Monday, March 10, 2014

Guest Blogger: Portuguese-American Poet MILLICENT BORGES ACCARDI

Millicent Borges Accardi

“The Luso-Debate –
What’s In A Name? 
In my mind, the world has JUST gotten used to or is starting to realize that there is a place called Portugal which is NOT in South America.

And, after a trip to Lisbon in the summer of 2010 for Disquiet (International Literary Program) (, my personal focus has been to spread the word about Portuguese culture, as best as I can: through poetry, through posts on Facebook (, through book reviews and public readings.

However, there are issues. Starting with, the name. Does the term Portuguese-American include or exclude?
It is a hard call to make and one which muddies the waters, but what is the proper name for what I had previously used as a moniker for myself: Portuguese-American (PA for short) or Lusophone? Iberian? Or, something else?

Luso-North-American is certainly not as short and sexy as Portuguese-American. And, unless you are an academic or consider yourself Luso, you probably don’t know that the term Luso is derived from the Lusitanians, one of the first Indo-European tribes to settle in Europe.

So are we Lusitanics? Are we Hispanics? Still others feel the correct term to describe those of Portuguese descent is Lusophone. Heck, even the government is confused. The U.S. Department of Transportation defines Hispanic as, “persons of Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Dominican, Central or South American, or other Spanish or Portuguese culture or origin” but the U.S. Office of Management and Budget excludes Portuguese.

Thus, when I organized a public off-site reading for the Associated Writing Program’s (AWP) ( conference in Chicago in March of 2012, I agonized over what to call “us,” this group of wonderful writers who had bonded together and found each other the summer of 2010 in Portugal. It was a reading that would technically be the first time any Luso-esque writers had gathered together during AWP.

As far as the conference, our announcements appeared in places called Portuguese American Journal, the Portuguese-American society, The Azorean Nation, Portuguese American Review. Early on, I tested the waters with the term Luso, and it did not resonate with a general population. Not one of the 500 members in my online Poetry Group knew what the heck a “Luso” was.

And, essayist Oona Patrick ( me she once posted flyers in Provincetown and had to go around crossing off Luso and writing in P-O-R-T-U-G-U-E-S-E A-M-E-R-I-C-A-N because the local Portuguese denizens had no clue about Luso!
The Italian-Americans have this issue too. With Sicilians versus Italians. And I have never heard the term Italian-Canadians, but that is my own ignorance I am sure.

As a way to make peace with the issue for the AWP book fair logo. I went with the simple label of “Portuguese-American Writers” against the red and green flag of Portugal and the famous o galo de Barcelos (colorful rooster symbol of Portugal).
However for the public reading, I adopted both terms, with this title, “Kale Soup for the Soul, Luso-writers present work about family, food and Portuguese culture.” That description, I felt would include everyone. Of course with letter scramble “soul” easily becomes “luso,” a fact that was pointed out to me by my clever husband!

There is a rather large PA population in Chicago, so we were hoping to attract a non-AWP audience. And, if I listed everything as American and North American and Canadian and Brazilian and Portuguese for the Book Fair, I was afraid of scaring off potential customers who would leap away from our booth like rats on a sinking ship–if our sign was too erudite, academic and confusing.

The best brands are short and completely describe the product. Like 7-Up, the un-cola. Seven ingredients, a clear, sweet bubbly beverage.

I long for THAT level of simplicity.

Now, I also have my own issues with definition since, technically, my family is from The Azores NOT the mainland. So am I Azorean-American (not very catchy)? Then there is Angola. Then there is Macau.

Heck, Europeans don’t even use the term “Hispanic” To them, if you are from Portugal or Spain or Italy or France or Romania, you are lumped into the “Latin” category. And “Hispania” is just an ancient name (23 centuries ago) for the Iberian Peninsula, so, essentially, then, the only true “Hispanics are those from Portugal or Spain?

At any rate, this whole debate is MUCH larger than me and my opinions.

Perhaps a reason why we Luso-Portuguese-Azorean-North-Americans are still unknown and isolated IS related to the whole definition of what and who we are?

In my research on this topic I found MANY Brazilian sites online and none of them include Portugal. Not the meet-ups or the film clubs or even the associations. Except for one, bookseller Elena Como (founder of Atlantico Books) ( who stocks Portuguese-Portuguese as well as Brazilian Portuguese books in her online bookstore and includes those from all Portuguese-Speaking countries in her blog-posts about Portuguese language activities, such as literary events and films series, that happen in New York City. Most Brazilian associations and businesses, concentrate ONLY on Brazil. There does not seem to be much discussion about whether or not to include poor little Portugal. In fact, since many people think Portugal is IN Brazil, why bother?

Though, personally, I find Brazil VERY different. And I have, for most of my life, felt more akin to and closer related to the Latino(a) culture than Brazilian. In junior high, I was bused across town because of my Hispanic last name, Borges. And I made fast friends in that community.

My childhood experiences as a second-generation Portuguese-American are similar to my Mexican-American and Cuban friends: Catholic festivals, family picnics, spicy sausages. And since Portuguese and Spanish are Latin countries, and speak neo-latin languages, does that make us “Latino.”? My counselor in elementary school pointed out that my family came from the Iberian Peninsula, which made me Hispanic. So am I “Iberian”? or “Hispanic” or both? Or neither?

To be sure, created in 1143, Portugal is one of the oldest countries in the world and technically Spain was part of Portugal, which really confuses things. Plus, Spain is 450 years younger than Portugal. And Brazil, like Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, St. Tome, Principe, Angola and Mozambique; and Macau are former Portuguese colonies.

There was a time when Portugal ruled the world. We were known as the navigators. Just look at what Magellan accomplished.

So, what to do now, though.

If there were an easy label or brand which included everyone, I would have used it for the two events at AWP. Also, I am wary that in America, we seem possessed with the idea of American-made. American-born. The Good Old US of A. America the Beautiful. People are never Mexican-North Americans. They are Mexican-American. One hyphen being the limit.

I don’t know. The term to define us and its definition are problematic. Like I think it was the poet Carolyn Forche, who said her grandmother called the colander “the bowl with the holes that makes the spaghetti go out” presumably because of the lack of a word for colander in Czech. And, I feel we run the risk of not appealing to anyone if our description for ourselves is too long and convoluted for deciphering by the very public we wish to attract and educate about all things literary and Portuguese.

Heck, it was only after years of individual self-identification and growth that a group of cultures (Mexican, Puerto Rican, Spanish) grew together to form Latino(a), a group that I personally feel very much a part of. But, even THAT is a debate and another story.

There are many talks to have. In the meantime, preciso de verdade e da aspirina! Or, I need the truth AND an aspirin. 

Photo Description and Copyright Info
Millicent Borges Accardi facebook logo photo.  In Lisbon. 
Disquite web page logo.
Map showing the main pre-Roman tribes in Portugal and their main migrations. Turduli movement in red, Celtic in brown and Lusitanian in a blue colour. Most tribes neighbouring the Lusitanians were dependent on them. Names are in Latin.
AWP poster for March of 2012.
Oona Patrick’s webpage logo photo.
Millicent Borges Accardi, left, and poet Lori May ( at AWP in March 2012 in Chicago.
Advertising poster for “Kale Soup for the Soul, Luso writers present work about family, food, and Portuguese culture.”
7 up logo.  Public Domain.
Flag of Portugal, created by Columbano Bordalo Pinheiro (1857-1929), officially adopted by Portuguese government in June 30th 1911 (in use since about November 1910).  Public Domain.
Elena Como facebook logo photo (
Jacket cover of Injuring Eternity, published on December 1, 2010 by World Nouveau (
Jacket cover of Woman On A Shaky Bridge, published in 2010 by Finishing Line Press (
Carolyn Forche announcing the five 2010 National Book Critics Circle finalists in poetry on January 22, 2011.  Attributed to David Shankbone.  CCA3.0UNP
Millicent Borges Accardi.  Web 

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