Muslim pupils and the negotiation of Portuguese postcolonial identity
Universidade de Coimbra Centro de Estudos Sociais Coimbra, Portugal
The postcolonial Portuguese identity is a concept currently under negotiation and definition, though seldom publicly acknowledged or debated. The process of redefinition of the national identity of a country under deep social, political and cultural transformations during the past thirty years can be found in micro-processes, led particularly by younger generations. Aiming at a better understanding of such processes, I carried out an ethnographic study in a public school in the region of Lisbon, in order to observe how and to what extent Muslim pupils negotiate their belonging to the national identity imaginary, which still projects Portugal as a monocultural (esp. catholic) country.
The diasporic history of the Muslim families I worked with, most of them Portuguese since colonial Mozambique and Guinea-Bissau, re-unites Portugal to a past that it has tried to forget (or to silence). The self-statement of this "minority" as Portuguese, through the voice of the interviewees, clashes with racial, ethnic and religious boundaries imposed by the majority imaginary that marks these Muslim families as "immigrant minorities", hence external to the cultural identity of the country. To support and reinforce their belonging, the Muslim community also argues that Portugal owes important cultural legacies to the presence of Islamic culture in the Iberian Peninsula in medieval times.
I will present the main conclusions of the study I carried out for my MA dissertation, contributing with qualitative data to the reflection about cultural boundaries that continue to mark who belongs and who does not belong to European nations, ignoring a colonial past that inevitably has been transferred to present Europe. Public school is indeed a privileged stage to observe such tense and daily negotiations, and to start decolonising imaginaries.