A Guide to the 2016 Encontro
The Meetings of Macanese Communities in Macau
(The Portuguese translation of this article appeared in the JTM on Nov. 28.)
On the eve of the meetings of the Macanese communities in Macau, scheduled for November 26 to December 2, it may be time to provide some guidance on what we should expect. One perspective was recently outlined in an editorial by Carlos Piteira, a researcher from the University of Lisbon.[i] He writes that a question often raised during the meetings is one of identity, and ultimately of adaptation to what Macau was before and after the 1999 handover. This is a fair conclusion, certainly one that local Macanese have had to consider, and a question that those in the Diaspora have struggled with in the countries where they now live. As Piteira points out, at the root of identity are issues of globalization and cultural homogenization, which tend to erode cultural ties. While noting the resurgence of cultural elements, such as creole Maquista and Macanese literature, he concludes that each can be used as an interpretive bridge to understand the dynamics of Macau today.
I will add that Piteira’s suggestion to understand Macanese identity within the dynamics of Macau’s current condition could be expanded. The objective should also include a better understanding of Macau’s cultural past, which may ultimately provide the foundation for connecting all Macau’s descendants in the present and the future. In fact, attempts to introduce Macau’s history have traditionally been included in the activities of the Encontro, including tours of the Historic Centre, opportunities to sample authentic foods, and listen to lectures on history and current affairs. The unfortunate part is that there has been little actual contact between local Macanese and Diaspora Macanese during these activities, so the promise of culture as a bridge to understanding is effectively reduced to cultural tourism. This could be easily remedied with more inclusive meetings involving both residents and expatriates, and historical information that is available from the Institute of Culture, but those options are not being offered this year.
Another way to look at the Encontro is to consider it as an opportunity to exchange ideas, perceptions, and perspectives of those inside Macau and those coming to visit. This is especially important given the current dynamics that tend to marginalize Maquistas as a dying minority within “Chinese” Macau. Based on the latest historical, cultural, and genealogical research, most long-time Macau residents are, in fact, Luso-Asian, and therefore share Macau’s cultural ties with people from Portugal, China, Malaysia, Japan, Timor, and other nations in Southeast Asia. The recognition of these roots, derived from the dynamics and social context of Macau’s history over almost five centuries, has the potential of connecting past, present, and future descendants to a common identity. Upon this basis, all methods of exchange may be possible among those who recognize their own histories. Cultural, educational, even commercial links may potentially result, but only if interactions between people of similar backgrounds are allowed to occur.
In the final analysis, the “Encontros” should have a simple agenda. They should be offered as meetings of people from around the world who share a common history, who come to Macau to revive and reassert their cultural identities, and hopefully reach an understanding of how others like them live in a similar globalized environment. These are the gifts that all Encontros should provide, and that is how I hope to experience the Encontro when I visit Macau later this month.
I look forward to speaking to some of you to learn how the experience was during your visit.
To learn about the history of the Encontros, read the following article.
[i] Carlos Piteira, “The Meetings of the Macanese Communities in Macau”, Ponto Final, Nov. 8, 2016.