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A Portuguese mission, to be sure

The influence that a group of Portuguese intellectuals bequeathed to Brazil

“I am one more Portuguese looking for something better.” Were they not from the pen of a citizen of Lisbon who went into exile in Brazil half a century ago because of Salazar, these words would right away be interpreted as a failure in the self-esteem of the Portuguese people. By defining himself in this way, though, the poet and painter Fernando Lemos ended up expressing a sentiment common to a lot of Portuguese who, when they left the old metropolis because of 20th century dictatorial regimes, helped to make the lands that, as was already known overseas, had long ceased to be a colony. Lemos was part of a group of Portuguese intellectuals that never entitled itself a “group”. But which now, with the launch of A missão portuguesa – rotas entrecruzadas [The Portuguese mission – crisscrossed routes] (organized by Rui Moreira Leite and Fernando Lemos, Edusc and the Unesp press, 235 pages, R$ 59), has its legacy for Brazilian culture revised and classified under the concept of “mission”, a term traditionally applied to the French professors who formed the University of São Paulo (USP) and employed here by Antonio Candido to refer to the Portuguese as well.

The book boasts 26 articles and 28 collaborators, the organizers included, and discusses 19 personalities such as Carlos Araújo, Eduardo Lourenço, Eudoro de Souza, Jorge de Sena, Vítor Ramos, Manuel Rodrigues Lapa, Fidelino de Figueiredo, Joaquim Barradas de Carvalho and others. The story begins even before the Salazar years, when Sarmento Pimentel, after taking part in the counter-coup against the dictatorship of Gomes de Costa, in 1927, decided to go into exile in Brazil. Over here, he became the president of the Portuguese Republican Center and a collaborator of the newspaper Portugal Democrático (Democratic Portugal – PD), which between 1956 and 1974, was the means of expression for the Portuguese antifascists. Amongst the collaborators there were writers, poets, critics and essayists, like Adolfo Casais Monteiro, Agostinho da Silva, Castro Soromenho, Jorge de Sena and Fernando Lemos himself, all profiled in the book.

“The political question really was important for these personalities. In the last instance, the only thing we had in common amongst us was anti-Salazarism”, recalls Fernando Lemos, today 77 years old, the only survivor still resident in Brazil. In a time when the Brazilian press at large did not understand the meaning of the European dictatorships, Democratic Portugal had a didactic role. “We were criticized several times for making a left wing newspaper, but we were not all of the Communist Party. I myself never played an active part in politics, except at art exhibitions, for example, to canvass for funds for relatives of Portuguese exiles”, says Lemos. “But I was always active in left wing events, as far away as possible from the right.”

If the pages of PD were stamped with political dissatisfaction against Salazar, in Brazilian cultural and academic circles, the “missionaries” from Portugal left some great contributions. In 1954, during the commemorations of São Paulo’s IV Centenary, there they were, anticipating the festivities that are due to repeat themselves in 2004, with the city’s 450th anniversary.

Political benchmark
“Fernando Lemos himself came to Brazil for the IV Centenary and ended up staying”, recounts Rui Moreira Leite, the other organizer of the book. An immense poster by Lemos was exhibited in the exhibition hall showing the history of São Paulo, organized by historian Jaime Cortesão, the most militant of the “missionaries”, who had been in exile, before Brazil, in Spain and in France. Besides being a political benchmark for the others in the group, Cortesão found a space, in Brazil, for writing some of the fundamental works of modern Portuguese historiography. He obtained government support for carrying out research that was strongly based on scientific data relating to navigation and, in particular, to the evolution of geographic and cartographic knowledge.

Like Cortesão, most of the members of the Portuguese were men of letters – essayists and fictionists – who found a space for working in Brazilian universities. “It was through my colleagues that I became a professor of Arts in USP’s Faculty of Architecture and Urbanism, as well as in other faculties”, Lemos recalls. “The university was the space we had for dialoging with Brazilian society.”

Thus, the first part of the book is exclusively dedicated to some academic events at which, besides discussions about literary criticism, historiography and other subjects, there were implicit political clashes. Examples of this were the International Colloquies of Luso-Brazilian Studies – whose 4th edition, held in Bahia in 1959, is commented on in the book. Direct interference by the policy of the State became clear in 1954, when the very organization of the second Colloquy was proposed by Salazar, who reserved the right to indicate the personalities taking part. The pretension, associated with the commemorations of São Paulo’s IV Centenary, was regarded by members of the organizing commission as an attempt to strengthen Salazarism in Brazil. Which did not fail to contribute towards the extraterritorial ideological confrontation that Portuguese exiles experienced in Brazil.

While in the collective ambit political dissatisfaction reigned, artistic expression took care of giving its message about the experience of exile, as is to be seen in the work of Carlos Maria de Araújo, regarded as a “poet of exile” of the group. Fernando Lemos as well had his poetic work interpreted as an expression of the emigrant, particularly the poem Language is just a process, which says: “Going into a scene badly, for example, you can fall into an alien abyss that was not made for our falls”. “I never held any nostalgia for Portugal, although the fact of being a foreigner was always present. And being a Portuguese foreigner is different”, says Lemos.