Portugal is a country of immigrants, but it is not yet a cosmopolitan country

Portugal practically does not have public figures with foreign ancestry. We do not have cultural diversity on television. We do not have politicians born in the cradle of immigration. The descendants of immigrants are not represented in the parliament. Even the area of culture, usually the most progressive and disobedient, remains immune to multiculturalism, a traditionally left-wing theme.

The reality is different in other countries.

The Swedish government has ministers born outside the country, such as the Iranian Ardalan Shekarabi, Minister of Consumer Affairs. At the age of 15, four years after landing in Sweden as a refugee, he became a member of a youth wing of a political party and a political activist. Ibrahim Baylan had an almost identical path, the minister for Enterprise, born in Turkey.

In France, the Minister of Sports is Roxana Maracineanu, born in Romania. In Brazil, the President of the Republic has Italian ancestry and the Senate president, elected last week, has Moroccan origin. The Minister of Education is Colombian and preserves a strong Castilian accent.

In the United Kingdom, 52 parliamentarians are of foreign descent. In Portugal there is only one: PSD's deputy Nilza de Sena, with ancestry from Goa.

In Spain - a country with similar political and economic problems to ours - there are many examples of immigrants who, despite having arrived anonymously in the country, have since gone on to achieve celebrity status, whether in TV, cinema, literature or music. These include Emilio Aragón (Cuba), Miguel Bosé (Panama), Mikel Erentxun (Venezuela), Juan Diego Botto and Cecilia Roth (Argentina), and Carmen Posadas (Uruguay).

In recent weeks I have asked several Portuguese to list foreigners or Portuguese with foreign origin who stand out in Portuguese society. There are no answers.

We live in an eternal contradiction. The national songbook is full of troubadours of hospitality. We welcome foreign visitors with arms that are larger than our own muscles. We are delighted when others prefer us. But when the foreigner decides to stay, the songs become songs of mockery, the muscles contract and pride vanishes. We are not an openly punishing country. It is rare to hear xenophobic comments in public. We are not Russia or Finland. But we are invaded by an underground fear. The majority of the Portuguese population, with low schooling, conservative habits and little knowledge of other countries, gets anxious when they have to face the difference.

Many human fears are instinctive. Pain, for example, produces an automatic chemical reaction in the prefrontal cortex. Other fears are taught or acquired. Cultural norms push us to beliefs that can create fear in one country but comfort in another. A man dressed in a shalwar kameez generates epidermal shivers at a tenant in Oporto, but is seen with ease by an owner in Peshawar.

The fear of difference becomes controllable only if people who choose Portugal group together and behave in a predictable way, living in the suburbs or having jobs that other people don't want to have. The hierarchy formed by downgrading immigrants generates a subconscious comfort. A revitalization of our self-esteem. We are the ones who pay the Ukrainian maid or the Brazilian manicure. We are the ones who order that the dishes have to be washed with hot water and the ones who choose the color of the polish.

It is in this context that the absence of immigrants or descendants of immigrants in positions of power is justified. We declassify them. It is argued that during the democratic period, Portugal received mainly unskilled people, usually from Portuguese-speaking countries, and therefore with difficulties in getting to positions where great decisions are taken.

Obviously there were exceptions. Executive Zeinal Bava comes from a Muslim Mozambican family. Prime Minister António Costa is the son of a Goan. Brazilian Fernando Pinto was president of TAP for 17 years. The justice minister was born in Angola. But they are exceptions. Whether due to low qualifications or structural reasons, immigrants do not actively participate in national debates.

Fortunately, this is not what happened in many of the countries that welcomed the poor Portuguese. There are many examples of politicians who have Portuguese ancestry, such as the American congressman Devin Nunes or the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Justice of Luxembourg Félix Braz.

But the hierarchy of power in Portugal may soon be challenged. The new wave of immigration is bringing to Portugal foreigners who are wealthier and more qualified than the majority of the Portuguese.

Brazil is among the countries with the greatest exodus of millionaires. And Portugal is their priority destination. Last year, the number of Europeans who also chose Portugal to live has reached historic values. We already have more French than Guineans or Italians than people from São Tomé and Príncipe. The Chinese population has also increased, it has surpassed the Angolan community.

Altogether, more than 420 thousand foreigners live in Portugal, around 80% of them in working age. Throughout its democratic history, this country has received several waves of immigration - from the Portuguese-speaking countries and from Eastern Europe, for example - but the new wave is the most qualified ever. It is a new definition of the word emigrant in the national collective dictionary.

Bolsonaro's victory should also lead to an exodus of highly qualified Brazilian intellectuals and professionals from Brazil to Portugal. We will be forced to reinvent our conception of Brazilian people. In addition, we are receiving hundreds of technological entrepreneurs equipped to integrate quickly with Portuguese society.

As a result, immigrants are no longer living in the suburbs of the largest cities. But they still live in the suburbs of power. Will Portugal afford not to take advantage, once again, of a wave of people interested in contributing to the country's development?

Many of them, the richest or oldest ones, will eventually build their own isolated spaces of comfort. If they are not encouraged to embrace the national objectives, they will enjoy their insulation comfortably. There are several Caloustes Gulbenkians living in Portugal, millionaires and billionaires who may end up becoming only anonymous residents of a luxury hotel or, if stimulated, large contributors to Portuguese society.

Other new immigrants, in working age, will compete directly with the Portuguese for the best jobs. This is the first time, in the modern history of Portugal, that this will happen. We can have more qualified civil servants, more qualified doctors, more qualified lawyers if we decide to take advantage of the human wealth of those who chose Portugal to live.

Is this the path we will choose?

* Rodrigo Tavares is the founder and president of Granito Group. His academic career includes the universities of Harvard, Columbia, Gothenburg and California-Berkeley. He was nominated as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum

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