Managing African Portugal: The Citizen-Migrant Distinction

Managing African Portugal: The Citizen-Migrant Distinction

by Kesha Fikes

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In Managing African Portugal, Kesha Fikes shows how the final integration of Portugal’s economic institutions into the European Union (EU) in the late 1990s changed everyday encounters between African migrants and Portuguese citizens. This economic transition is examined through transformations in ideologies of difference enacted in workspaces in Lisbon between the mid-1990s and the early 2000s. Fikes evaluates shifts in racial discourse and considers how both antiracism and racism instantiate proof of Portugal’s European “conversion” and modernization.

The ethnographic focus is a former undocumented fish market that at one time employed both Portuguese and Cape Verdean women. Both groups eventually sought work in low-wage professions as maids, nannies, and restaurant-kitchen help. The visibility of poor Portuguese women as domestics was thought to undermine the appearance of Portuguese modernity; by contrast, the association of poor African women with domestic work confirmed it. Fikes argues that we can better understand how Portugal interpreted its economic absorption into the EU by attending to the different directions in which working-poor Portuguese and Cape Verdean women were routed in the mid-1990s and by observing the character of the new work relationships that developed among them. In Managing African Portugal, Fikes pushes for a study of migrant phenomena that considers not only how the enactment of citizenship by the citizen manages the migrant, but also how citizens are simultaneously governed through their uptake and assumption of new EU citizen roles.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780822390985
Publisher: Duke University Press
Publication date: 11/17/2009
Series: e-Duke books scholarly collection.
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 218
File size: 1 MB

About the Author

Kesha Fikes is an anthropologist and independent scholar. She has taught in the departments of anthropology at the University of Florida and the University of Chicago.

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The Citizen-Migrant Distinction
By Kesha Fikes

Duke University Press

Copyright © 2009 Duke University Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8223-4512-1

Chapter One


In the introductory chapter I established that Lusotropicalism was an ideology about Portugal's experience of racial fraternity with those whom they colonized. This narrative was used to justify the maintenance of the colonial empire through the mid-1970s when most non-Portuguese colonies in Africa had been liberated by the 1960s. Lusotropical ideology would later be challenged by large-scale African labor migrations to Portugal beginning in the late 1950s. Because Lusotropical sentiment worked from a distance to justify events in the colonies, its irrelevance in the metropole, as experienced by African migrants, drew increased attention to its questionable status. But such scrutiny in Portugal, beginning in the 1980s, did not come from international social scientists as occurred previously. Instead, Portuguese leftists, activists, and resident African communities questioned the Lusotropicalist ideal in relation to the actual experience of African immigrants in Portugal. For African immigrants, specifically persons identified under colonialism as asimilados (the assimilated), civilizados (the civilized), mulatos, or mestiços, the dissolving importance of the ideology affected how they were seen and heard in relation to the supposed in-betweenness of their social status. These privileged colonial identities were variably recognized and valued in Portugal, namely in immediate social exchanges, through the mid-1990s. But something happened between 1974 and the mid-1990s, particularly to the "biological" categories mulato and mestiço-which I use interchangeably-that unsettled them as valuable descriptions of personhood.

In this chapter I describe the dual roles that multiculturalism and the state's interpretation of EEC/EU membership played in dismantling the visibility and thus the viability of the mestiço figure. This category stands apart from that of asimilado or civilizado-synonymous legal designations tied to Portuguese indigeneity policies-because mestiço identity, though often tied to these statuses, was both a social and a biological category that referenced miscegenation. I draw on the history of representations of race and racism in Portugal to outline the various social and institutional strategies that enabled diverse uses of Lusotropical ideology and provide a genealogy of events in which Portuguese-African sociality is reconfigured for diverse ends, such as securing Portugal's accession and economic integration processes.


In 2002 I witnessed something I could never have anticipated at a Lisbon theater during a public debate on the status of black representation. The objective of the debate, with five invited commentators and less than fifteen audience participants, was to generate a dialogue on race relations in contemporary Portugal. The commentators, who identified themselves to the audience either as white Portuguese professionals with Portuguese citizenship or as African professionals with either Portuguese citizenship or immigrant status, worked in the humanities, performing arts, and the social sciences. Everyone on stage understood him or herself as a leftist in the sense that their work aimed to lay bare racism and social marginalization to the general public. The commentators shared the belief that it was nearly impossible for black-identified Portuguese or African nationals to partake in artistic expressions recognized as modern or Western. In fact, they went so far as to argue that non-African-identified expressions were considered inappropriate for the black subject. One of the white commentators corroborated this claim by juxtaposing her experiences as an artist with those Africans. She noted that she too faced obstacles in terms of financial support, but never in terms of the content or message of her work. Next the speakers discussed the crisis of African authenticity or what I like to call, borrowing from Adrienne Rich, "compulsory" Africanity (Rich 1986). As the conversation developed, they linked different requirements for authenticity to different subjects: Portuguese-identified artists possessed the authority to define the narrative, while African-identified artists were supposed to simply receive this information, given their inherent Africanity instinctively guided their gestures. The African commentators then gave evidence of this claim noting how their prose, art, and performances were deemed inauthentic when private and state sponsors of multicultural venues complained that their productions were "not African enough." The white commentators nodded aggressively in agreement.

The first audience respondent, a white-identified Portuguese male who described himself as living and working in former Portuguese Africa, attempted to contribute to the panelists' discussion by problematizing the idea of authenticity. Focusing on dance and theater, he outlined why authenticity created a double bind for blacks. He addressed the ironies of African-inspired dance in Portugal, noting how Portuguese dance professionals were being supported through professional exchanges in Africa, their funding proposals generally including their intention to help sharpen and strengthen African dance techniques. He then added that funding for performers to travel to Portugal to receive training in Western dance genres was limited. African performers did seem to find ample support when they were on tour, he said, especially to African cultural events and to European multicultural venues, but the possibilities for mutual cultural exchanges between performers remained small. He concluded his commentary by stating that the very set-up of exchanges relied on a primitive Africa and a modern Portugal, with subjects from each of these locations staged in relationships that sustained a perverse dynamic. Dangerous imaginaries of African authenticity, he held, could be dismantled and transformed if black-identified performers were not blocked by what was popularly perceived as the limit of their "native potential."

What I found interesting about this person's commentary was not what I thought to be the productive argument; rather, more telling were the audience responses that followed from self-identified mulata artists, each with Portuguese citizenship. Several women responded, immediately challenging the analysis. The first began by stating that her father was white and Portuguese, while her mother was black and African, and that she was born in her mother's homeland in Lusophone Africa. Later in her adolescence she moved back and forth between Portugal and a country situated in northwestern Europe, where her family eventually relocated. Today, as a modern artist working and living between two different European countries, she was dismayed by the complete lack of interest in her work in Portugal, given that it was celebrated in her other home. She argued that in Portugal her work was perceived as having no specificity. Then, marking herself again as mulata, she said that she defined her work (in a market sense) as the conflation of African and European gestures and that Portuguese audiences found this description unpalatable. She then raised a poignant question: Why was this so, if to be mulata was to be Portuguese? She could understand this situation if it were happening in her other place of residence, but the very circumstance that united her parents was definitively Portuguese. She continued by asserting that her presentation of herself as mixed, or mestiça, was not questioned in her other place of residence.

I was puzzled by her juxtaposition of the cultural dynamics of race in these two European countries, as the citizenship and identity practices of her other place of residence, where bi-racial identity has no place in the popular or legal categories that recognize social difference-that is, where people are either white or non-white. It then occurred to me that her point, perhaps, was to emphasize history. For what did she mean by equating "mixed" status with things "Portuguese"? What was the root and goal of her critique? With intense and growing frustration in her voice, she continued by arguing that her identity as mixed was not appreciated in Portugal and that the celebration of discoveries and colonial benevolence-references that seemed to come from nowhere-were hypocritical because she herself was not really visible in Portugal inasmuch as her art no longer had a place in Portuguese society.

This woman's testimony rested on the idea that Portugal was supposed to recognize her and her art as distinctively mestiça, thus qualifying her for inclusion in the nation. This expectation was tied to her claim that to be mulato means to be Portuguese, a claim relying on the particular historical circumstance that brought her parents together in a former Portuguese African colony. In this sense, she used colonial history-and the way it resonates with a particular culturalist narrative-and her increasingly adverse relationship to it as the ground for her critique. By addressing the irony of benevolent depictions of colonization she seemed to be arguing that if she could not publicly embody this benevolence-through herself and the mixed essence of her art-then any insinuation of racial progress or equality in Portugal proves deceptive, fraudulent even, as is any contemporary notion that her identity has immediate value. Importantly, her argument depends on the idea that, at some point, mestiço identity was recognized and valued in Portuguese society: she presented her parent's marital union, marking a moment in the past, to establish a critique of postcolonial reality.

This person's nostalgia for tropicalist intimacy is essentialist, to be sure. However, if we reflect upon the ways EU Portugal continues to represent a version of this myth-for example, through references to "discoveries" that celebrate the colonial past without invoking the former colonial subject or the mixed body-then contemporary nationalist rhetoric is also a select version of the colonial past. The question, then, should not be one that problematizes essentialization; rather, and in consideration of the power differential between the interests of the Portuguese state and the mestiço subject, it should concern the political stakes involved in laying claims to a past already accepted as fictitious or obsolete. In other words, how can the same narratives of intimacy and familiarity once used by the state be invoked by the very subjects who wrote themselves as the victims of such fictions during the colonial wars (see also Scott 1999, 2004)?

The first woman's response was immediately followed by testimonies of other artists who positioned themselves similarly in racial terms. Amongst a seemingly mulato, black, and white crowd, as small as it was, there were no objections. The white Portuguese man, dismayed, walked out of the small auditorium before the testimonies ended. The panelists began to whisper among themselves in bewilderment, concerned about the unpopular political stance taken up by some in the audience. Twenty minutes later I learned of the panelists' frustration; they felt that no one got their collective point on the need to place equal value on the work of black and white artists. As for the audience members, everyone just looked ahead, in isolation. When the debate came to an end people left one by one, or in their respective cliques, in relative silence.

Thinking back to the Portuguese man's comment, I wondered what had inspired this new wave of authenticity in the first place, an authenticity where the performance of a concrete distinction between African and Portuguese identities was mediated through the state enforced dynamic he described. It seemed to have something to do with state-sponsored discourses that now equated diversity with multicultural projects in Portugal, not with former colonial discourses concerning Africa or Africans. But then I started to question the logic of the first audience respondent and the panelists: In what argument did they ground their position? Or rather, what was the moral-political claim that I at first assumed to be the "right" answer and later saw as just as ideologically grounded as other audience members' criticisms?

The arguments from the panelists and the first audience respondent supported the very binary that the state now supports and that bothered the other respondents. So while I originally believed that the first gentleman and the other respondents were not reaching each other, or rather, had not established common ground from which to debate, it later occurred to me that they had indeed been talking about the same thing and that the resulting silence marked a deep disagreement, not a misunderstanding. The comments of the mestiço audience members, because they were not usually voiced in public, could be taken as more radical in this context than those of the panelists or the Portuguese man. They are more radical in that the multiracial schema they support had become obsolete, while the rationale behind the Portuguese man's comment-though grounded in a leftist critique well beyond government policy-replicated the racial schema now considered normative and supported by the state. My point is not to advocate what the mulata respondents lamented or what the panelists pushed. Rather, I want to call attention to the fact that even the most liberal of critiques beg scrutiny, especially when the radical left and the neoliberal state are in agreement with each other: binarism-and hence the disappearance of the mulata figure-is now interpreted as the best method for guaranteeing equal recognition by opposing parties. The normalization of this binary is thus an important site for examining changes in the Portuguese national imaginary concerning social conduct, appropriate forms of recognition, and the management of the self in the presence of difference. The simultaneity of these events and Portugal's public commitment to a modern course of action generates questions about the role of difference in the country's interpretation of its new national status.

Accordingly, the remainder of this chapter discusses Portuguese engagements with difference through ideas about race and racism over time. My aim, however, is not to trace these reflections as representative of an absolute reality. Instead, I attend to the shifts to provide insight into the relationship between racial knowledge and social morality in Portugal. I am more concerned with the depth with which racial knowledge has differently permeated a public and private sense of selfhood, as opposed to questioning or confirming the mythic status of Lusotropicalism.


In the 1930s, the new Salazarian government commissioned colonial ethnologists to scientifically confirm the purity of Portuguese blood (Castelo 1998; Almeida 2000; Thomaz 2002). Arguably, this was a response to British critiques that drew racialized connections between Portuguese identity and the Portuguese state's "backward" forms of colonial governance (see note 1, this chapter). Physical anthropologists, including Mendes Corrêa (1943) and Eusebio Tamagnini (1934), were assigned to do comparative blood work on Portuguese populations. They compared the blood of those from the metropole to that of nationals in Madeira and the blood of indigenous subjects in Portuguese colonial Africa and India (see Bastos 1998, 2001, 2003; Almeida 2000; Roque 2001). These experiments had important implications for white Portuguese emigration to the colonies, specifically to Angola and Mozambique, which had the largest Portuguese settler populations. The studies emphasized that geographic and environmental setting had no impact on blood purity, as British critiques had insinuated in relation to the Portuguese in the eighteenth through the early twentieth centuries. The sojourning Portuguese subject, wherever placed in space, would remain racially pure so long as it did not mix with the natives.


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Table of Contents

Preface ix

Acknowledgments xix

Introduction 1

1. Miscegenation Interrupted 31

2. Ri(gh)tes of Intimacy at Docapesca 65

3. Black Magik Women: Policing Appearances 93

4. Being in Place: Domesticating the Citizen-Migrant Distinction 123

Afterword: After Integration 163

Notes 165

References 171

Index 183

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