Coming to Canada 53rd Anniversary

February 4th marks the 53rd anniversary of leaving my home in São Miguel, Azores for Toronto, Canada. Fifty-three years in the life of a sixty-two-year-old means that the balance of time is weighed heavily on the side of Toronto with only a few years of life in the city of Ponta Delgada.

Yet, it’s the balance of my younger life that in some ways weighs the most. I have already written enough about my inner journey of discovery and self-exploration; what it means for me to be someone who came from an island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean to settle by the shores of Lake Ontario.  The parallel between these two landscapes has continued to be a geographical mirror reflecting where I came from with where I live.

In 2008, I wrote Coming to Canada to celebrate my 40th anniversary with the intent of sharing my journey of immigration with my family and especially the younger generation; namely, my nieces (and later my nephews) and my cousins’ children all of whom were born in Canada. They were not immigrants but instead first-generation Portuguese Canadians.

I think all children’s stories of their immigration experience are important and I wish more people told their stories so that our collective diasporic memory gets documented and shared. I have said it often, but I’ll repeat it now on this anniversary date: Coming to Canada was the best thing my parents could have done for all of us.

Still, I miss my visits to São Miguel but I hope to return when the world health situation allows. Visiting the Azores is a gentle reunion with a place I love which still has the familiarity of home and yet is not home anymore.

I already posted Coming to Canada on my blog years ago, but here it is again, for anyone who is interested in reading it:

Part 1: My Azorean Childhood

Part 2: Leaving for Toronto

Part 3: Arriving in Toronto

Part 4: To the Azores and Back!

Where the road goes, I go…

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Living and Partly living…During the Pandemic

Photo taken at Tommy Thompson Park, looking back to the city of Toronto

“Yet we have gone on living, Living and partly living,” say the chorus of Canterbury women in T. S. Elliot’s play Murder in the Cathedral. We, too, can say that we are living and partly living at this time.

The city of Toronto is once again on lockdown. It’s a confusing time. People are having a hard time interpreting the basic message of “stay home.” There’s a long list of exemptions as to when you can go out but it’s all open to interpretation and how will all this be enforced?

We have been living and partly living since March of 2020. For those of us who have complied and stayed home all these months, it’s disheartening to see that our efforts have not made a difference. The virus rages on, it has even mutated. The hope of a vaccine is a not-too-hopeful hope. We can see that it will take a while for a worldwide vaccination plan to kick in and really make a difference.

We are living and partly living, trying to be positive, to be creative, and to keep in touch with others in the hope of offering them encouragement and community. It’s all we can do from the isolation of our homes but, the longer this lasts, we will become wearied and fatigued. It will be harder to sustain positive thoughts, emotions, and attitudes to help us get through the pandemic until it will, inevitably, end. Until then, we will continue to live and to partly live.

I haven’t walked the city for nearly a year. I live and don’t live in the city, so it feels. I stay in my neighbourhood and only go beyond it once a week to deliver groceries to my mother who lives on the opposite end of the city. The drive there allows me to see a bit of the city but it’s not a city I engage with any more. I see it and I don’t.

I never fully realized how good it was to have the freedom of walking and meandering through its many neighbourhoods, meeting friends at coffee shops and restaurants, going for a movie or a concert. City life full of people in close proximity sharing in the experiences of living and enjoying each other’s company in the texture and setting of physical spaces.  We now partly live and the city is only in my memories of the life I had before the pandemic.

I thought to post some photographs of my city, Toronto. I rarely take photographs that include people. I deliberately wait for them to be out of the way before taking my pictures, but now I wish I had more images of people interacting and occupying the space that is the city.

I have hope that there will be another time when I’ll be free to wonder the streets again. Until then I look at photos. Living and partly living… and waiting.

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Pepito Has a Doll/Pepito Tiene Una Muñeca: Book Review

The title of this new English/Spanish bilingual children’s book written by Jesús Canchola Sanchez and illustrated by Armando Minjárez Monárrez comes unapologetically to the point: the boy in the story has a doll. There is no twist or cute dramatic reveal or a slow build up to accustom the reader to this uncomfortable truth for many: that some boys may like to have a doll to play with.

In the age of gender-neutral language and the acceptance of multiple identities, beyond the boy/girl heteronormative model of defining a person’s being, Pepito Has a Doll may be a very safe idea but it’s still an important one to get across to children; namely, that it’s okay for he/she/they to look upon a doll as a positive expression of play and as a tool to explore imagination and friendship.

Pepito gets teased at school for having a doll, Lola, who he takes to school every day. She is his friend and he talks to her. However, he fears that his classmates will laugh at him for having a doll but he worries about her literacy, wondering, “If she doesn’t come with me, how will she learn to read?”

His prayer every night is that he may find a friend to play with him. Eventually, that friend does show up as a new boy in school, Miguel, and they become friends. There’s a charming illustration of the two of them running through a field of grass, holding hands with each other and with Lola, hinting at the possibility of a life free from negative social attitudes.

Pepito brings Miguel home where his grandmother provides a safe space for the boys to be truly themselves without fear of ridicule. She teaches them to dance and by doing so, to embrace joy and celebrate their differences. The boys start to walk to school together and Pepito is happy to have a friend.

One day, Lola falls out of Pepito’s mochila and the other children make fun of him. “Pepito is a girl!” they say, in an attempt to reinforce what is considered unacceptable behaviour for a boy. Luckily, Miguel comes to his defence, “but the kids keep making fun.” Pepito has the courage to fight back with words, “No. No. No! Lola is my doll. She’s my friend. I love her and there’s nothing wrong with that,” he says. What’s interesting in the story is that the kids do stop making fun of Pepito and after this confrontation, leave him alone. This scene made me wonder about the importance of standing up for oneself. So much of bullying happens because children are not empowered to resist being victimized. The lesson here is to assert your own truth and perhaps, just maybe, those who had been teasing and making fun of you, will come to respect you, despite differences.

Pepito thanks Miguel for coming to his rescue with a besito, a kiss. This is another powerful message in the story, one that shows that it’s possible to show love and affection for one’s friends. I don’t think we need to interpret this exclusively as a coming out story. Boys and men are socialized from the start to avoid intimacy with each other because hugging and holding hands have been sexualized to the detriment of basic human touch and interaction. This story shows the possibility of friendships between boys to include the emotional responses we are taught to avoid, regardless of sexual or gender identification.

This wonderful story should be translated into every language and read not only by children but by adults who need to be reminded of the importance of letting children decide for themselves what they wish to play with and to even have a doll who represents the possibility of learning about human interaction through fantasy and imagination.

I wish I had read Pepito Has a Doll, had it been written when I was a little boy. It would have shown me that it was acceptable to play with dolls while also exploring my own identity and feelings towards boys.

I didn’t have a doll growing up Portuguese in the Azores but I do remember being allowed to play with my girl cousins and their dolls. What I did do was create dresses for them. My mother used to give me remnants of fabric she no longer needed for her own dressmaking materials. I did learn how to use needle and thread, cut patterns and sew them by hand into dresses and outfits which my cousins loved.

Looking back, I am impressed that the women in my family were comfortable enough to let me play this way without worrying about it being a threat to my masculinity. I learned from a young age that dolls and cars could be part of a boy’s childhood play choices. However, I know that my situation was not the norm and that more often than not, parents reinforce traditional models of play to teach children to stay within the narrow confines of outdated notions of femininity/masculinity.

A book like Pepito Has a Doll can go a long way to help break the stereotyped ideas around gender-based play, the meaning of friendship, and inclusive belonging.

The author acknowledges the role of his grandmother in teaching him how to be himself. There’s a touching scene in the story when Pepito asks his abuela, grandmother, why he has to hide his doll at school. I love her empowering response, “We have to be careful. Someone can make fun of you or hurt you. If someone does that to you, tell me. I will always protect you.”

I know that there’s other grandmothers out there who support the differences they see in a special grandchild. I can attest to that with my own grandmother who knew who I was long before I could understand it myself. One of my cousins told me much later in life that when she was still a child, and did not understand what our grandmother was referring to, had said to her, “Emanuel is different, but always be his friend.”

Pepito Has a Doll is a book that celebrates, through the power of words and lovely illustrations, the power of letting young boys explore their identity through play and imagination, not as a hidden secret thing but in the wide open space of friendship and community.

Published by BookBaby, January 20, 2021

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A Different Christmas

We are coming to the end of 2020 and I don’t have much that I want to say about it. Instead, I am simply grateful that the Christmas Season is here, with the lights and decorations up in both public spaces and private homes. We need to see more light this year, not only the physical light of the sun or ornamental lights, but inner light. It’s been a dark year, regardless of whether you live on the sunny part of the planet or where the days are short and dark in December.

I wish you all much light to give you comfort and hope as you wait for the start of 2021 and, hopefully, a new beginning for all the people of earth. For all of us who have survived this pandemic I hope we will see joy again, and a restoration to life as we know it, as much as possible, with resiliency to face the challenges of inevitable change and new ways of living our lives.

I leave you with some photos of simple decorations that I have come upon on my walks and that have given me comfort. I wish I knew who took the time to lovingly decorate the trees in the park so that I could thank them for this simple gesture of kindness to gift beauty and joy to those who walk by. They are signs that the world will be all right as long as we, in our own way, give light to each other, and thereby, light to the world.

Wishing everyone a Happy Christmas, a Feliz Natal, with many thanks to you for dropping by my blog this year. I don’t have many followers. Mine is a modest endeavour, but I am very grateful for those of you who have found me here. I enjoy meeting you on your blogs from where you are in Canada, USA, Philippines, South Africa, Portugal, Brazil, and other parts of the world. It always delights me to see new notices from each of you in my inbox and I look forward to your posts and your thoughts, photos, and writing in 2021. To all of you, a big thank you, a grande obrigado for your virtual presence and support.

I have done a Christmas post since I started my blog and have gathered them here in case you feel inclined to have a look:

Christmas Mourning (2016)

Presépio (2017)

Christmas Light/Luz de Natal (2018)

Les Santons de Charlevoix (2019)

Thank you to the person who lovingly placed this bow around the tree. May we all do something to make someone else feel special.

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Nature’s Stained Glass Windows

The elements that have gone into the creation of these stained glass views:  sunlight, sky, water; trees for framing, and a camera for capturing the moment. It’s that simple. It’s that beautiful.

Photos taken on my mid-morning walk by the edge of the Scarborough Bluffs overlooking Lake Ontario. December 11, 2020.

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A Dusting of Snow

It is truly a winter wonderland after the first dusting of snow covers the Scarborough Bluffs. It didn’t last for more than a day but that’s the way winters in Toronto go.

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The First Sunrise

So many of us are fascinated with sunrises. There must be as many photographs of the rising sun as stars in the firmament. What is it about the daily recurrence of the arrival of the sun that enchants us, transports us into a state of wonder; awakens our longing for the infinite with a smile on our face.

Every sunrise is the same, eternal, yet shows itself in daily newness and difference. These photos, which I took a month ago, made me think that this is what the first primordial sunrise might have looked like as it came out of the universe’s womb.

The same sunrise seen from afar

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First Snowfall

We had our first November snowfall in Toronto. A record-setting 19.4 cm on Sunday. It’s time to hibernate.

What a difference a few weeks makes.

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A Mid-November Walk in Birch Cliff

View of Lake Ontario from Rosetta McClain Gardens

It rains today. It’s cloudy and it’s best to stay inside and enjoy the memories of an unseasonal November in Toronto. We have had glorious days of sunshine and warm weather well up to yesterday. Perhaps there will be more days like this to come. The month is only half way done. For now, here’s some photos I hope you will enjoy from my walks at Rosetta Gardens and surrounding area at the edge of Lake Ontario, on the east end of this big city of Toronto.

A bit of red still hanging on, not wanting to let go of summer.

The Last Leaf

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Book Launch: Smiling in the Darkness by Adelaide Freitas


Smiling in the Darkness  was published earlier this year but, because of the pandemic, a book launch event could not happen in the physical world. Luckily, FresnoState’s Portuguese Beyond Borders Institute held a virtual book launch on November 10th, 2020.

I am grateful to Diniz (Dennis) Borges, Portuguese Beyond Borders Institute Director and Portuguese Language Lecturer, for hosting and facilitating a panel presentation made up of Portuguese-American authors Anthony Barcellos and Katherine Vaz, Mário Pereira, executive editor of Bellis Azorica-Tagus Press-Center for Portuguese Studies and Culture at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.

I was also a panelist, as one of the co-translators of the novel, but it was really Katharine F. Baker who should have been on the panel, not me. She is the one who lead the translation of Adelaide Freitas’ important book, and her absence from the panel discussion was sorely missed by me. It’s not that she was not invited, far from it. Kathie chooses to limit her on-line social media connectivity, and so we do respect her for it.

Here is the text of my remarks from the panel presentation:

I feel deeply honoured to be associated with the translation project of Smiling in the Darkness. I am also thrilled that Mario Pereira’s team at Tagus accepted one of my photographs for the book cover.

My introduction to Adelaide Freitas happened many years ago while I visited Ponta Delgada, São Miguel, Açores. I was browsing for books to bring back to Toronto at Gil’s, a wonderful bookstore, now gone, when I came across, nas duas Margens: da Literatura Norte-Americana e Açoriana, a book of essays, including Adelaide’s masterful dissertation on Moby Dick. Alas, I had not seen Sorriso por dentro da noite on the shelves. If I had, I am sure I would have bought it, too. I still don’t have a copy of the novel in Portuguese.

I fell in love with Adelaide’s writing and even wrote about her on my blog in July of 2018, Adelaide Freitas, from the Azores to North America, when she passed away.

By that time I had already met Katharine F. Baker and knew that she was working on the translation of Sorriso por dentro da noite. She assumed, rightly, that I would be interested in the story of Xana, the 12 year old girl protagonist in Adelaide Freitas’ heartbreaking account of what it means for a child to experience the fracture of family ties. One of the strongest themes in the novel for me is the idea that you can’t ever really go back and recapture the past and that the present is not always a better place.  The damage has been done.

I related to Xana because I, too, experienced the tearing apart of being taken from one culture to another, from losing beloved family members through immigration, and the ultimate realization that something deep within the soul gets damaged or changed.  The ending of the novel has Xana clinging desperately to hold on to her world just as it is about to change forever.  It’s a profound moment that captured my own moment of leaving the island of São Miguel for Canada at the age of nine.

While my life has been mostly lived in English, I miraculously maintained an “intuitive feeling” or “soul” understanding of my maternal language over the years, although at times, it feels like a distant memory, too.

This is the background I had and so Sorriso was a very emotional read for me. Although Kathie Baker is a very competent and careful translator, she only learned Portuguese in her mid-fifties after discovering that she had Azorean ancestry in her family. Since then, she has been a tireless champion of bringing Azorean writing to the English speaking world. We owe her a great debt of gratitude for this. I owe Kathie a great debt of gratitude for trusting me and bringing me along on this translation journey.

She had done a meticulous job, but I felt the translation still needed some wordsmithing to capture more deeply the nuance, richness and texture of Adelaide’s lyrical writing, and so I tried to make some polite suggestions to Kathie as to where to change a word here, a phrase there. To my surprise and delight she was open to my suggestions and invited me to collaborate fully on the final draft of the translation. So as I compared the texts, side by side, I guided Katharine into bringing out as much as possible the flavour and soul of the novel.

I suppose the first attempt at any translation is to try and get the words, the sentence structure, the syntax, the equivalents down on paper as much as possible. It’s like jigsaw puzzle pieces all in front of you. Some pieces are hard to make fit, while others are so self-evident that they lull the translator into a false sense of “getting it right.” It’s also like seeing a painting in front of you with all the colour foundation but still in need of some additional brush strokes, some smudging, or even small additions of colour to fill out the complexity of the image.  That’s where I came in, at this final stage after the groundwork had already been done.

When we completed the translation, all that was missing was its English title.  Sorriso por dentro da noite is one of those phrases that is very hard to find the equivalent of in English, but we finally settled on Smiling in the Darkness. I think it’s a fine equivalent, but for me, a native Portuguese speaker, the Portuguese contains a richness and a nuance that I can’t really explain or translate. I can only experience it through a feeling in my most inner self.

This is the challenge of all translation. It’s not just words. It’s a culture, a people, a geographical landscape, it’s everything to do with how we identify and belong in the physical world, but put down into words.

Given the beauty of Adelaide’s writing, so drenched in local language, so poetic in its prose, it was indeed a challenge to get the translation right as much as possible, without losing the lyricism of the book.

I think we have done justice to Adelaide’s novel and I hope it will please those who will read it in English, that it will help them enter Adelaide’s world, see it, touch it, taste it, in translation, yes, but still connecting with the essence of the original.

I once wrote a reflection called Being Through Words, which you can read on my blog posting of March, 2018 and which has recently been published in a new anthology Antologia Literária Satúrnia, Autores Luso-Canadianos (available as a PDF download).

In my reflection on the meaning of translation of not only words, but of the self through words, I would like to end with a poem by Avelina da Silveira, a visual artist and poet, born in Angola but who lives in both the Azores and Canada.

When I first read her poem, Palavras onde me perco, (Words where I lose Myself) it was like having a knife-stabbing-to-the -heart experience, especially the line: “Já não sonho em português.” “I no longer dream in Portuguese.” This is the painful moment I had experienced through immigration when eventually my mother-language receded to make room for the new language of the country that became home. This, I suspect would be something Xana would experience eventually, and that Adelaide would be conscious of in her own reflections of language and identity. I think this poem captures the heart of Smiling in the Darkness, and so I’d like to finish here by reading it.

Palavras onde me perco

How I long for the days when words were essential!
Outros tempos quando a palavra encerrava uma certeza
— coeur et mots, moi même in a fabric of being.

Foi há tanto tempo que parti…
As palavras custam a vir;
como se eu as quisesse articular mas houvesse uma pedra
na garganta.

A voz lusitana escorre sem que dela eu beba,
quase alien, porque já não sonho em português.

Palavras, words, mots perdus…
Labirintos de imagens onde me perco
na ânsia de chegar à outra margem de mim.

J’ai changé le profil du jour
et j’ai perdu mon visage en ce temps,
never again myself between the sea and the maples.

Oh tragédia de imigrar, de partir sem chegar
tecendo na diáspora un être d’ici et de toujours.

Demain será un autre pays, un autre matin,
De identidade dispersa
I’ll be searching in yesterday
for the name of a water bird among the snow.

©Avelina da Silva


I invite you to watch the book launch event here:

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