates this idea by showing how the notion of home fostered by the migrants themselves, in this case frequently associated with a specific household and domestic unit, not only is reinforced symbolically but it also has an impact on the reconfiguration of the conceptions of home among their children.

  4. 4.

    For a reflection on multicultural citizenship, see Kymlicka (1995) and Modood (2007), inter alia.

  5. 5.

    The Canadian government defines a ‘visible minority’ as ‘persons, other than aboriginal peoples, who are non-Caucasian in race and non-white in colour’. It is used as a demographic category and is connected with the employment equity act, which addresses labour market disadvantages among certain groups. The concept has been extensively criticized for its racist overtones and continues to be used by the administration as a whole.

  6. 6.

    Chief Kapialano was the leader of the Squamish people (the category Squamish was a colonial creation for governing purposes and led to a political federation of neighbouring villages) and a notable figure that fought the rights of the first nations in British Columbia. As elsewhere in Canada (see Ontario), recognized first nations, otherwise known as aboriginal Canadians in government discourses, are nowadays part of the public sphere of British Columbia and in Vancouver revealing examples are the Stanley Park, and how its history has been produced in close connection to the Squamish, Musqueam and Burrard first nations, and the Capilano bridge (it is interesting to note the simultaneous silences about the colonial violence). Both have become major touristic attractions in the region marketing first nations in a multicultural city. According to the employment equity act, first nations together with women, visible minorities and people with disabilities are considered groups to be supported.

  7. 7.

    In spite of some of the examples explored in this article, it is also possible to find several young Portuguese-Canadians to whom this second discourse was quite appealing for a while but soon after many abandoned these associations and initiatives, especially after marriage. For further reading about the relation between transnationalism, as an imaginary, and multiculturalism in Canada see Satzewich and Wong 2006; Goldring and Krishnamurti 2007).

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Mapril, J. Travelling Spirits, Localizing Roots: Transnationalisms, Home and Generation among Portuguese-Canadians in British Columbia. Int. Migration & Integration 18, 807–827 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12134-016-0502-0

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Keywords

  • Transnationalism
  • Home
  • Multicultural citizenship
  • Diasporic politics
  • Generations
  • Portuguese-Canadians
  • British Columbia