By Millicent Borges Accardi
Our interviewee, André Corrêa de Sá, specializes in Portuguese and Luso-African Literatures and Cultures, at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He holds a Ph.D from the University of Évora and a Licenciatura degree from the University of Coimbra. An Assistant Professor in the Spanish and Portuguese Department at the University of California, Santa Barbara, André Correia de Sá has wide-ranging interests in literatures and cultures of the Portuguese-speaking world, focusing primarily on authors from the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries.
He has written on topics as diverse as psychoanalysis and psychotherapy, romanticism and modernism, colonialism, post-colonialism, and, more recently, environmental humanities. His critical books include Depressão e Psicoterapia em António Lobo Antunes: Qualquer coisa que me ajude a existir (LeYa/Texto, 2019) and co-editor of Mike Tyson para Principiantes, antologia poética de Rui Costa (Assírio & Alvim, 2017) and of Primeira Antologia de Micro-ficção Portuguesa (Exodus, 2008).
Currently he is writing a book entitled Songs for a brutal world: ecology and solidarity in Lusophone literature, which focuses on the way literature evokes the affective, aesthetic and political connections with the environment. He hopes his work will “try to bear the idea that literature has an important and long-lasting role in promoting a sense of sustainability and ecological responsibility.”
Before UCSB, he taught undergraduate courses in Portuguese and Lusophone African Studies and graduate courses on the relations between literature and environment at the Federal University of São Carlos, São Paulo, Brazil. He also contributes to the Center for Portuguese Studies at UCSB, which seeks to foster the study of the literatures, language and cultures of the Portuguese-speaking world in the US.
As part of the Portuguese Beyond Borders Institute’s Reading Series (sponsored by FLAD) at California State University in Fresno, Professor of Spanish and Portuguese, André Corrêa de Sá, gave a presentation about colloquial author Mayone Dias and the Portuguese-American Experience. A figure with due recognition within the Portuguese community in America, Mayone Dias passed away April 24th, at 94 years old, the author of several writings related to the Azorean Diaspora and the Azores. He was, without a doubt, a great driving force in the “building of bridges” over the Atlantic, uniting generations and promoting knowledge across borders, as well as the affirmation of the presence of the Portuguese community in American society.
Q: Can you tell us how you first became interested in the work of Mayone Dias, chronicler of Portuguese-Americans in California?
A: Let me start by offering my tribute to Professor Eduardo Mayone Dias, who recently passed away in Los Angeles.
I heard his name for the first time soon after coming to Santa Barbara, at a friend’s place, also named Eduardo —Eduardo Paiva Raposo — a fellow professor of linguistics at UCSB. Eduardo had known Mayone Dias quite well. Around the coffee table, after lunch, we were talking about Portuguese who had written about Santa Barbara and he asked me “Do you know Mayone?” “No, It does not ring a bell,” I said. “Mayone”, he replied, “wrote very interesting American chronicles. Some of them talk about Santa Barbara and UCSB. I haven’t heard anything about him in years.”
Well, the genre of chronicles, or short essays, is very common in Portuguese and Brazilian literatures, and I read a lot of them. So the following day I rushed over to the library to pick up his books. I immediately realized that Mayone Dias offered up an extraordinary example to anyone—as it was my case, particularly at that point—interested in better understanding the Portuguese heritage in the US that I would ultimately know in first-hand. Mayone was a pioneer in opening a very large window to this social phenomenon in California.
What especially impressed me was the empathetic way he looks at the history of immigration and tells compelling stories about how Portuguese-American communities became what they are. Without dramatizing too much, dwelling on an abstract level or trafficking in ready-made ideas, he brings the reader to the realm of this circle. Furthermore, as a writer he managed to combine, in a very unusual way, an elegant style with a sociological view. I find his writing very persuasive and I like it a great deal.
Q: What is one of the most memorable stories about festas that Dias writes about?
A: For Mayone Dias, all the celebrations hosted by the communities were one of the best illustrations of the Azores that had been transplanted to California: a combination of cultural heritage, group solidarity and a flexible response to the local environment. That’s how Portuguese-Americans managed to thrive and play significant roles in the society. More than presenting memorable stories about these events, Mayone engaged in a kind of ethnographic fieldwork, participating as a member of the community, while at the same time observing it from a distance. I suggest reading Coisas da “LUSAlândia”, which gathers several writings on the history of the Portuguese presence in California, including essays on the Festivals of the Holy Spirit organized by Azorean-Portuguese communities that offers a detailed account of the parades, the crowning of queens, the community meals, and everything else this festival is about.
Q: In your opinion, what can we learn in the 21st century from Mayone Dias’s work? How are Dias’s stories, in what ways are they relevant today? What can these stories tell us about the future of Portuguese communities?
A: Mayone Dias gathered an incredibly vast amount of information about the Portuguese immigrant communities in California and wrote a systematic account of it, between chronicles and scholarly books and articles. Over the decades, he ended up weaving a huge tapestry of the transcultural matrix of Portuguese-American culture.
He showed, so to speak, how Portuguese culture and American culture hang together in the unique landscape of “L(USA)lândia”, to bring the term famously created by Onésimo Almeida (who, alongside with Diniz Borges and a couple of other writers, also mastered this kind of work).
Mayone Dias pays close attention to concrete details of Portuguese-American culture and how the Portuguese immigrants, mainly coming from the Azores, as we know, made a fresh start in a foreign land, found place into the new society and came up to be an active part of American life. He was very much concerned about Portuguese-Americans being cut out of equal opportunities and strongly felt that the process of Americanization would be of benefit if the younger generations found meaning in their Portuguese roots. Taking pride in their heritage would help them getting better jobs and political influence. As an immigrant myself, I am very grateful for having such books. We’re living through a very different time—the chapter of immigration pretty much ended a long time ago.
The world certainly looks different than it did 40 years ago. We can’t even speak about Portuguese immigrants, since our communities are basically composed of second or third generation Americans of Portuguese descent. But Mayone books extended a bridge between Portugal and America that is still valuable. His books can still play a role in the task of intertwining together our past and our present in a shared identity. That’s what I find really interesting about his works. He is always giving us motives not to turn our backs to the cultural narrative we belong to. We can read his chronicles to seek quaint memories or bring to light a common denominator between Portuguese immigrants and Portuguese-Americans living in the US that tends to fade away throughout the acculturation process every immigrant community goes through.
Q: Some say that celebrations in Portuguese communities in the US are frozen in time, “frozen” in the year when people left Portugal (for example, the 1960s). That they are far different than celebrations in 2021 in the Azores for example.
A: On the one hand, yes, we could say that some traditions seem to be frozen in time. But I don’t see the point of making a spot comparison between Azorean or Azorean-American traditions on the grounds that they should be clones of each other. The way we celebrate the Holy Ghost Festival or even Christmas is not a museum piece but the outcome of rather complex cultural dealings. One should remember that the Holy Ghost celebrations practically disappeared from Portugal, only surviving in the Azores. The uniqueness of Californian Festas would be just other type of preserving cultural values and traditions. As Mayone Dias claimed, the Portuguese-American version of Portuguese traditions has its own individual value. The divergence was generated by a transcultural experience and, nonetheless, we can still recognize its resemblance to what happens in other places of the world that share a common ancestry. It’s a matter of cultural survival. Instead of seeing them as frozen traditions, I prefer to see them as an example of how traditions drawn from a common source emerge and take new shape in different cultural landscapes.
Q: Your scholarship is in the Lusophone world, what other writers have you researched?
A: Well, I’ve done research on several Lusophone writers, from Portugal, Brazil, Angola and Cape Verde. I was trained as a comparatist, specializing in contemporary Portuguese fiction.
As a graduate student I mainly worked on the relationship between literature and medicine, writing a lot on the Portuguese novelist António Lobo Antunes. My first book, published in 2019, sprang from my thesis, and it is a study on the topics of depression and psychotherapy in Lobo Antunes’ novels. Then I went to Brazil, to teach at the Federal University of São Carlos, and started reading different sorts of books. I gradually veered to a much wider-range comparative Luso-Afro-Brazilian approach, and published essays on several different topics and writers. So I changed from being primarily a Lobo Antunes’ scholar, mostly dealing with contemporary literature, to being someone more interested in setting up a free-floating research agenda drawing from a larger historical and cultural view.
Just to give you an example of the kind of work I am doing, I’ve recently finished a book on environmental criticism, which is going to be published in Portugal soon. Basically, it’s an attempt to revisit the works of several canonical authors from Portugal, Brazil, and Angola through the lens of ecological criticism. My intention was to articulate new ways of understanding certain books written by Camilo Castelo Branco, Eça de Queirós, Machado de Assis, Jorge de Sena, and Fernando Pessoa, among many others, by blending them with a notion of ecological thought.
Q: During the Covid pandemic, there have been Quarantine journals, what similarities do these writings share with Mayone Dias’s writings?
A: It’s a great question. I think it’s fair to say that these pandemic journals are of a very different nature. Mayone Dias’s chronicles are about going into the big world, while pandemic journals are literally about staying home.
Q: Which book of Dias’s is the most significant? What would you recommend PAJ readers read first?
A: The book I recommend is The Portuguese Presence in California, which chronicles the formation of the Portuguese-American communities in the Golden State since the 1800s to the last wave of Azorean immigration in the 1960s and 1970s. Mayone Dias was a passionate historian and spent years studying this stuff. Insofar as it offers a comprehensive account of how immigrants shaped a community together and contributed to American society, I find this title one of the most interesting of his books.
Q: For those unfamiliar with Mayone Dias’s writings, can you summarize his work?
A: The best description of his life and works was provided by a delightful remark made by Professor Onésimo Teotónio Almeida, at Brown University. Instead of paraphrasing, allow me to quote Onésimo directly:
Eduardo Mayone Dias is a scholar and a gentleman. He has a unique place as a pioneer in the research on the history of the presence of the Portuguese in California. A native of Lisbon, he is often referred to as Azorean even by readers familiar with his work on account of the empathy he displays for the people whose culture he so well captures in his writings. The elegance of his prose is only matched by the elegance of his speech in the classroom, in his lectures or in a simple chat among friends.
Q: What does Mayone Dias offer as advice for Portuguese-Americans? What warnings about America? And how it is for immigrants?
A: I’m inclined to say that the kind of advice or warning we find in his works has to do with providing a critical hook to help Portuguese-American communities growing less self-enclosed and centered on their own ways.
He wanted Portuguese-Americans to be better off. That’s why, while he celebrates the accomplishments of the community and articulates its memories, he also confronts its challenges. The issue of education is one of his banners, and he had every interest in encouraging kids to pursue college degrees.
His overarching purpose, I’d say, was to show how the Portuguese-American community was thriving and had shaped itself, floating between two cultures. The things he writes about and the tone he uses naturally embody and reflect certain historical circumstances and certain vantage points. That’s one of the reasons why I think he really is very good at urging us to keep track of what we have in common. Not forgetting your parent’s culture, he thought, would be crucial to build community-powered solutions to the challenges Portuguese immigrants and their children were facing and would face in California. He backed the importance of cultural memory. I quite agree with this point.
Q: Can you share with us, the story about Disneyland?
A: Actually, it’s a very simple story: it describes a visit to what was then Disneyland Park. We must bear in mind that many of his chronicles were mainly written to Portuguese newspapers, so they were directed at a Portuguese audience. Back then, there was a stark contrast between Portugal and the US. Disneyland wasn’t familiar to people in Portugal. So, the chronicle about Disneyland is basically a “What to see in Disneyland” list.
Q: What are some topics in Dias’ chronicles? Like, for example, what does he have to say about the dairy industry? Or tuna fishing?
A: His books of collected “Crónicas” are largely about illustrating everyday lives of diasporic communities in America, particularly in California. His major audience was not the Portuguese immigrants in America but those who didn’t know much about American life, so the chronicles are a way of saying: “This is what our communities in America look like.” Most of them are grounded in his own memories and experiences of place and community. He puts on paper a series of wonderful details of these cultural landscapes, often turning his attention to political, cultural, or artistic issues. But if one wishes to learn more about the involvement of Portuguese within the dairy industry or tuna fishing, the book I mentioned earlier in the one to start with, as well as the already mentioned Coisas da “LUSAlândia”.
Q: Can you share a few lines from Dias that illustrate the unique experience of Portuguese in the US?
A: The way I see it, Mayone Dias was not interested in sentimental views about what distinguishes the Portuguese-American communities from something else but in showcasing the unique multicultural arrangement generated by the local context of Portuguese immigrants in California. This brings me back to the topic of the Festas, I’ll share a couple of lines that clearly summarize his views about Portuguese-American communities: “Among our cultural manifestations, the Celebration of the Holy Ghost Festa is the one with the greatest significance, as it identifies and individualizes us among other national and ethnic groups.”
Q: Dias has been called an honorary Azorean, even though he was born in Lisbon. What traits earned him this title?
A: In an interview to Don Warrin, Mayone Dias explained how he became interested in community life when he moved to Los Angeles and got close with the Artesia community, “trying to learn more and more about the community life, their aspirations, their problems, their lifestyles.” Over the years he has embraced Azorean culture and identity with such affection that he naturally ended up by being embraced by it as one of its members.
Q: What do you most admire about Dias?
A: Eduardo Mayone Dias deployed a concept of “country” that embodies and creates awareness of the historical events, cultural movements, and institutional structures articulating the experience of Portuguese immigrants and their children in California. In short, I would say this is his most powerful and enduring legacy.
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Millicent Borges Accardi, a Portuguese-American writer, is the author of four poetry collections, including Only More So (Salmon Poetry), and the forthcoming Through a Grainy Landscape (inspired by contemporary Portuguese writings). Her awards include fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, Fulbright, CantoMundo, Creative Capacity, the California Arts Council, The Corporation of Yaddo, Fundação Luso-Americana, the Foundation of Contemporary Arts (FCA Covid grant) and Barbara Deming Foundation. She lives in Topanga (canyon), California.