PEDRO RUPIO, 25, is one of the approximately 20.000 Portuguese living in Brussels. He is an elected member of the Conselho das Comunidades Portuguesas - the Portuguese government advisory board on emigration. What he would like to see happen: that the Portuguese of Brussels stop deluding themselves into thinking they never actually left their native villages. And come out and show the town that there is more to Portuguese culture than Fado, Fatima & Futbol. And grilled sardines.
"I was born in Belgium. My mother moved here from the Portuguese Alentejo region in the late seventies; my father has a mixed Vietnamese-French-Guadeloupian background. I call myself a Luso-Belgian: half Belgian, half Portuguese. But more than feeling Belgian, I feel a sense of belonging in Brussels. This is just the kind of town for someone with a background as gaudy as mine. And the Brussels' sense of humour and joie de vivre doesn't harm either."
"Living among the Portuguese abroad, or being Portuguese in Portugal: it's a completely different experience. Migrants tend to get frozen in the culture from their land as it was when they left it. Most of the Portuguese immigrants to Brussels in the 1960s and 1970s came from the countryside (first the Alentejo, then the North) and brought their rural traditions with them. When first generation migrants go back, they really return to an unknown country. The Portuguese diaspora is more like a nation on itself, a kind of archipelago of old village cultures under a bell jar. This is very clear at our national holiday celebrations, every 10th of June on the Van Menen Square in Saint Gilles: village folklore from days gone by. Present day Portugal is nowhere to be found there. I would like to see this celebration transformed into a showcase for contemporary Portuguese culture: tourism and gastronomy, but also literature, architecture, design, art... There is so much more than just football and sardines!"
"The second and third generations of Luso-Belgians aren't closely connected to contemporary Portugal either. I myself speak Portuguese pretty well, complete with an Alentejo-accent... But people my age often only have a passive knowledge of the language: when they speak it, they mix it up with French, turning it into what we call "Françugais". This is a form of Portuguese shot through with mongrel words like "pobella" for dustbin, after the Frenchpoubelle -- in Portuguese, we say caixote do lixo. That is why I want to foster the knowledge of Portuguese among the Luso-Belgians, through language education in Saturday schools. After all, as Pessoa said: "Minha pátria é a língua portuguesa" - my fatherland is the Portuguese language.
"I really want us to break with the Portuguese migrants' tradition of invisibility. We have our part to play in society. The first generation felt no such need. Their keeping such a low profile probably had a lot to do with being conditioned by the Salazar regime, which they were fleeing. I can understand that. But young Luso-Belgians are coming out of their isolation. We welcome cultural exchange, not only with Belgians, but with all the other migrant communities in Brussels. To give you just one example: not only do we Portuguese have seven centuries of history in common with the Moroccans; we also sit side by side on the school benches of Ixelles and Saint Gilles. Still, there's no real interaction. We're both in our own ghetto."
“It is also crucial for the Portuguese community to let its voice be heard. That is why we call upon all the Luso-Belgians to register for the Belgian, European and Portuguese elections. Today, of the 40.000 Portuguese in Belgium, only 2.500 are registered voters and only 600 of those do actually vote. That is not good enough. Because “quem não vota não conta”: who doesn’t vote, doesn’t count… We must also have more weight in Portuguese politics. After all, the 4.5 million Portuguese who live abroad send back considerable sums of money: at one point up to 10% of the GNP. These transfers were as important in rebuilding the Portuguese economy over the last few decades as EU-funds were. So a little more recognition from our country of origin would not be out of place.
2nd and 3rd generation Luso-Belgians are still strongly attached to Portugal. They will have a Portuguese flag, support a Portuguese football-team and spend their summer holidays there. And they have not given up on the idea of definitively returning either. Look at me: I bought a small house south of Lisbon, and hope to one day live my life travelling to and from between Portugal and Belgium."
By Veerle Devos