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Broad comparative perspective of Portuguese migration
Entrevista com Caroline Brettell
Doutorada em antropologia pela Universidade de Brown, EUA, também foi aí que Caroline Brettel fez o Master of Arts. É licenciada em Estudos Latino-Americanos pela Universidade de Yale. Em 2009 foi nomeada University Distinguished Professor da Southern Methodist University, nos EUA, onde lecciona. É directora do Dedman College Interdisciplinary Institute. +

Os seus principais interesses de investigação centram-se nas migrações, na intersecção entre a antropologia e a história, na demografia histórica, no género e no transnacionalismo. Desde os anos 1970 tem desenvolvido trabalho de terreno entre os emigrantes portugueses no Canadá, em França, nos EUA e, no Minho, entre os familiares daqueles, neste caso para analisar os impactos da emigração no país de origem.

Entrevista realizada por Skype, 12 de novembro de 2012, por Cláudia Pereira.


Observatório da Emigração (à frente OEm) - Maybe you could start by saying how the Portuguese emigration came into your life...

Caroline Brettell (à frente CB) - There is absolutely no connection to my personal life. I remember that in 1976, at a Conference in Toronto - where there is a large Portuguese community -, people from the community came up to me afterwardsand asked me "a senhora é portuguesa"? And I said "no, not at all". And they replied, "but you understand us so well"...


OEm - So, you spoke Portuguese at that time?

CB - When I was an undergraduate at Yale University, I was majoring Latin-American studies and one requirement for the major was to learn both Spanish and Portuguese. In my senior year in College I took intensive Portuguese. Then when I was applying to graduate school in Anthropolog – the field I decided to pursue for my Ph.D. I noticed that the Brown University had a new Program in Urban Anthropology. My senior essay at Yale had been on rural-urban migration, the migration from the countryside to cities, in Latin America. So, I was really interested in Urban Anthropology. I applied to that Program and when I was admitted, I had the chance in the summer, before I started graduate school, to work on a big project they had on immigration in the Rhode-Island area, in the city of Providence in particular.


OEm - Where a lot of Portuguese people live?

CB - Absolutely! So, that summer, because I had just learned the language, I started working with some of the Portuguese immigrant populations in the Rhode-Island area. So, it was really through the language that I got in to studying Portuguese immigrants. Then, the following summer we had to do a summer field research project, and then write a publishable paper. And I discovered that Toronto had a big Portuguese immigrant community.  I went off to the city of Toronto, and I actually lived in what is called the Kensington market area, which is a downtown outdoor market in an old neighborhood of immigration, and the most recent arrivals in that neighborhood were Portuguese, mostly families from the Azores. So, I lived in a house with two Azorean families; I had the room in the attic. I spent two months in that neighborhood and my first published paper, on "ethnic entrepreneurs" was based on that summer of research. In that house, one of the men had spent time in France, before he had come to Canada. I had a conversation with him about the migration of the Portuguese to France. I was looking around for a project for my Ph.D. dissertation in Anthropology. What intrigued me about the migration to France was that it was obviously much more possible for the Portuguese to move back and forth between Portugal and France. There wasn't a big Atlantic Ocean in the middle. At that time, there was no concept of transnationalism. We didn't have such easy ways for people to travel back and forth and to communicate as they are communicating right now. So, I thought that the ocean was a divider, separating people from their sending society; I was really interested in the possibility of more back and forth movement that the migration to France might represent.


OEm - When was that study?

CB - I was in Toronto in the summer of 1972.


OEm - Forty years ago...

CB - Oh my God! So, the other thing that happened to me was that I was a student of Louise Lamphere and she was one of the founders of the so-called Anthropology of Gender. It occurred to me that everybody thought that migration was characteristic of men and I thought "well, nobody has worked with women immigrants". I developed a research proposal to study Portuguese immigrant women in France and started the research in the summer of 1974 with funding from the Social Science Research Council in the US as well as the equivalent in Canada. I arrived in France in July of 1974, where I met Colette Callier Boisvert, a French anthropologist who had worked in Portugal in the 1960s and I think also Maria Beatriz Rocha-Trindade, who had done a study of the Portuguese in France. The Revolution had happened in Portugal, but immigrants in France were not the broad subject of study that they are today.


OEm - I think it had to be someone from outside to see that it was important.

CB - Just remember, also, that the political context in Portugal made a very big difference for the social scientists. So, everything opened up just after that.  One of the first articles I published based on this research was titled "Is the Ethnic Community Inevitable?" So, in Toronto, you have this concentrated neighborhood (an "ethnic enclave") dominated by Portuguese, as the area had been dominated by other newcomer populations before them. By contrast, in Paris the Portuguese population was scattered throughout the city and in the suburbs in the big public housing buildings (HLMs or Habitations a Loyer Moderée). Within the city, they lived where women got a job, either as concierges living on the first floor of those apartment buildings, or as maids living on the sixth floor. So, I came with these theoretical models from studying North-American immigration and they didn't all work in the European context. I needed to understand the city differently and particularly how immigrants settle in cities.

I spent a year working with Portuguese immigrant families in France, and then, to complete my research, I spent six months in Portugal itself, because I wanted to look at the women who still were not migrants - whose husbands were abroad but who had chosen to remain behind.


OEm - So, you wanted to research the wives of migrants, who were left behind in the North of Portugal?

CB - In the summer of 1975, we left France and went to Portugal, and the migrants were all also coming back for the summer "festas". The agenda was to find a single community that had been impacted by the emigration to France, and we ended up in Minho, in a village on the Lima River. We spent six months there and I was talking with women whose husbands were in France and they had stayed behind. I completed my dissertation based on this research and pretty soon after that, I published "We have already cried many tears: The stories of three Portuguese migrant women", in 1982 (it was republished in 1995 in a 2nd edition), which was a book based on the life histories of three women I had come to know in France. Then I turned to the next major project. When I was in the village in Portugal I had seen birth, death, and marriage records in the village church.


OEm - In Minho?

CB - Right. After I left Portugal in January 1976, we went to Oxford for six months and then I came back to the United States and we moved to the University of Texas in Austin...


OEm - When you say "we", you say you and...?

CB - My husband, yeah. He is an art historian, expert on impressionism... He was writing his dissertation in Minho. He was working on the French impressionist painter Camille Pissarro, who had painted rural life in France, and he was seeing the persistence of that rural life in northern Portugal. He enjoyed that experience...


OEm - Ok.

CB - I wrote my dissertation in Austin and received my Ph.D. in 1978. Soon after arriving in Austin I met an historical demographer, a young fellow named Myron Gutmann, who had worked in Belgium, and he was teaching a seminar on family history and historical demography which I sat in on, and all of a sudden I realized that I could draw on those parish records I had seen in the village in Portugal to do a more historical study of the impact of centuries of emigration on village life and on the lives of women who remained behind. So, I applied for a post-doc grant and got it, and spent the years between 1978 and 1980 doing the research for that project. That took me back to Portugal; I had to gather systematically all the parish records. I spent a lot of time in Braga, where these parish records were at the time; they have since been moved to Viana do Castelo. Anyway, that research became the basis of my second book, "Men Who Migrate, Women Who Wait" which was published by Princeton University Press in 1986 and then translated and published in Portuguese by Dom Quixote. I can't remember the year...


OEm - I think it was in 1986... In Portuguese it was called "Homens que Partem, Mulheres que Esperam". When I was doing my degree, in my third year I had to do a paper on your book...

CB - Ok. Maria Baganha once said to me that she was very jealous of my title...


OEm - It really is a good title.

CB - When I submitted the manuscript to Princeton, the title was "A Pattern of Population", and both readers who evaluated the manuscript said "this is a really wonderful book, but the title needs work". So, I was riding home on the Chicago El (the public train) and all of a sudden "Men who migrate, Women who wait" popped into my head. I called my editor at Princeton and said "Here's the title" and she said, "This is good, I like it".

So, I finished that project and I was very interested at that time in the relationship between anthropology and history. So, I was back in Portugal in the early 90's... I did several more articles on dimensions of property and inheritance and the rural moral economy. But I guess I would say that my work in Portugal stopped somewhere in the mid 90's... I started getting really interested in the immigration issue in the United States; my father was very elderly and I didn't really want to go and be far away. I was finishing up some of that Portuguese work... So, I was looking for a project closer to home and I was watching the city of Dallas (where we moved in 1988 from Chicago) become more and more diverse, because of the populations that were coming to the area. I was part of a large baseline study of new immigration into the Dallas-Fort Worth area funded by the National Science Foundation beginning in 2001. That project was followed by a project with another anthropologist, Deborah Reed-Danahay-on the citizenship practices of immigrants. My focus for the last decade in the Dallas area has particularly been on Indian immigrants. Actually the project on Goans in Lisbon (which I did during the summer of 2005) started because I actually met some Goans that were living in the Dallas area and through a friend I started thinking about learning about the Goans who left India in 1961 and went to Lisbon. I published an article based on this research in the Portuguese Studies Review.

In 2003 I did a collection called "Anthropology and Migration", which was really a compilation of my essays on Portuguese immigrants assembled with new thematic introductions. Even in the US context nobody has talked much about the Portuguese, you know? They are not situated in the larger debate about the late 19th century immigrations in the United States; Italians and Jews dominate the discourse. And even in more recent immigrations this is the case although the Portuguese started coming right after the United States opened up again to immigration in 1965. So, my agenda there was to at least put those essays together to make the point that the Portuguese were a very important migration stream into the United States in the late 19th century, and again immediately after 1965. That's why I decided to do that collection of essays and to demonstrate that there were a lot of important theoretical issues that you can explore through the lens of Portuguese immigrants.


OEm - It is a lot in 40 years! When you started to focus on Portuguese migration, in 1972, and later on Portugal, I believe that Portuguese migration was not a main topic for researchers - apart from the ones who made on historical migration to Brazil. What was your feeling, on that time, about the innovation associated with your choice?

CB - Well, I have two responses. There were some, like Beatriz Rocha-Trindade, who worked first in France and then of course entered the post-Salazar Portuguese government; Victor Pereira da Rosa worked on Portuguese in Canada; also Grace Andersen and David Higgs worked on Canada and some others. And I think, also, that there were a lot of theoretical issues to be addressed through an empirical examination of the Portuguese immigrant experience; and I was one of the first people to recognize the importance of studying the experience of migratory women. And in 1986, Rita Simon and I published a book called "International Migration: the Female Experience", one of the earlier statements on women immigrants. In 1978 a panel for a session on return migration was proposed for the Annual Meeting of the Anthropological Association that I was going to be part of but it was turned down. At that time, they did not think the topic was important - it was too ahead of its time... Since then, return migration has become an important area of research and several new volumes have been published. The new concept of transnationalism in some sense deals with these issues of return or at least with the connections that immigrants maintain with their homeland; I had already recognized these connections among the Portuguese in the 1970s.

I think my immigration studies are very interdisciplinary. It's just been interesting to me to see how the immigration issue, especially as an European project, has taken off and also how Portugal has become a country of immigration.


OEm - Could you tell us what was the main point of your research among the Portuguese in Toronto?

CB - Well, I was living in a specific market neighborhood and immigrant enclave and I noticed the importance of "culture brokers". In other words, people who owned travel agencies, or priests from the churches who acted as "gatekeepers", translating the larger Canadian society for the Portuguese immigrants and so helping them to adapt in the process.


OEm - Were they also closing them towards Canadian society?

CB - In some ways yes, they were maintaining the boundary between the immigrant community and the broader Canadian society because these Portuguese came in with no language skills and the role of travel agents was particularly interesting because they were helping the Portuguese filling out forms, getting jobs, and at the same time of course they were selling them airline tickets and hence promoting their business. They were entrepreneurs maintaining the ethnic boundary; this was the topic of a paper in 1977 and then I drew on this research again in 1981 for the article "Is the ethnic community inevitable?". Then, the second-generation was perfectly able in the language of the host society, but at the time that I captured the Portuguese in Toronto in 1972 they were primarily of the first-generation.

Another thing I want to remark is that because I have worked among the Portuguese in Canada, in France, in the United States, and a lot in Portugal, I have this broad comparative perspective of Portuguese migration. I think it is important for immigration scholars to have a comparative perspective whether because they work with different immigrant populations in one host society or they work in different receiving societies. This has guided my work as well.


OEm - And in the following research among the Portuguese in France, what was the main topic that you would like to stress?

CB - Well, first of all, it was pioneering looking at the experience of emigrant women. If you look at the broad literature on gender and migration it emerges most strongly in the 1990's and I published the book based on the life history of those three migrant women, "We Have Cried Many Tears", in 1982, so it was about 10 years earlier. I think my contribution is in capturing the experience of emigrant women and laying the ground for gender to be an important analytical category in the study of migration. I also think that the work illustrates the variety of emigrant women. I captured the experience of single women who migrated to France; of married women who joined husbands abroad leaving their children behind in Portugal; and of married women who brought their children with them when they joined their spouse abroad. The issue of women, whether it is European women then or Mexican women today, leaving their children behind became much more important, but I documented this particular migration strategy for the Portuguese at an earlier period. There were also women who went with their husbands and had their children in France. These children grow up and become French citizens. The parents came with the idea of possibly going back to Portugal, but their children have settled down in France, and the third-generation of Portuguese living in France today is very well incorporated in the fabric of the French society. Therefore, I would say these contributions emerged from the research in France: 1. gender is an important variable in studying migration; and 2. the experience of emigrant women is very diverse, specifically when situated in a family context.


OEm - Then you moved to Portugal and did fieldwork in Minho on the women who stayed behind when their husbands migrated, which was also pioneering. Maybe you could tell us what the major contribution of that study was.

CB - First, that work is located within a larger scholar discourse about family history and historical demography but it draws attention to the Portuguese case. My research really did involve doing oral history and bringing other kinds of data, to bear on the analysis of parish records in order to particularly explore the impact of migration on marriage and fertility patterns from the 18th into the 20th centuries.


OEm - Another contribution was the subject, i.e. looking at the impact of migration from the point of view of their families who stayed in Portugal.

CB - Right, looking at the impact of migration on these other demographic patterns, like marriage patterns, property patterns, etc. In 1975, I first looked at those parish records, and then I designed the project, and returned several times to Portugal to gather the data more systematically. The reason I was attracted to these questions was because the anthropological literature already was saying about Southern Europe that "honor and shame" was overriding a framework explaining gender ideology. I thought, "well what is going on the Northern of Portugal"? For example, there was the now classic essay of Jane Schneider, "Of Vigilance and Virgins" based on research in Sicily. I had discovered high rates of out-of-wedlock births in the parish records and I asked myself "why is that happening"? It is certainly not about virgins being vigilated. I argued that the absence of men in the villages must have had something to do with it; for some women the only opportunity to have a child was to have that child out of wedlock because they were left out of the marriage market. In other words it was also associated with a high rate of female spinsterhood.


OEm - Was it easy for you to access the parish records? Were you easily allowed to?

CB - That's an interesting question. When I showed up in the archives in Braga, that is where they were then but by the 1990s they had been moved to Viana do Castelo, I asked to see the records. No one could not understand why was I interested in them. I've never taken a computer to the field; Xeroxing at that time was very expensive at the end of 1970's and 1980's, so I had to hand transcribe all these records. The technology developed as my career developed. Actually, in the archive of Braga there was a person who would not give me access to some of the records; only when they were moved to Viana was I was able to see them, and I must say that the people who worked at the archive in Viana could not have been nicer. I was working on that, day after day, and they gave me all the access to be able to see records on abandoned children, and most importantly the notarial records that gave me insight on property transfer among other things.


OEm - To finish, would you like to say something else on your research on Portuguese migration?

CB - I think that there are two kinds of anthropologists, the ones who always go back to the same place, or the same village, therefore looking at a single place over time and with different types of questions, and then there are the anthropologists who move around, and I think I put myself in that latter category, where the connecting issue is the study of emigration and immigration. I have studied immigrants in different receiving societies, in the beginning of my career the connecting issue was also the Portuguese, but I have moved to others immigrant populations than Portuguese more recently, but it is always migrant populations. The comparative dimension is useful; there are similarities but also a lot of differences.


Como citar  Pereira, Cláudia (2013), "Broad comparative perspective of Portuguese migration: interview with Caroline Brettell", Observatório da Emigração, 12 de novembro de 2012.


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