The collective voice of the many Portuguese speakers of Massachusetts got a little louder on March 25 at a reception to celebrate the official inauguration of the Center for Portuguese Language-Instituto Camões. Born of the efforts of the Consul General of Portugal in Boston, Paulo Cunha Alves; Fernanda Costa, Portugal’s Coordinator for the Teaching of Portuguese on the East Coast; Professor Ann Blum, Chair of the Hispanic Studies and Latin American Studies at UMass Boston; and Provost Winston Langley, the center will be housed at the university’s Healey Library.
A collaboration with the Instituto Camões, Portugal’s foremost cultural institution, the center will provide a source for research and pedagogical materials for the study of Portuguese language and culture and will sponsor events and exhibitions designed to explore the rich cultural diversity embodied by Portuguese language speakers, a population represented by eight countries and over 230 million people.
Attended by Chancellor J. Keith Motley, Provost Langley, Consul General Alves, Professor Blum, students and other representatives of UMass Boston, members of the Portuguese language press in New England, and members of Portuguese cultural organizations in Massachusetts, the event saw the signing of the Portuguese version of the Memorandum of Understanding between the Instituto Camões and the university by Consul General Alves and Chancellor Motley.
“As the only public university in the state, this institute fits UMass Boston’s mission completely,” said Chancellor Motley, “and we are so proud to have it.”
Added Provost Winston Langley in his remarks, “We seek to embody the cultural heritage of all our students.”
The reception, held in the Campus Center’s Alumni Room, was indeed a microcosm of the local Portuguese cultural community. Though they shared a common native language, as students introduced themselves to Professor Caetano Serpa, long-time teacher of Portuguese at UMass Boston, they were sure to include their various nationalities along with their names and tried to guess where the professor came from. According to the Massachusetts Alliance for Portuguese Speakers (MAPS), there are approximately 1 million Portuguese speakers in Massachusetts, making it the second most spoken language after English. The language is represented by peoples from Angola, Brazil, Cape Verde, East Timor, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Portugal and the Azores, and Sao Tome and Principe--a vast cultural landscape spanning four continents.
“Language is an instrument of the affirmation of the global society,” said Consul General Alves, “it is perhaps the most powerful of all cultural uniting ties.”
“It’s about the global language,” Professor Ann Blum agrees. “The Consul General and Fernanda (Costa) have an inclusive vision about the language. That’s what we do in our classroom. The visions were really in harmony, so it’s a good partnership.”
The center promises to be a vibrant addition to the research and cultural institutes at UMass Boston. “The wonderful thing about UMass is that there are already a number of people who speak Portuguese as their first language, and we’re happy to be the department who facilitates the connections that are already happening,” says Blum, who will work closely with the center’s director, Sílvia Belo Oliveira, and with the Institute Camões and the Consul General to acquire materials and plan events open to the students and the community at large.
“We want students to use it actively, as a resource and a meeting place,” said Blum. “I see it being an extension of the department.”
The March 25 reception coincided with the opening of the Portuguese-Speaking Countries Film Festival, cosponsored by the center and held at UMass Boston’s Healey Library, which is one of many events included in the Boston Portuguese Festival 2010, running now through June.