My Portuguese origins
My grandmother Selene (my paternal grandmother) left her parents behind to go and live with Manuel Mendes and after that her parents came to Canada. Selene grew up in a rural village and so did Manuel (my paternal grandfather). Manuel went from Portugal to France and after he came to Canada so he already talked French.
This is what I learned from my interview with my grandmother Selene Machado. My grandparents Manuel Mendes and Selene Machado came from Caldas da Rainha and they speak Portuguese. They came to Canada by airplane.
The materials of this tablecloth are cotton and wool. Usually the cotton comes from the north of Portugal. My mom bought it in Portugal in 1996.
As I said, Selene left Portugal and came to Canada because she married Manuel in Caldas da Rainha and he was already here in Canada. Manuel had come to Canada for a job and to start a new life in Canada. Manuel came in 1965 and when he got here a friend was waiting for him. Selene came in 1967. They arrived in Dorval and settled in Montreal North. Selene says she felt happy to come live in a country she didn’t know. She got here during winter and she had never seen so much snow!
She learned French and it took about three years. I asked her how she felt working with people she didn’t know and not understanding what they said. Selene says she was sad because she didn’t understand what people were saying in French at work. Selene and her mother Cecilia were working at cleaning houses. Selene’s father Antonio was a carpenter and Manuel was a mechanic for printing machines.
I asked Selene what she missed from Portugal and she said when she got here she missed her parents but then they came too. “Would she like to go back to Portugal?” I asked. She answered : “No, because most of my family is right here in Canada!”
Portuguese family traditions
We still have traditions like the same religion. We’re Catholics and religious holidays are very important for us. For example at Christmas we invite all our family over and eat a lot of Portuguese food. We still have traditions. For food we eat a lot of Portuguese food. When we celebrate Christmas Eve we wait for all the people to get to our house and then we start to eat fish. What you must ask?
Bacalhau, batatas and couves, which is codfish, potatoes and cabbage in English.. This is at 7 p.m. Then we wait till 12 p.m. to open the gifts because of our tradition because that’s when Jesus was born. Our other family tradition is to eat fish for supper because it’s a Portuguese tradition. After we open our gifts we have a midnight table. The midnight table has lobster, clams, shrimp, chicken wings etc. Then we eat cake and fruit; also Portuguese pastries like pasteis de nata and bolo rei and homemade ones like pudim carabel, sonhos da cenoura, coscoroes and aletria bolo. Next Christmas we’ll be adding Arroz doce. These words in English are puff pastry shells, flan, gateau des rois, carrots, doughnuts, crispy sweet pastries, cappellini desert and finally next year – rice pudding.
My first language was Portuguese and some of my family only talk Portuguese, French and like 5% of English. I am good at reading and writing in Portuguese for a person who did not go to a Portuguese school. Here’s a few words in Portuguese without the accents: Amiga (friend), nae and pai (mom and dad), avo (grandparents), Irma and irmao (sister and brother).
This is a gift that I received from my grandparents. It’s an apron made out of cotton. Have you noticed that there is a rooster on my apron – or maybe you’ve seen it somewhere? A rooster is lucky to Portuguese people because once an innocent prisoner was going to get killed and said: “May I say one last thing?” so the judge said: “Sure”. The judge was about to eat a rooster. Then the innocent prisoner said “If I am innocent the rooster will jump and start singing”. And it did. But that innocent prisoner was always telling the truth. He survived. Since that day roosters are found in Portuguese homes. It is really lucky!
I’ve never been to Portugal but my mom, dad and sister went when I wasn’t born yet. I would love to go soon to Portugal and I live knowing a different language that not everyone understands like English and French!
Interview: Selene Machado Artefacts: Tablecloth, apron