Devin Meireles is a Portuguese-Canadian writer
Heritage is something that fascinates me. The culture we identify with our family values are something ingrained into us from an early age. Discernibly, the heritage within the Portuguese community is so palpable that it often feels as authentic as being transported to Portugal in an instant. Growing up has always felt legitimate.
Surrounding myself with fluent Portuguese people effuses that ambience. Sometimes it’s enough to satisfy saudade of the real thing. Fond memories resurface of me on the island, a little boy sitting on my grandpa’s front door, pushing up on a Calippo popsicle, as the men boisterously play dominoes behind me in the dining room. Grandma would be cooking in the kitchen. That’s what being Portuguese looked like for me as a kid. Family, food, and good times together.
As an adult, there’s more of a concerted effort to sustain that upbringing. Speaking the mother tongue is an excellent method to maintain that attachment. For those that don’t speak the language, it’s nothing to be ashamed of but I encourage you to start practicing. You’ll pick up quickly by paying attention at home or at the festa, I promise.
There is a lot to discover just from participating locally. Whether you dance, play an instrument, organize, or just show up, there are elements of being Portuguese that are accessible and can connect you to our ancestral homeland. That heritage comes from a history that defines who we are. Continuing those traditions is how we keep our culture alive.
Moreover, the festas are meticulously put together by steering committees that contribute their own time, doing their best to preserve these traditions. Volunteers make it happen. These are people that are passionate about their heritage. So I figured that if I’m willing to support charity, volunteering annually for bike rides and marathons, why not give some of that time to the community that raised me up? That’s how I was inspired to get involved at first.
There are numerous options to get involved with but a new iteration of a Portuguese festa piqued my interest last year. Portugalo Fest promised a unique experience, the likes of which were never seen before. Its conception was inspired by a historic wedding tradition with a strong desire to redefine multiculturalism in the city of Mississauga. Celebration Square had never hosted a Portuguese event until then. So its inaugural year was going to be history in the making and I wanted to be a part of it. That’s why I registered to volunteer.
The day of the event was a great experience for me, contributing to something new and exciting was fulfilling. Meeting new people, sharpening my skills, and most importantly, feeling that connection to my Portuguese community. Being involved in something monumental can really fire up your personal development. It was a pleasure to be involved.
Volunteering can feed your soul. Especially when you’re doing it for something that you hold close to your heart. I felt like I made a difference that day and had fun doing it. My favourite part was finding a deeper understanding of the culture. It was wonderful.
Being a volunteer can also take you down paths you didn’t expect to encounter. People remember you. Building connections that can resurface later in life is like planting seeds to sprout. Such was my surprise when I was invited to be a board member the following year. I gratefully accepted.
Now, I am contributing on another level. Seeing first hand what goes into the planning of a grand event. Coordinating important aspects of the festival, including the promotional efforts of the marketing team. Every piece has so much significance, whether you realize it or not, and when it all comes together there’s history to be made again. I can’t wait to see it happen!
Giving back is a gratifying experience. To stand alongside fellow passionate board members has been heartwarming. Their enthusiasm for the heritage is infectious. They inspire me to continually maintain my connection with the homeland. With that, opportunities to speak the language have presented themselves. Since joining, my vocabulary has improved as well as my conversational skills. I am working on becoming a fluent speaker one day.
Being Portuguese is a blessing and it’s an honour to share our culture with everyone. While I participate in this year’s festival, I am humbled to have more responsibility. It’s been a project that has been exhilarating and is proof that when you express interest you will find the opportunities you seek.
Volunteering can change the trajectory of your life like that. I encourage you to do the same. Especially since this year marks the 70 year anniversary of the first bulk order of Portuguese to arrive in Canada, this will be history in the making! It’s our responsibility to keep up the tradition and getting involved with the Portuguese community will make you more Portuguese than you already are!