Luís Giovani was 21 years old. He arrived to Portugal in October with the ambition to pursue his university degree in Bragança, a town of 35.000 inhabitants in Trás-os-Montes, in the North-East of Portugal.
There, he settled down, away from his home in Ilha do Fogo, one of the islands in the archipelago of Cape Verde, a former Portuguese colony.
He died in the evening of December 31, one week after being brutally spanked with chains, bats and metal bars by a group of men, outside a local club.
The right-wing politicians who shout in indignation about the crimes supposedly perpetrated by ethnic minorities which, according to mysterious and undisclosed survey results, are on the rise, are now silent. The public opinion too. No inflamed comments on social media asking for the “death” of his murderers. Just bland comments like “everyday there are murders taking place”, “why should this case deserve more attention than any other murder case?”, “no one knows what he did to be beaten up like that”.
This case brought to my mind the first and only time I visited Bragança. I was Luís’ age and I had just finished my degree in Anthropology. I was working closely with associations of immigrants in the area of Lisbon and my job was to create opportunities of interaction through art between newcomers and the local communities. I was supposed to accompany, for some days, a group of Cape Verdean women to Bragança, where they would be performing.
I remember a 12-hour bus trip to the sound of laughters, singing voices and Batuque, a traditional music genre fairly unknown at the time, long before being discovered by Madonna, during her stay in Lisbon. I had never been to that part of the country but, after 20 years, what I remember is an austere landscape in which green was scarce. A kind of platitude that contrasted to the blast that my travel companions seemed to be having .
To my surprise, while walking through the streets of Bragança with this group of Cape Verdean women, many people stopped to stare as if they had never seen darker shades of skin. Older and young neglected the most basic rules of social behaviour and just stared, not even bothering the slightest to disguise their awe. I remember one day, at the hotel, during breakfast, a child sitting with his parents at a table nearby asking them why those women were so dark. “Because they wash their face with coffee” was his mother’s answer. I looked at the woman right next to me, who had heard that answer the same way I had, but who had decided to ignore. Something in her eyes told me that such sentence hadn’t been the worst thing she had ever heard.
I remembered that trip again a couple of years after.
In 2003, also in Bragança, a group of women decided to come together for a common cause. It is not frequent for women to come together in a country where, despite the hype of feminism, it is still common for many women to say that “they’d rather be feminine than feminist”. But these women came together. And they came together against other women. Their target were tens of Brazilian women that were working in 4 local brothels.
“Mothers of Bragança” was the name of this feminine enterprise.
These women claimed that the Brazilian citizens were taking their husbands down sinful paths and, consequently, holding them responsible for preventing these starstruck family men from fulfilling their family duties. The virtuous mothers demanded the expulsion of these other women, all of them object of human trafficking, victimised both by their pimps and their “customers” and, then, by their wives.
The Brazilian women were all arrested and then repatriated. The “Mães de Bragança” movement did not target the pimps nor the traffickers. It targeted the foreign women who were accused of keeping the others’ husbands under control ” through charms or some sort of drugs”. The arrest of the exploiters of these women ended up being the collateral effect of an orchestrated racist attack to the weakest links.
According to Wikipedia, it is not known any case of divorce in the sequence of this scandal.
Bragança is just a town and, even though it is near the border with Spain, it is still Portugal. And the type of racism that transpierces people’s view of the world is not uncommon to observe in the rest of Portugal. Quite the opposite.
In 1995, Alcindo Monteiro, a 27-year old Cape Verdean was murdered in Lisbon, in the heart of Bairro Alto, by a group of 9 neo-nazis. One of the murderers was the founding leader of the Portuguese National Front, Mário Machado, who then received a sentence of 4 years in prison for Alcindo’s murder which then, was tried as an genocide.
The everyday racism and the institutionalized xenophobia remains under the placid surface of that country that everyone (that counts) loves. Their stories do not make part of official narrative of the “luso-tropicalism”. But that will be another story.