It was a normal night until I scrolled on Twitter and saw something that really got me. I came across some pictures of a carnival parade in a Northern city in Portugal, where people were apparently dressed as ‘Chinese’ with plastic, black trash bags as their costumes. At first glance, I didn’t even notice it, but it was only after I read the messages of the posters they were holding that I realised what it was all about. ‘Help! I want to get out of this invasion!’, ‘The Chinese are clever, even though they have slanted eyes.’ I was shocked. I knew that this kind of prejudice existed in Portugal, but its manifestation was so direct that I had to think for a moment to process what I had just read. People usually say that ‘it’s the carnival, no one takes it seriously’, but that saying didn’t even cross my mind. How could I not take it seriously when these messages have a profound impact on people deeply connected to Chinese roots?
I couldn’t help but feel uncomfortable. Seeing those pictures along with such derogatory comments took me back to the times when I didn’t know how to react to people making fun of my appearance or making negative comments about the Chinese community. Since I was a child, I have put a wall to protect myself from that kind of attitude. As a child, I thought that it wasn’t worth my time being sad and thinking about why such things would happen.
However, I couldn’t stay indifferent on that night. I just couldn’t. Since I started studying in the UK and knowing the experiences of my sister, who’s studying in the US, I realised that Portugal has a very serious problem in relation to racism. Racism is so assimilated that actions that should be considered as racism aren’t considered as such. Everything is purely considered as a joke. Just because we don’t express our dissatisfaction towards these situations, it doesn’t mean that we accept them. In fact, what surprises me the most is the fact that the majority of people don’t admit that they’re being racist because they simply aren’t conscious about it. According to their reasoning then, if everything is purely a joke, where’s our right to feel offended? This is evident of the lack of space in society to recognize racism accusations whenever they occur.
The next day, I told my father (who emigrated to Portugal more than twenty years ago) about what happened. He had the same reaction as me – how can such thing occur and be posted on the official Facebook page of the Municipality of Marco de Canaveses (now deleted) as if it was a perfectly normal event? And when I let him know about my intention to write about the problems associated with that parade, he supported me and said: ‘We, as immigrants, don’t know Portuguese that well, so we don’t have the ability to properly respond and react when others are being racist towards us.’
I understand my dad’s and thousands of other immigrants’ situation very well. And, more than ever, I want to be one of the voices that is capable to represent us in the face of discriminatory situations. I can’t avoid thinking about the things that were said when the people involved were getting ready for the parade, especially the ones who dressed as ‘Chinese.’ Yes, we’re different. Yes, we have ‘slanted eyes.’ Yes, there are a large number of us in Portugal. But do you know the story that brought us here in the first place? Do you really think that my parents and other immigrants made an easy choice to leave their families and everything they had behind to move to a country that is so far away from their homeland?
One day, I’ll tell you that story. But now, I simply want to draw attention to the consequences of that kind of parade. Think about the type of citizens you want to become. No one likes intolerant people, right? Then think about the possibility we have to educate humans for an open mind, free of prejudices. Think about the possibility of a diverse and culturally rich Portuguese society. This, to me, is the way we should lead others to.
And I’ll think about the Chinese children who were born in Portugal, who saw the parade, trying to find the best solution to make them feel less uncomfortable in their own skin because there’s nothing wrong in having a Chinese heritage. We don’t have to feel that we have to deny a part of our identity in order to feel more accepted by the majority. We can perfectly be both Portuguese and Chinese and feeling proud of representing both cultures.
In fact, we need more voices. We need more dialogue and understanding. If you’re an immigrant or the son/daughter of immigrants, we can change this reality. Don’t simply ignore, speak out when people say/do offensive things. We need to wake our society up and raise awareness about the racism that exists in Portugal. We can’t deny it anymore. We had enough. And perhaps, in the future, things will get better for the minorities.
Let your voice be heard.