By Millicent Borges Accardi
Diniz Borges, long-time educator and Portuguese community leader, was recently appointed as the first director of the Portuguese Beyond Borders Institute at Fresno State University in California. The project was founded in November 2018, after a $130,000 grant from the Luso-American Development Foundation, for launching a Portuguese-American Oral History Project and a speaker series. The newly created institute will offer a dynamic program of courses, collaborations and public events benefiting the Luso community in the San Joaquin Valley and students at Fresno State.
The Portuguese Beyond Borders Institute will function as a hub of cultural, literary, pedagogical and research resources for the Portuguese-American experience and to promote the connections with the Portuguese-speaking world, focusing on the archipelago of the Azores, with a strong emphasis on the Azorean Diaspora in California. It aims to be Central California’s nucleus for cultural events, teacher conferences, colloquia, literary resources, publications, academic research, artistic exhibitions and performing arts productions, not only for the matriculated students at Fresno State, but also for the enrichment of the Portuguese-American community and society at large.
Born in Praia da Vitória, Terceira, Azores, Borges immigrated to the United States as a young child. After receiving his bachelor’s degree from Chapman University in Southern California and his master’s from California State University, Dominguez Hills, he taught Portuguese at Tulare High School for 22 years, as an adjunct instructor and also taught Portuguese at Fresno State and the College of the Sequoias. He is the honorary consul of Portugal and co-coordinator for Portuguese Language Programs for California for the Camões Institute and the Luso-American Education Foundation.
“Besides his directorship at the Portuguese Beyond Borders Institute, Borges moderates a weekly television show, “Os Portugueses no Vale” for KNXT-Channel, coordinates a literary page for Tribuna Portuguesa and is a contributing writer for Portuguese-American newspapers in the United States, Canada and the Azores. He is on the board of various Portuguese-American organizations and has published several books in Portugal, including América, o Outro lado do sonho in 1997 and A Década Perdida-Crónicas de uma América Cinzenta in 2012.” (Source Fresno State News)
In this interview for the Portuguese American Journal, Diniz Borges speaks of his vision for the Portuguese Beyond Borders Institute, his duties as director in building bridges with the community and connecting to the Portuguese language and culture worldwide.
Q: What are your goals as director?
A: My goals are simple: to build upon the vision of President Joseph Castro to have Fresno State be the hub for all that is Portuguese in the Valley and throughout California with an ever-strong presence focusing on our Azorean roots. The possibilities and opportunities are limitless.
Q: What are you most excited about in your new job?
A: Sorry, I don’t look at this as a job. I’m “retired” after many years of enjoying teaching Portuguese at the high school, so I look at this as part of my very small mission in life, to continue, albeit in a different way, building the presence of the Portuguese language and cultures and the uniquely Azorean experience in our Valley.
I tried doing this when I was in Portuguese radio for many years, then teaching at the high school and community college and now at the university level. I’m also happy to, as a lecturer, teach a couple of courses each semester, because it keeps me in the one place I really enjoy: the classroom.
I really don’t need a job, because I need to retire, but I look at this as an opportunity to build something unique, that someone younger can take over in a few years. I hope to, with community support, and the support of those in Portugal and the Azores who understand or want to understand our community, establish a presence at Fresno State, so we can preserve and promote the Portuguese language and cultures, including the strategic plan to teach Portuguese at all levels that the community worked tirelessly to create, archive our legacy in the Valley and the State and deepen our bond to the Portuguese World, especially to the archipelago of the Azores.
Q: What sort of activities/events do you have planned for Portuguese Beyond Borders Institute?
A: Portuguese Beyond Borders Institute (PBBI) will be a multidisciplinary center working with three colleges at California State University, Fresno—the College of Arts and Humanities, the college of Social Science and Jordan College of Agricultural Sciences and Technology. As a first step we will be coordinating a lecture series, an oral history project, and an ambitious promotion of Portuguese language and cultural courses, including a Portuguese minor that is being developed by Professor Inês Lima. We have four lectures planned for this semester, a possible exhibit and a Portuguese Language and Culture Youth Day for high school students, an event that began a few years ago, that now is being solidified at the Institute.
Q: What will your new duties as Director involve?
A: My duties are centered around planning the events with the staff at the three colleges, but especially at the College of the Arts and Humanities where the Institute is housed. I will be concentrating on events, building a portfolio of the Institute, from the lecture series to overseeing the oral history project, as well as building bridges with the community and promoting events that are relevant to the Portuguese-American community in California, especially in the Central Valley as well as creating an area that will entail the Azorean Diaspora experience in California.
Q: If you could plan a dream event at Fresno State, what would that event be?
A: I don’t really have a dream event, but a series of events that will be ongoing, using our community resources, the resources of the university and establishing connections with the Portuguese speaking world. The dream to me is an amalgam of events that concentrate on telling our story of Portuguese from the Azores in California and to build strong bridges with our community and other ethnic communities in the Valley, through our presence at Fresno State. It is time to have the Portuguese-American experience at Fresno State and the University level.
Q: Do you have plans for an archive (like at University of Massachusetts) or library of books, letters, photos, historical documents?
A: Obviously, we are just in the first stages, but as President Joseph Castro has outlined, we are going to work hard to make Fresno State the hub for all that is Portuguese in the Valley. We are starting with the oral history of the Portuguese in the 99 corridor and will certainly expand upon this project.
Q: What language courses do you offer? What do you want to offer in the future? Any plans for online courses?
A: The Portuguese language classes are being coordinated by Professor Inês Lima, who was just hired this school year as a tenure track Professor of Portuguese. Right now, Professor Lima is teaching three courses and I’m teaching one. She is working with Department Chair Debbie Avila, who is also a Portuguese-American to establish a minor in Portuguese.
We will be working on two minors: one on Portuguese Language and Culture, and another that will be multidisciplinary, a Portuguese studies minor, which will include courses in the college of social science and agricultural science. The academic part is being coordinated by Professor Lima. I hope to see and we will certainly work hard at getting community courses through our lifelong learning courses at the university and online courses, in my humble opinion, are a must.
Q: What are the oral history projects you’re working on? Have worked on in the past?
A: We are working with the college of the social science and their oral history professor, who has done work in other ethnic communities, and with our MCJ (Media, Communications and Journalism) department to create the parameters for the first phase of the project, collecting, transcribing and archiving the oral history of the Portuguese in the Valley and eventually throughout other parts of the state. We are very excited about this part of the institute.
Q: What lecture series and exhibits do you have planned for 2019-2020?
A: We have planned a lecture/panel on the presence of the Portuguese in Agriculture in the Valley for March 14th, the same day we will have a Portuguese language and Culture Youth Day, as part of the Portuguese Immigrant Week in California. On April 25th we will have a lecture about the arts and the Carnation Revolution with poet Álamo Oliveira and on May 3rd a Portuguese Culinary Experience with a visiting Chef from Terceira, both of these projects co-sponsored by the Luso American Development Foundation (FLAD) and the City Hall of Angra do Heroísmo, Tulare’s Sister City in the Azores.
We are now working on the fall of 2019 and spring of 2020, but we are looking at lectures, panels, and forums on the transatlantic relations, on Portuguese-American literature, on the role of the Portuguese media, the sister city bonds between Portugal and the US, and the Azores today.
Q: Can you describe how you will collaborate with and include the Institute with local agriculture, politics, and businesses?
A: We are creating working on building a strong relationship with Portuguese-Americans in all walks of life. We are fortunate to have the California Portuguese-American Coalition (CPAC) a non-partisan organization to foster the presence of Portuguese-Americans in the field of politics, and we want to work with CPAC and build forums and workshops. The central valley has dozens of Americans of Portuguese ancestry in public service and we want to work with them, as well as business leaders and of course in agriculture where our community has been a key player.
Q: What will take shape as the partnership between the Institute and the University of the Azores?
A: Right now, the relationship is in the realm of agriculture between our Jordan College of Agricultural Science and Technology and the Campus in the island of Terceira of the University of the Azores.
Over two dozen students and ten faculty members have taken part in these exchanges, but the intent is to build a stronger program and one that will include the other Colleges. Our presence of Americans with roots in the Azores at the University and in the valley can surely be an asset for both universities and for both regions: the Azores and the Central Valley.
Q: Will you be offering public readings and events?
A: We certainly will have a strong presence of Portuguese-American literature and of Azorean and Portuguese writers and poets in our lecture series, our first the poet Álamo Oliveira from Terceira. We are looking to have writers throughout California who are of Portuguese origin and we are looking at having our students and academics do more and more research on the Portuguese presence in our state, especially in the creative world.
We want to build a fund, with community support, to showcase artists from our Portuguese-American community and the Azores at the university and the local community.
Q: What do you think we can do to strengthen the bond (and communication) between Portuguese Americans and Portuguese worldwide?
A: Through the arts and through a bigger presence of Portuguese-Americans in the Portuguese world, in the press, through translation of Portuguese-American authors who wrote in English to Portuguese and promote them in Portugal, through more stories about our communities in north America in the Portuguese press, through more cultural exchanges, such as student exchange programs at the high school and college level, forums held in Portugal and the US about our communities, in the arts, in business, in education and in politics. More thematic based forms and exchanges, including discussion panels in both Portugal and the US and certainly by having a strategic plan for the teaching of the Portuguese Language in the US, as the one that was recently created by our community in California because the presence of Portuguese language courses in our schools will allow a better understanding of Portugal in the US and vice-versa.
Q: In closing. Since so much of the Portuguese identity is illustrated in its culture and literature, what do you think are some of our major Luso themes?
A: The sense of identity—the combination of being American with a Portuguese flavor, a sense of nostalgia, saudade, not necessarily the same saudade immigrants feel but the saudade that seems to be idiosyncratic in the Portuguese culture. A sense of discovery of roots and the need for a connection with land of our forefathers.
Millicent Borges Accardi, a Portuguese-American writer has received awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, CantoMundo, Fulbright, the Corporation of Yaddo, FLAD, and California Arts Council. Her most recent poetry collection is Only More So. Find her @TopangaHippie
Diniz Borges, Director of Portuguese Beyond Borders Institute at Fresno State University. Find him @ e-mail: email@example.com or visit the Fresno California State University Arts and Humanities website.