Pires had his say, now here’s the truth
In your publication dated October 28, 2019, the headline proclaims “Immigration activist critical of PLP”.
In the article, Robert Pires advocates on behalf of the mixed status of families in the Portuguese community and attributes what he perceives as the slow pace of immigration reform to the racial hostility he alleges the Progressive Labour Party has historically tried to exploit.
He also asserts that it is unconscionable that persons have been here 30 to 40 years without citizenship. Let us acknowledge that it was their choice to stay here without assurances. It is worthy of note that Mr Pires feels this should have been resolved 20 years ago. That is one year after the PLP first gained the reins of government. Apparently, there was no problem with the previous government failing to address the issue. Mr Pires was the spokesman for the now defunct Coalition on Long-Term Residents representing the Portuguese Community, and the West Indian and Jamaican Associations. It appears that now his concerns have narrowed.
Oftentimes, one hears of the contribution they have made. One may concede the contribution as a consequence, but I do not know of any who were motivated to come to Bermuda to “make a contribution”. Rather, it was to seize opportunities for personal improvement.
All workers made a contribution.
Because Mr Pires referred to the historical hostility the PLP has tried to exploit, we need to examine the truth.
In 1834 in anticipation of emancipation, two letter writers wrote on March 4 and 11 respectively and published in the Gazette that the soon-to-be-freed blacks should apply to the British Government for a loan to emigrate to Africa or some other part of the Empire, as there was no place for them here. There was resentment when former slaves could demand payment for work they performed — although they asked for less than their former masters demanded when they hired slaves out because blacks did not want to appear to be “uppity”.
Nonetheless, in August 1838, the Gazette editor wrote that the former slaves were lazy and wanted too much pay for their work. He went on to warn them that the whites here would import labour and they may rue their attitude.
It was probably this mindset combined with the desire to redress the racial imbalance — too many blacks — that prompted the Governor, Lieutenant-Colonel William Reid, to announce in the Throne Speech of 1842 that monies were to be provided by the Legislature for a fortnight’s subsistence for workers from Britain. The pamphlet advising of this was prepared by a Bermudian, William Burgess, and read in part as an encouragement to persons inclined to emigrate to Bermuda and to enable the best arrangement for them in their first arrival, etc. This commenced at the Throne Speech of July 21, 1842. That approach did not have the desired effect.
In 1847, the Legislature approved a bounty of £400 for the first ship to bring Portuguese labour to Bermuda. The bounty was claimed for the Golden Rule, owned by the Watlingtons when it brought 58 persons from Madeira.
Although the primary purpose was to lessen the negotiating power of blacks, there was little to no malice exhibited towards the Portuguese. Blacks were considered to be at the low end of the social hierarchy and Portuguese did not fare better. Their children went to black schools and many Portuguese families lived in “black” neighbourhoods. The men were allowed in “black clubs”.
In the 1950s, there was a change when the government of the day implemented policies and practices to alter the ratio of the black-to-white populations and reward the white while penalising the blacks further. With the closure of the Dockyard, some workers obtained local employment. They were Bermudian, English and Caribbean. Bermudians were entitled to remain, English were allowed to stay, but the others who were from the British West Indies, as their colonies were called at the time, were compelled to leave.
This was done when there was active importation from Portugal, a sovereign country. All of this happened after the importation of police officers from Britain, particularly those who served in Palestine before the creation of the state of Israel. This was at a time when Portuguese were now beginning to be embraced by the wider white community.
Black girls who had graduated from high school with academic qualifications to enter overseas colleges could not obtain employment at two high-end, retail outlets on Reid Street, but Portuguese girls who spoke very little English were hired. Those outlets had limited black patronage.
There was also a shop farther east on Reid Street that had 80 per cent black patronage, but their advertisements for sales ladies included a requirement that applicants must be able to speak Portuguese. The main options for black girls were “the kitchen or the classroom”. The Portuguese sports clubs did not allow blacks to frequent their premises.
Most of the black youth in my childhood neighbourhood had more education than their Portuguese counterparts, but fewer opportunities in employment.
Let us recognise that it was a PLP government that attempted to ameliorate the situation by providing for long-term residents. Let us remember that many Portuguese persons took advantage of policies that enabled them to receive benefits that were denied to blacks. We should also ask why was there no real support for the “Big Conversation” where the racial division to which Mr Pires refers could have been discussed and hopefully remedied.
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