Imperial Heritage and Diasporic Memory in the Portuguese American Narrative of North America
Public Historian, 38: 1 (February 2016)
To you, oh famous race! There shall not fail
Honor, fame, valor, glorious in tale.
Luís Vaz de Camões, The Lusiads: Canto X-73
(quoted in a Portugal Day pamphlet distributed by the Miguel Corte-Real Memorial Society in 1956)
After the Second World War, the Portuguese authoritarian and imperialist regime known as the Estado Novo asserted itself as a pluricontinental nation and its empire as a benign experiment in multiracial equality. Lisbon’s diplomats in the United States tried to coalesce their expatriate communities in North America and nurture a subsidiary expatriate identity under Portugal’s Cold War Western humanist imperial discourse. Those communities in turn used the resources provided by their homeland‘s international propaganda to improve their status in both host and home nations.
In this article I explore the politics of Portuguese American heritage advocates in New England and California, who sought to reclaim and memorialize the feats of sixteenth-century Portuguese explorers/conquistadores Miguel Corte-Real and Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo. By commemorating the exploits of early Portuguese “discoverers” who explored the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of North America, along with other “pioneering heroes” of immigration, ethnic leaders inserted their story in the foundational Eurocentric narratives of North America. By doing this, they sought to free their immigrant community from the stigmas of “foreignness” and “dual-loyalty”, and secure their “full citizenship” within white America’s national narrative, while affirming a distinct cultural and political constituency. However, these commemorations also strengthened the imperial narratives of the European “founding nations” of the United States, which further marginalized these countries’ indigenous populations.
This article explores the local, national, and transnational politics involved in these heritage campaigns; their racial and gendered dimensions; how they conflated the contradictory yet mutually empowering interests of Portuguese immigrants, North American politicians, and Estado Novo officials; how they advanced Portugal’s imperialist foreign policy agenda; and how they further marginalized the colonized indigenous peoples of North America. Here I engage Robert Harney, Anne-Marie Fortier, Matthew Jacobson, and others. Originally written as a chapter in my dissertation, I have turned it into a journal article, published in the University of California Press’ and National Council on Public History’s journal The Public Historian, 18: 1 (February 2016): 18-47.
The article can be downloaded here.