Finding Portuguese connections from Penticton to Vancouver and abroad

“The communities preserve traditions much better than the homelands,” says Terry Costa, one of the founders of Canada’s Portuguese Heritage Month. “As the countries, the ‘homelands’ move forward in society, the communities try to preserve the little they knew about it.”

In 2003, Costa and Manuel Azevedo, a lawyer and researcher, along with other members of the Portuguese Canadian diaspora first thought of designating June as a month for celebrating Portuguese culture. Their advocacy and community building efforts were recognized by BC’s Attorney General in 2004 with the first government-proclaimed, Portuguese Heritage Month, a festival of arts, culture, and community that has now grown into a nation-wide celebration.

| Photo courtesy of LUSO Canadian Multicultural Festival.

Visions of past and future

“How many countries do you know that celebrate a poet on the national day,” asks Costa, noting that the annual Portugal Day on June 10 commemorates Luís de Camōes, a renowned Portuguese poet.

A strong advocate for passing down cultural traditions through the arts, Costa and his team designed the celebrations to feature Portuguese books, films, music, food, and other art forms. Keeping inclusion in mind, these events were programmed in English with the hopes of engaging the children and grandchildren of Portuguese immigrants.

“Most people think Fado, the music, Fátima, the religion, and Futebol, soccer,” says Costa about Portugal’s cultural impressions. “I think arts. That’s why it made sense… to construct the Portuguese Heritage Month around it.”

Born in Oakville, Ontario, but raised in his parents’ homeland of Pico, Azores, Costa returned to Canada during his high school years. He then studied at Sheridan College and the University of Toronto before moving to Vancouver where he reconnected with his heritage. The years he spent programming Vancouver’s Portuguese events also led to partnerships with major art and culture organizations as well as Portuguese clubs, including the Portuguese Seniors Hall and the Portuguese Cultural Centre of Vancouver.

Terry Costa, cofounder of Portuguese Heritage Month. | Photo by Ricardo Caetano

“During the 10 years I was in Vancouver, we kept seeing organizations disappear,” he says. “Only the ones that had buildings and a major structure could survive the changes in society.”

Costa notes that the lack of people willing to sit on boards was another challenge. He also adds that the younger generations’ struggles with the language also contributes to further cultural loss, a challenge that Costa’s team tried to alleviate by offering Portuguese-language classes for adults which ended up primarily attracting people from other cultures.

“When Elaine Ávila wrote the play Fado, the Saddest Music in the World and Firehall Arts Centre produced it, there was a surge of Portuguese pride in the city,” says Costa, who recognized the change despite no longer residing in BC. “That just proves the importance of arts in the development and survival of people.”

Aside from building Canada’s Portuguese Heritage Month, Costa also served for eight years as a consultant for the Government of Portugal’s Language, Education and Culture Commission, advocating for more arts and language programs as well as connections between Portugal and its diaspora. With Vera Bettencourt providing the final illustrations, Costa has also authored English-Portuguese picture books featuring the adventures of a young girl, Néveda, in the Azores and abroad.

“I come from a lineage of adventurous people, a small country that was not afraid to go to the sea,” says Costa. “I am Canadian and Portuguese no matter where I am.”

For the love of sports, food, and community

Founded from a love of soccer in 1979 as the Portuguese Sporting Club of Penticton, the LUSO Canadian Multicultural Society (LUSO) is also looking forward to celebrating Dia De Portugal with a dinner and dance on June 8. LUSO’s current president, Margarida Alves, notes the organization’s pivot role in fostering Penticton’s Portuguese community through annual festivities as well as weekly group activities.

LUSO president Margarida Alves at OneWorld Festival in Penticton. | Photo courtesy of LUSO Canadian Multicultural Festival

“[Food] plays a big role in bringing people together,” says Alves. “Our Sunday dinners bring senior from our club a place to come and eat with others when they might be eating at home alone.”

Alves notes that a local Portuguese market makes the necessary ingredients for popular dishes, such as those involving cod fish, easily accessible. One of these dishes is Pork Alentejana, which blends different seafood with cubed pork and potatoes. For Alves, whose father was involved in the Portuguese community in Oliver, BC, it was natural for her to support the passing down of Portuguese traditions.

“I would like to try and bring the younger generation back into our family values of spending quality time together,” says Alves, noting her teenage memories of time spent with friends and family at the beach.

According to Alves, LUSO has also been raising money to replace their old kitchen ovens and other appliances. With plans to offer free cooking classes specializing in traditional Portuguese cuisine, Alves notes that LUSO has recently purchased a hot water tank, dishwasher, espresso machine, and up-right freezer in addition to two new gas ovens. Alves’ favourite memory so far is last year’s Dia De Portugal celebrations, which was also her first year at LUSO during which she served as a director. The organization is well connected to the Portuguese community with members like Portugal’s Curling Team player Irene Goodis and former long-time LUSO president Arthur Mateus.

“His favourite memory is a big function they put on years ago in the middle of the city where the club volunteers ran a beer garden, had 10-12 tables of food to sell for people to try our culture,” says Alves, passing along Mateus’ thoughts.

The Consulate General of Portugal and the Portuguese Cultural Center of BC will also host a joint celebration of Portugal Day/Dia de Portugal, featuring Portuguese musician Ratinho Nogueira and others, on June 8 and 9.




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