The Portuguese Diaspora

The Portuguese Diaspora

The Portuguese diaspora is very difficult to estimate in terms of size due to its extensive history. As one of the largest empires of the colonial period, Portugal’s territorial reach stretched widely throughout the world, particularly dominant in Latin America and Southeast Asia. As a result, many of these countries boast substantial populations of Portuguese descent. However, these populations have deeply assimilated over the centuries and are distinct from the more contemporary Portuguese diaspora. Brazil boasts the largest Portuguese population and a significant cultural legacy. It has a population of up to 85 million of Portuguese descent. France (1.7 million), the United States (1.4 million), Venezuela (455,000), Canada (430,000), South Africa (300,000) and the United Kingdom (140,000) all have large Portuguese populations. The Portuguese diaspora comprises well over 100 million but due to this size must be broken down into distinct categories.

The Portuguese population of Brazil reflects the country’s former colonial dominance. Portugal began to exert its influence on Brazil in the 16th Century, settling in large numbers at the mid-point of the century, establishing major outposts with Salvador, Sao Paolo and Rio de Janeiro, which remain major cities today. The population gradually increased, exploding in the 18th Century as the lucrativeness of the large colony became increasingly apparent. More and more wealthy Portuguese settlers arrived in the territory. Brazil’s independence from Portugal in 1822 only caused immigration to increase significantly. Sao Paolo and Rio de Janeiro saw their Portuguese communities increase significantly as Portugal became choked by political and economic instability throughout the 19th and early 20th Centuries. The Portuguese constitute one of, if not the, most important cultural influences on Brazil. This is evident in the country’s language, strict adherence to Roman Catholicism as well as cuisine and other cultural practices. It is the largest and most culturally significant Portuguese diaspora in the world.

Paraty, Rodrigo Soldon, Flickr Creative Commons

Paraty, Rodrigo Soldon, Flickr Creative Commons

Portuguese influence elsewhere in the Americas is evident. The United States’ large Portuguese population is not one of the country’s most significant immigrant demographics, but is still of note. Dating back to the 17th Century, a large number of Portuguese settled in the country during the Age of Discovery. Portugal was also the first neutral country to recognise the United States’ independence, establishing positive bilateral ties between the two countries. The 19th Century saw a large number of Portuguese immigrants arrive in the United States, particularly on the East Coast in New England. Rhode Island continues to retain a large Portuguese community, many the descendants of whalers from the Azores who arrived in the mid-19th Century. Portuguese immigration continued in the 20th Century and remained centred around the East Coast. Other countries in the Americas with large Portuguese communities include Venezuela. The second-largest Portuguese community in the Americas, Portuguese constitute one of the country’s largest ethnic groups.

The Portuguese diaspora is evident in parts of Africa, where the country formerly held a large colonial stake. The population is most evident in countries such as South Africa and Mozambique.  South Africa, under British and Dutch control, saw large swathes of Portuguese immigrants from Angola and Mozambique following their independence in 1975. South Africa, as the largest economy in the region, saw a large number of Portuguese and black African settlers arrive. Portuguese constitute 0.6% of the country’s population, a fairly significant minority. The influence on the country’s cuisine is evident, with major international South African food chain ‘Nandos’ inspired by Portuguese cooking.

A street on Ilha de Moçambique, Cornelius Kibelka, Flickr Creative Commons

A street on Ilha de Moçambique, Cornelius Kibelka, Flickr Creative Commons

Closer to home, the Portuguese diaspora is widespread throughout Europe. France, Luxembourg and the United Kingdom all have significant Portuguese populations. While these have existed for centuries due to the transient borders between the countries over the years, it is also easy to discern modern patterns of immigration. The modern Portuguese community of France has existed in its current incarnation since the mid-to-late-20th Century, influenced by political unrest in Portugal. Portugal’s diaspora in Luxembourg is very unique. The country’s largest minority community, Portuguese constitute 16.1% of the country’s total population, having been a major demographic since the end of the mid-20th Century. Large swathes of Portuguese settlers arrived to fill a labour vacancy left by the country’s former Italian population, upon whom the service industry was reliant upon. Coinciding with political instability in Portugal, a large community was quickly established, further supported by a treaty in 1970 which allowed family reunification. With both countries now members of the European Union, the Portuguese population of Luxembourg remains large and intact today. The United Kingdom also has a large Portuguese community, which is heavily centred in London. Major hubs in the capital include Lambeth and Ladbroke Grove, which have large Portuguese populations as well as a wealth of businesses and restaurants which reflect this. Similar to other European countries, this population has existed in some form for centuries but exploded in the mid-20th Century with the advent of the guest worker phenomenon. Political instability and economic distress in Portugal during the 20th Century were also important external factors behind immigration.

The Portuguese diaspora due to its immense size and extensive history is difficult to fully analyse. However, it is one of the most wide-reaching and culturally significant in the world. It has left an impact of varying size throughout the world, ranging from relatively small in countries such as France to absolutely massive in countries such as Brazil.

The Portuguese Diaspora

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