The work of memory among African immigrants in Lisbon
José Sobral (Universidade de Lisboa)
Paper short abstract:
This paper focuses on the memories and hopes of immigrants from S. Tomé e Príncipe. The author has registered a continuous conversation among them, where memories and dreams are interweaved, keeping their collective (national) identity alive and empowering them individually with a sense of belonging, mutuality and wellbeing in a foreign society.
Paper long abstract:
After the demise of its colonial empire in 1975, Portugal became the home of migrants from its colonies of Africa, trying to escape from extreme poverty. Among them were citizens of the new country of S. Tomé e Príncipe (St. Thomas and Prince Islands). Most live in the Lisbon area and work in poorly paid jobs. This paper focuses on the memories and hopes of adults of S. Tomé e Príncipe, among whom the author has been conducting research for some years. Both at their homes and at their Association, he has been an observer of a continuous conversation where past and present, memory and dreaming, trauma, nostalgia and hopes are closely interweaved. This conversation, in conjunction with commemoration and rituals, keeps their collective (national) identity alive and empowers them individually with a sense of belonging, mutuality and wellbeing in a society where the majority of them feel marginalised and excluded. Most of them dream of returning, and hope that some "miraculous" event - such as the recent discovery of oil in its territorial waters - will improve the living conditions of the country. The realistic possibility of settling permanently and be buried in Portugal is never evoked. Focusing on the memories and dreams of the immigrants, my paper takes in due consideration how the identity of the agents, particularly in terms of class and gender, and their relative feelings of inclusion and exclusion, the presence of the (Portuguese) ethnographer and the circumstances of the conversations affect the contents of their discourses.
Being human, being migrant: dealing with memory, dreams and hopes in everyday life