China-Portugal Relations

Home is where the heart is for Macao's Portuguese

By Huang Xiangyang (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-12-19 08:24
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MACAO: Leonel Alberto Alves, legislator and member of the Executive Council of Macao special administrative region, is sure he made the right decisions when he stayed on after the handover on Dec 20, 1999, and when he followed that up by becoming a Chinese citizen in 2004.

As a so-called Macaense - a person born in Macao of Portuguese ancestry - he was part of a community of 20,000 that wrestled with what to do 10 years ago when the Portuguese enclave returned to the embrace of China.

"It was not uncommon for family members to argue over the dinner table as to whether to stay or go back to Portugal," Alves said. "The issue is all about cultural identity. We were not culturally prepared (to be part of China)."

Most people from his community were raised in a Portuguese cultural background. Many went to Portuguese primary and high schools in Macao and college in Portugal before returning to work for the colonial government or as professionals after graduation.

"They feared they would lose their cultural identity once Macao became part of China," he said on the eve of the 10-year anniversary of Macao's return to the motherland.

But such fears never materialized.

Since the handover, Portuguese culture has continued to thrive and religious freedom has been respected.

Macao remains "a multi-faceted and harmonious society" that blends the East and West, Alves said.

Ten years after the handover, "we are confident that Macao people have the capability of implementing 'the one country, two systems' policy," he added.

Born in 1957, Alves finished high school in Macao before studying international law at Lisbon University, Portugal, from 1974 to 1980. After working for two years in Portugal, he returned to Macao to become a legislator, a position that enabled him to participate in the drafting and passage of a law in 1999 that gave Macao-born Portuguese an indefinite timeframe to decide whether to apply for Chinese citizenship.

In 2004, Alves chose to become a Chinese citizen, which means he had to abandon his Portuguese citizenship because China does not recognize dual citizenships.

He said he was lucky that his family was behind him.

"I explained to my family members about the decision, and they all agreed. They just thought it was natural for me to make that decision," Alves said.

Alves' father was of Portuguese origin and his mother was a native Chinese in Macao. He and his wife, a Portuguese, have two sons, aged 26 and 24. His oldest son is a manager at a local car-racing company and the younger one works for an investment bank in the UK.

Alves said many people from the Portuguese community have decided to become Chinese citizens.

"They chose to become more integrated into Macao," he said.

In 2005, Alves became a member of the Executive Council and in 2008, a local member of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), the national advisory body.

To better serve as a CPPCC member, Alves, who speaks Portuguese, English and Cantonese, is also learning Putonghua, with his secretary as his tutor. He made a speech in Putonghua, helped with Pinyin (Chinese phonetics), at the national CPPCC session early this year.

(China Daily 12/19/2009 page3)