What winning the Euro 2016 really means to Portugal
I need to let this out, even if I should not be allowed to speak anything else but Portuguese right now. My beautiful language is “only” the 6th most widely spoken worldwide and I need to shout beyond that!
To be Portuguese is to long for something that we achieved in the past; something (at least seen as) great, and in a past turned into nostalgia. Our nation lives in the memory of sea heroes which we stubbornly think we may never become again.
We’ve been a Republic for over a century. We had four decades of dictatorship, ended with a peaceful revolution. We had a colonial war and I grew up with my father’s stories from two years in Mozambique. Thousands of people across generations left Portugal and settled in other countries, mainly France. The 10th of June is Portugal Day, when much of this is remembered.
It’s not about colonialism. It’s about reminding ourselves that this little corner of Europe, five times smaller than and almost swallowed by Spain, was once a big name in the world. Eventually we lost our voice among new European and global successes, and it became almost embarrassing for us to be vocal, individually and as a whole – as though History had stolen our pride and nostalgia our self-esteem. And yet, any Portuguese person you may have met has undoubtedly expressed their pride (probably in some loud, funny, food-related way).
Everyone is allowed their opinion and nobody can only be loved – but I need to try to explain why Ronaldo is so special for us. He’s been showing that Portugal no longer needs to simply long for something great from the past; he encourages us to just do it and, very importantly, not let others’ opinions pull us down.
Ronaldo is just one in 11 million and just one in hundreds of thousands who left Portugal to improve and search for a better life with the hidden, nostalgic embarrassment that their own country didn’t give them the conditions to stay. Ronaldo, like many others, packed his bags to work and learn (including a new language before having the chance to learn his own properly).
Beating France on Sunday was so much more than football. It was the opportunity for thousands of emigrants to shout out loud for the country that they long for, while loving the home that welcomed them. It was a reminder for the hundreds of thousands of youngsters who have been leaving Portugal behind and hope to help make Portugal great again.
For ten years I lived abroad, trying to explain to my foreign friends and colleagues what it means to be Portuguese: to eat this and drink that in a particular way; to come see our beautiful beaches with your own eyes; to speak loudly and teach others to say undiplomatic phrases. I’ve cried on airplanes as I heard tourists say that my country is beautiful, and I’ve smiled as I moved back and saw cleaner streets, startups growing and shops reopening. I’ve reconquered the hope that a country can rebuild itself if you trust its greatness.
Football was just the excuse to bring us together – from Newark to East Timor via Guinea-Bissau, home of our Éder-hero – while simultaneously ignoring those scattered roots because we are simply one huge family of Portuguese speakers.
Finally, let’s remember that Sunday happened one month after the Portugal Day that celebrated the longing for something great. We deserve to celebrate this victory because of its slow start, dramatic duration, and emotional, last-minute success. In other words, its Portugueseness.