While Aquino de Bragança is a figure who must be explored in his own right, I would like to reflect on the words of Fitz De Souza who spoke at the event. Fitz De Souza, also of Goan origin, has been lawyer and politician. Former deputy Speaker of the Kenyan parliament, he was one of those involved in the efforts to draw up a constitutional framework for Kenyan independence. Prior to Kenyan independence, in the course of the anti-colonial resistance in
Rather than play the usual game of mumbling pleasantries, Fitz decided to stick his neck out and castigate the Goan community worldwide, pointing out how they did not play as significant a role in the anti-colonial struggle as they could have. This is true, people of Goan origin, very much like the rest of their ilk in the subcontinent, saw themselves as occupying a definite rung in the racist hierarchy of the 19th - 20th century. Not quite white, they nevertheless bought into the propaganda of the ‘Mission Civilisatrice’, believing that since they were Aryan, they would eventually get white status. They believed in any case that they were more than a few rungs higher than the ‘animal-like’ Africans.
It was in his subsequent statement though that I differed with Fitz. He went on to suggest that the British in their ‘complete racism’ planted the idea in the head of the Goans that ‘the Goans were not Indians, but Portuguese, that they were not crooks and thieves (like the Indian Bania) but honest and reliable souls’, on whose clerical shoulders, the Empire was in fact built.
My disagreement stems from the counter-suggestion Fitz offers; that the Goan is in fact ‘Indian’ and that this whole image of their being Portuguese is a racist fantasy that we ought not to buy. I would like to suggest that unfortunately, it is Fitz who in denying the Portuguese-ness of the Goan is buying into a racist imagination. This imagination is racist because it presumes that people occupying a definite territorial area are necessarily one people; and that because they come from the sub-continent of brown people, they cannot really be European. This imagination suggests that merely because the Goan shares the same colour as the people across the political boundary of the former Portuguese-India, they are the same people.
It is a testament to the power of racist imaginations that even a lawyer like Fitz could fall into its easy embrace. The Goan was Portuguese not because the English drummed this charming fantasy into their heads, but because by the LAW of Portugal they were Portuguese citizens. They were citizens who could also vote for their representatives to the Portuguese Parliament. That there may have been a practical failure to wholly realize this legal vision is not denied. However the mere fact of articulation in law is fact significant enough to trigger the imaginations of people. The British-Indian (which for all practical purposes Fitz is) will find it difficult to understand this position, because the British-Indian was always a subject of their Empire. It was their frustration at not being recognized as (white) Citizen of the Empire that eventually led to the Indian freedom struggle.
In a world filled with various ideas, ideologies and desires, it is Law that by and large performs the crucial role of determining what constitutes reality and what fantasy. The Portuguese Indian had been living for centuries within the embrace of a legal regime that gave them significant rights to participate in the Empire. It was by Law then, that they were Portuguese. It was the reality of this legality therefore, that allowed any subsequent suggestion by the British, or indeed, Salazar’s Estado Novo, to be that much more believable. Like Portuguese-ness, Indian-ness too, is an imaginary construction, made ‘real’ primarily through Law. The tenativity of this identity made obvious by that fact that the Pakistani and the Bangladeshi who until recently were ‘Indian’ are today viciously not considered so.
The Portuguese practice, where the Goan was Portuguese, has in fact the potential of upsetting the racist notions that continue to govern our world. Thanks to the operation of law, I can without batting an eyelid, unproblematically indicate that I am Portuguese. I don’t have to be white-skinned, nor do I need to have a drop of continental blood in my veins. By my being Portuguese my mere physical existence upsets racial categories. When like Aquino de Bragança, we can then also include the black-skinned African into this legal category; that is when we exploit the anti-racist potential of this legality to the maximum.
‘fascist’ dictatorship in fact resulted in the overturning of a liberative discourse vis-à-vis citizenship. The standard line of any 'politically’ Portuguese today is that ‘the past is the past, let us move forward to building new relationships’. Thus anything associated with the Estado Novo is seen as necessarily regressive. Look closely and you will see
them wince when the Goan expresses oneness with
The claim for a Portuguese identity should not necessarily embarrass us, since we must claim it as a deliberate act of overturning the racist stereotypes that we surreptitiously nurse at our breasts. If however we claim it, as did (and continue to do) the Goan elite, merely to mark cultural superciliousness, then and only then are we guilty of buying into a racist realm of imagination. On the anniversary of the Revolution, that we in
(Published in the Gomantak Times April 22nd 2009)
(This essay has been profoundly influenced by the works of Dr.Boaventura de Sousa Santos. For these works and the inspiration, many thanks.)