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Portugal has existed as a country since 1143, when Afonso I signed the Treaty of Zamora with his cousin, Alfonso VII of León. This means we have a long and complicated history. On June the 10th of every year, we celebrate all of it. June the 10th is the Day of Portugal, Camões and the Portuguese communities. Camões, of course, is the author of The Lusiads, Portugal’s national epic. And the Portuguese communities are one the most beautiful legacies of Portugal’s storied past.
The Portuguese have always been fond of traveling
Portugal has but one land border, with our neighbours in Spain. Everything else is seashore. This has made the Portuguese a nation of sailors and traveller from very early on, with Portuguese seafaring vessels leaving for the unknown from as early as 1419. That was when Portuguese sailors discovered the uninhabited archipelago of Madeira, and it was the first meaningful date of the Age of Discoveries, setting the standard for all other European nations.
This means that a very significant part of this story will inevitably be about the former Portuguese colonies. Up to five million Brazilians are Portuguese-Brazilian and either hold or have the right to apply for Portuguese citizenship. The same is true for 220.000 Angolans over 80.000 Mozambicans, which make up the three largest independent nations that were once part of the Portuguese Empire. For a country of only ten million people only, that is a lot.
Immigration has taken the Portuguese everywhere
Portuguese communities aren’t all reminiscent of the Age of Discoveries however. Portugal’s long history of immigration is also responsible for this. The most significant period to understand this phenomenon is the dictatorship. From 1936 to 1974, Portugal was governed with an iron fist by António de Oliveira Salazar, a fascist in all but name. His austere corporatism and imperialist tendencies led Portugal to economic stagnation and a bloody colonial war that would make many young Portuguese people to leave the country, by sea and land. Of course, from hardship also comes opportunity, and the glorious Portuguese communities that we now have anywhere from Newark in the United States to Paris and Luxembourg are a beautiful testament to the entrepreneurial spirit and resistance to adversity of the Portuguese people.
France, the US and Brazil
These are the three countries that host the largest number of Portuguese people who live and work outside of Portugal. It is estimated that almost 1.4 million Portuguese nationals reside in the United States of America, 800.000 live in France and a similar amount call Brazil their home.
Areas like Newark, São Paulo, Belém or Paris have strong Portuguese communities and a strong Portuguese influence. You can see it and feel in the architecture, the food, and even the language. So if you are even in one of these places, or many others around the world, don’t be surprised if you see the red and green flag hanging from a window or, out of the corner of your eye, you see a Portuguese marching band celebrating the Santos Populares in the summer.