Thanks to ISIS of the first millennium, many Portuguese have decidedly olive toned skin, brown eyes, and kinky hair. Before the Moors invaded, we were part of Visigothic Hispania, along with Spain. In the untelevised prequel to what has happened in Syria and Iraq, Southwest Asia, and the Maghreb (The area of North Africa taken over by the Moors), the Saracen invaded the Iberian Peninsula. Those conquering Mohammedans rolled their Jihadi army all the way to the gates of Paris before being fought back to the Pyrenees Mountains by the Frankish King Charles Martel. With the current French terror attacks on Charlie Hebdo, it looks like France could use another Charlie the Hammer.
Deciding to call well enough good, the first Islamists consolidated their gains and imposed Dhimmitude on the Iberian people for the next 500 years. After five centuries of institutionalized discrimination, crippling taxation under the Jizya, murder, forced conversions to Islam, and outright slavery (Does any of this sound familiar?), is it any wonder Portuguese are the darkies off in a forgotten corner of southern Europe?
Historically, the British, Spanish, and French colonized most of the world, but the initial legwork was accomplished by Portagees. Prince Henri the Navigator commissioned explorations for much of the world.
Here are some discoveries and firsts. What do they all have in common?
- 1419 – Zarco and Tristao Vaz Teixeira discovered the Madeira Islands
- 1427 – Diego Silves discovered the Azores Islands
- 1444 – Cape Verde Islands discovered and colonized
- 1484 – Diogo Cao discovered the Congo River
- 1487 – Bartholomeu Dias lead the expedition around the Cape of Good Hope
- 1498 – Vasco da Gama reaches India navigating around Africa
- 1500 – Pedro Alvares Cabral discovers Brazil
- 1501 – Gaspar and Miguel Corte Real explored Greenland and Newfoundland
- 1519 – Ferdinand Magellan circumnavigated the globe
- 1542 – First Europeans to land in Japan
I don’t think I have to spell it out. You get the idea. I’m not saying other nationalities didn’t do just as much, but credit is deserved where it is deserved. The Italians and Spanish try to hog all the glory when it comes to charting unknown lands, but they weren’t the only ones running around during the Age of Discovery.
The Portuguese mindset can be summed up as, “Hey, that place over there looks interesting. Let’s start a colony and force everyone who is already living there to work for us.”
We are an adventurous, seagoing people who are not afraid to take a gamble with our lives. Admittedly, we were early practitioners and chief instigators of the slave trade in the New World, but I’m pretty sure one of the other colonial powers would have gladly taken the lead on that project were they given the chance. It was just the way the world worked back then.
The diaspora that resulted from this Portuguese national wanderlust goes a long way to explaining tiny Portuguese enclaves around the world such as Goa (in India) and Macao (in China). Ask a Hawaiian about Portagees and he will likely go on a several minute long tirade.
I was utterly flabbergasted the day I met a Chinaman who spoke Portuguese.
The case can rightly be made that Portugal is (or at least, is descended from) a race of sailors and deployment widows. Maybe it was the location at the far end of Europe and consisting mostly of coastline that inspired daydreams about what lay over the horizon. Maybe it was generation after generation of tyrannical foreign rule making life at home so miserable that being crammed into a tiny boat for weeks at a time to face possible death in an unknown land seem like a better alternative. If not better, then no worse.
And sailors being sailors, we did a pretty thorough job of spreading our genetics around the world. The Spaniards and Frenchmen were no slouches at dispersing their DNA hither and yon, but for the most part, they had our sloppy seconds because we were there first. Imagine the Spanish landing somewhere and saying, “Shit. The Portagees beat us here, again.” The British were either disdainful of natives or possessed fantastically advanced forms of birth control, judging by results.
Between the genetic infusion of North African Moorish physical characteristics and the dusky hues of the indigenous people they seemed to have an appetite for (and frequently brought back with them), Portagees tend to be swarthy. Yes, we have some that look rather genteel, but I suspect they are from families that stayed home and did not otherwise practice miscegenation. Portugal may not have been a crossroads of cultures, but genetically speaking, it sure was a collector of them.
Portagees have continued a national habit of striking out from their homeland for greener pastures since the 1400’s. In more modern times, on arrival in their new country they take on occupations at the low end of the socioeconomic scale; manual labor, dairy farms, whaling, farm work, fishing, etc. I have never met, or for that matter even heard of, a Portuguese immigrant to the United States whose first job off the boat was anything close to what we would consider white-collar. Even if they were in Portugal, they all started off doing the shit jobs. There might be a few floating around, but I have yet to find one.
In that regard, Portagees are the Mexicans of Europe. Nobody would put up with us if it weren’t for us doing the jobs they won’t.
All the factors touched on above don’t make us unique in the world, but it makes us a little weird. As a culture, we have some very pronounced neurosis. We don’t know exactly where we belong, so we just try to fit in wherever we go. Brazilians don’t like us because even thought we speak the same language, we are too white and remind them of “the ruling class” back home. Other Europeans don’t like us because we are uppity, olive skinned slave traders, in their view. We ourselves don’t like Spanish speakers (with the possible exception of Argentinians since they are fascists, too) because…well, because they won’t learn Portuguese. We also have this really annoying habit of trying to take over the joint, but that’s because we’ve been taken over so many times, we don’t know any better. Blame the Romans for starting that pattern.
My Uncle-Cousin Jim is a perfect example. As a native son of Portugal, Jim immigrated legally to the United States as a teenager. We didn’t have the benefit of a land border, so my family had to wait their turn. Imagine that.
The Cunha family only had one illegal in it, and we actually cooperated with the government to have his stupid, drug addict ass deported over a decade ago. This family doesn’t tolerate shenanigans. We take care of our own, whether it is in the charitable or the punitive sense.
The reason my Uncle-Cousin Jim has a compound title is a little convoluted, and requires an understanding of life in remote locations. Americans, especially from the more urbanized areas, cast the southern United States as the butt of an awful lot of national humor. You know the stereotypes; uncouth, unwashed, quasi-barbaric, poorly educated, and generally backward. I think a lot of the images come, rightly or wrongly, from the environment. It’s an urban versus rural dynamic. Truth be told, Southerners can’t resist a good Yankee joke. It really is one group looking down on another for their percieved shortcomings. The difference is that in the South, we will laugh at “redneck” jokes just as readily as “Yankee” jokes. We don’t take ourselves overly serious.
Now, think about “hillbilly” stereotypes for a second. If someone can manage to have indoor plumbing, for example, there are precious few who would turn it down. The same goes for dental care, education, and most everything else. People like conveniences, and often the lack of them has to do with location. Generally speaking, the more remote you are from an urban center, the less access you have to things. Remoteness also breeds difference from the dominant culture.
And there are few more remote locations than the Azores, a volcanic archipelago of nine islands in the North Atlantic Ocean about halfway between Europe and Newfoundland. Until this century, there really wasn’t much else going on there other than dairy farming and fishing. It’s a good stopping point for ships and aircraft traversing the Atlantic, but that was the extent of non-agricultural industry. Think much like Hawaii, Midway, or Guam in the Pacific have been used as stopping points for voyagers. Prior to this century when tourists began to visit the Azores, the only reason to be there was because you were on the way to somewhere else, and that is exactly what many of the locals did.
I have this image of my grandfather looking at a boat in the harbor taking on fresh water and thinking, “I have to figure out a way to get myself on one of those. I don’t even care where it’s going. As long as it’s somewhere else.”
If Portagees are the Mexicans of Europe, Azoreans are considered the Portuguese Hillbillies. Every backwoods Appalachian stereotype Americans harbor about the Mountain People applies to how mainland Portugal views the Azores; remote, wild, uncivilized, and inbred. This is how we get to my Uncle-Cousin Jim. He isn’t inbred, as far as I know. He’s actually a great guy who taught me and Jake a lot about life. Sometimes it was intentional. Sometimes it was not.
One of my Aunts (there were six Cunha girls in total) married one of their first cousins, who was Jim’s brother. That means he started off as my second cousin and became an uncle by marriage. When my brother Jake and I pieced together the lineage as youngsters, we thought it would be hilarious to bestow the title of “Uncle-Cousin” on Jim. I’m pretty sure he peed on our lunch bags in retaliation, but it’s a small price to pay for a piece of storytelling gold like that.
Whether this stems from growing up in a shithole like the Azores or colonial avarice hard-coded into the DNA, wherever Portuguese go, they have a compulsion to own land, preferably with a domicile that can be rented out. That’s what every Portagee I’ve ever met wanted out of life. My family was no different.
On weekends and school breaks when Jake and I were not otherwise occupied with renovation projects for our parents, we would hire ourselves out to Uncle-Cousin Jim as laborers. By fourteen years old, I was earning as much as anyone else on the crew because I could hang sheet-rock and pour concrete with the best of them. Thanks to my dad, I was also a reasonably competent plumber and electrician. It didn’t hurt that I was already taller and physically stronger than the average Mexican picked up at Home Depot for day-labor, so what I lacked in skill was made up for in speed and carrying capacity.
That’s also where I decided that college would be a good idea because I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life swinging a hammer. At least, not building somebody else’s house.
At that time in my life, I did not know what a port-a-potty was. I was aware they existed, but I had never used one. If the toilet in the house we were working on was inoperable that was just too bad. That particular project was pushed up to the top of the list of things to fix because no Portagee was going to waste money on a plastic outhouse. It gives great clarity of purpose to have a turd prairie dogging while repairing a sewer pipe connection.
When it was going to be a long, toilet-less project, the great outdoors became our urinal. More specifically, the furthest point on the property away from the house so we didn’t stink the place up. When faced with a natural process of the solid variety, we resorted to a five gallon bucket lined with a garbage bag. Of course, being Portagees, the garbage bag part of that assembly did not occur to us until after the test drive.
I have taken more poops into a plastic bucket than I can remember. Believe it or not, I think it helped prepare me for working and living in what the military euphemistically calls “an austere environment.”
Mind you, these were the days before you could pop over to the local home improvement center and purchase a brand new, clean, shiny five gallon bucket. You might get lucky and find some at the Kelly Moore paint store, but that was rare. Paint already came in a five gallon bucket. And the idea of a watertight lid that screwed on was nothing more than a fairy tale.
So, as might be imagined, we guarded those empty buckets with our lives. They were multi-purpose. Besides being paint containers and toilets, they were:
- Work benches
- Garbage cans
- Wash basins
- Water bottles
- And on one unfortunate occasion, an emergency fish tank when the head flew off my hammer
Being the professional gallows humorists we are, Jake and I would append the modifier “Portuguese” to all these items. For example, a wheelbarrow was a Portuguese Pickup Truck. Electrical tape was a Portuguese First Aid Kit. A hammer was the Portuguese Debate Club…or as we got older, Portuguese Spanish Fly.
I could have been far worse off in life. Without having had instilled in me an adventurous spirit, the willingness to work like a donkey, and some privation of comforts, I certainly would not be able to make my living the way I do now. The lessons I learned growing up have also held me in good stead when life got tough financially. Creativity, ingenuity, and need combine to blossom the most when there is the least to work with. I try to instill these lessons in my children, especially around Christmas time.