Old Year – New Year: Reflections and Hopes for 2017

December 29th, 2016 No Comments

(The Portuguese translation is available HERE.)

This time of year is usually reserved for reflection on recent events with an expectation of what the future might hold. Most reviews in the press will probably focus on the surprise victory of Donald Trump in the American presidential election, and the possible effects on U.S. relations with China, Russia, and the rest of world. In this article, I will take a narrower focus on the state of relations among ethnic communities within the superpower nations, specifically the descendants of the Portuguese in Asia, some who currently live in Macau (where I recently visited) and others in the countries of the diaspora.

Some of my observations are based on the early results of an on-line survey (which is still active – see below), comments from social media in Macau, and the individual opinions of people I spoke to while in Asia from Nov. 26 to Dec. 4. By focusing on this smaller group, we have the advantage of seeing how cultural ties can reveal insights into common themes that touch people across national borders, including a search for identity, the potential to learn from others, and the prospects for cultural and commercial exchanges. While we should not expect any resolution to these issues, we can still get a rough profile of this group, and an indication of their concerns as we pass into an uncertain future.

Early Survey Results

As a representative of a Macau daily newspaper (Jornal Tribuna de Macau) while attending the 2016 Encontro, I thought it would be a good idea to compare the opinions of both residents of Macau and descendants who live in other countries. To do this, I decided to meet with locals, monitor social media sites in Macau, and to update an on-line survey I first conducted in 2012. The new 10 question survey, offered in Portuguese and English, targets mixed-race Portuguese from Asia (often referred to as Luso-Asians, “Tou San”, or Macanese) with family roots in China, India, and Southeast Asia, and specifically from Goa, Macau, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Canton, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore and Timor. To focus on this group, the first question requires respondents to self-identify as members before proceeding. The goal is to begin with common demographic traits, including age, country of origin, cultural identity, family size, and then to highlight certain attitudes. Because it often takes more time for people to respond, I decided to keep the survey open indefinitely as I continue to monitor the results.

For those who are interested, the survey can be accessed either through this link (https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/653V2Y3) or through a smartphone using the QR symbol on the left. (Several QR readers can be found on iTunes or the Google Android store). Here are some early results.

One of the first things I noticed in the 2017 survey is that the age of respondents seems to be trending younger. While in 2012 those from age 19 to 54 numbered only 33.3%, in 2017 many more in the same age group (51.6%) responded. The largest group to respond also changed. In 2012 the largest age group was over 65 years old (39.9%). In 2017 the largest age group to take the survey was between 35 and 54 years old (41.94%), followed by those 55 to 64 years old (29.03%), and those aged 19 to 34 (9.68%). If this trend continues, the responses suggest that 80.65% of people from 19 to 64, generally considered working age, are becoming more active in identifying their cultural roots. This is a significant trend that deserves more attention.

While advancing age may account for fewer in the older group and more young people in 2017, the interest of those under 65 leads to some interesting conclusions. The first deals with their own cultural identity. 67.74% of the respondents identified themselves as Macanese, while smaller groups identified themselves as Portuguese (19.35%), Eurasian (12.9%), European (9.68%), and Chinese (9.68%). A large group (62.51%) live in English-speaking countries, such as Australia, the United States, and Canada, while a significant number (31.26%) live in non-English speaking counties, including Portugal, Macau, Hong Kong, and other European countries.

There also seems to be a trend toward more use of digital media. 84.38% have Facebook accounts, while 56.25% use LinkedIn. A large number (50%) are on either Snap(Chat), Instagram, or Twitter, and a even greater number (75.01%) are on messaging services such as WeChat and WhatsApp. More importantly, the number of people in this community is larger than expected. Most of those surveyed (53.15%) stated that they have between 36 and 150 living family members, with a significant number (25%) identifying between 76 and “more than 150” family members. Again, these are preliminary results, but several trends seem to be taking shape.

In summary, those surveyed are now younger and generally more active. Given their self-identifications, they are more interested in their own cultural origins. A large number live in both English and non-English-speaking countries. Many use a wide range of social media platforms. We also could conclude that use of the internet, e-mail, and connected smartphones is taken for granted. Also, the size of this population seems to have been underestimated. Several survey respondents identified many more family members. Together with recently published research from Portuguese genealogist Jorge Forjaz, the greater number of family members identified in the 2017 survey could significantly increase previous estimates of Luso-Asians (Macanese).[1] If we factor in their relations by marriage to others of Portuguese ancestry (conservatively estimated at 42 million throughout the world) [2], the combined cultural network of both groups would be much larger, and potentially reach many more nations.

Viral Comments and Local Opinions

Given these common traits, it is interesting to compare attitudes toward identity, internal community relations, and international exchanges.[3] Among social media comments in Macau during the 2016 Encontro, for example, there has been recent discussion on Macanese identity within the context of Macau’s current role in China and its cultural history. A few comments mentioned broadening the discussion to include the presidents of Casa de Macau associations in the diaspora. Others suggested more interaction between international visitors and residents during the meetings and on visits abroad.

The same commenter suggested that past Encontros in Macau have been largely “one-way” without much dialogue. He suggested instead “colloquia, panel discussions, and reflection” concerning the situation of residents. These experiences, he argued, could become the foundation for teaching and communicating to younger generations in Macau, which could help stimulate recognition of a community and local identity.

Similar opinions were shared by respondents to the on-line survey. 56% stated their interest in cultural identity by seeking to learn about their family’s connection to Macau. Another question concerning reasons for attending the 2016 Encontro revealed that 32% have an interest in modern day Macau and China, while 36% wanted to connect and interact with local Macanese. Another 36% expressed an interest in cultural and commercial exchanges with Macau and China. Moreover, 43.75% specifically expressed an interest in learning about international business opportunities related to the Macanese Diaspora.

Several locals and visitors also mentioned missed opportunities for cultural sharing over the years, and the potential of developing relations with local business people that have not been pursued. Another resident concluded that more interaction with visitors would reveal Macau’s excellence to the rest of the world. He wrote, “It would be an opportunity to show (off) our culture, our talents, to promote our artists, create shows involving the population (in) the community: a sort of “Lusofona Week”, but focused … on culture, identity and Macanese values.”


Clearly, community members in Macau and in the Diaspora hope to develop some level of trust that can lead to both cultural and commercial exchanges. It is also evident that opportunities to do so have not been provided in the past, despite the willingness of many people to participate. While the opinions, comments, and early survey results outlined here are not conclusive, even this small sample suggests changing attitudes of people around the world who are interested in beginning such a dialogue. It will be up to many inside and outside Macau, both in established associations and as individuals, to initiate that process in the future.


[1] My research group at the University of California, Berkeley, The Portuguese and Macanese Studies Project, (FarEastCurrents.com) estimated the population through 2016 to be 1.5 million.
[2] See the various sources on Portuguese ancestry cited by Wikipedia under “Portuguese People”.
[3] The identities of social media and individual commenters have been withheld because of privacy issues.

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