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TDM Talk Show: Young Macanese fear losing their culture

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This year marks the second Macanese Community Youth Meeting. For a week, thirty-eight Macanese youngsters from Portugal, Brazil, Canada, United States and Australia come to Macau to learn about their culture, roots, and identity. Three of them appeared on the TDM Talk Show last week to share stories they heard from their parents and how they relate to this unfamiliar city.
They include Michael Pereira from the United States, whose parents met in Macau; Alex King from Canada, whose Great-Grandmother came to Macau to escape Japanese occupation during the war; and Stephanie Deacon from Australia, whose mother is originally from Macau.

Enjoying the local flavors

It’s not Michael, Alex or Stephanie’s first time in Macau, but they all say their favorite part of being in the city is the food. Like many, Michael’s favorite Macanese dish is Minchi. But for Stephanie, who has a ‘sweet tooth’, her favorite is Seradura. Alex’s favorite is also one of Macau’s most famous deserts – egg tarts. “It’s sort of the experience of it. You are here and it makes them that good, you can have a nice little milk tea with it, have a pork chop gun to go along, that’s a meal.”
After clearing up why he prefers the Macau egg tart over the original Portuguese version, Alex explained why coming here means so much to him: “you can get the feel of how the culture is. And coming from that culture, it’s really neat to have the shared background with all these other people.” Stephanie agrees: “when we come back here, the atmosphere automatically changes. The food is better, smells better.”

Learning their roots

Although they’re all part of some Macanese Associations back home, there are still many things they don’t know about their family. During this trip, Alex found out how his great-grandmother returned to Macau with her ten children during the Second World War. His cousin from Hong Kong told him the story, as most of his relatives live there now.
“She shipped them all in a boat in the middle of the night, paid the pilot just to ship them over in the dark, to come over here, just to be away from the Japanese occupation. She landed, in the middle of the night to go to a cathedral, and prayed. She didn’t know where to take these kids; all these kids were under the age of 16. She kneeled down and prayed, saying I don’t know where to go and I don’t know what to do. [Then], someone who was at the cathedral heard her and said ‘look, I have a place that I need a renter for, and I’ll let you to have it for really cheap’.”
And that is not the only thing Alex discovered during his trip to Macau. He shared another story which dates back to 2009, when Alex was here for his second time. “Because my family’s previous generation was not actually in Macau, I figured all my relatives would be buried in Hong Kong. (...) [But when I was at the St. Michael Cemetery,] just near the small little cathedral, I noticed a grave and it looked familiar. I looked over a name there, and actually it says that the woman buried there is either the grandmother or grand-aunt of one of my great-grandfathers; …I had absolutely no idea, I had no idea I was related to that family name, Dos Santos.”

Learning their culture

For Michael, the greatest story his parents told him was his entire upbringing. Religion and education, he says, are what define being a Macanese. “It wasn’t whether or not you’re going to college, it’s what college you’re going to; it’s not whether or not you’re going to church on Sunday, you are going,” Michael continued. “There were many values that were instilled in me as a kid, that ‘family was it’. There was no going out and doing stuff other than being with family. So those were kind of the culture and the definitions for me, growing up to say ‘OK, I understand what it was like in Macau because those were the values my parents instilled in me’.”
Michael also called this opportunity to travel to Macau with thirty-seven other Macanese youths in what was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. He often wonders what would have happened if Macau didn’t make it on the world map with its gambling industry, and no-one organized these youth meetings for them to get together.
“I think that for a lot of people, their parents say ‘I want to take you back to where we grew up, where we went to school, see our old house’, [and we just don’t make time for it.] It’s not until when we’re adults, going ‘I really wished I had known more, cared about that more, about my heritage, how my grandparents left, the things that really define who you are.”

Losing their culture

Michael, Alex and Stephanie’s parents all speak multiple languages. But none of them taught Cantonese or Portuguese to their children. “Now as an adult, I really wish I learned some Cantonese or some Portuguese or spoken it a little bit at home, even when they tried … bickering without the kids knowing, and I would have picked up some of it,” said Michael. “They literally got married, took a slow boat from Hong Kong to San Francisco and from then they just said ‘OK, we’re going to speak English, be immersed in the culture here’ – kind of that ‘new world mentality’.” Alex gave his reasoning: “[The Macanese Community] is sort of a melting pot, a fusion of these two different cultures and it’s…their skill to melt…into a culture. (...) They just don’t acknowledge the fact that ‘history does actually mean something’.”
For Stephanie, her biggest fear is that once the previous generation is gone, the Macanese culture will fade away as well because the current generation doesn’t have the means to keep it alive. “It kind of scares me. In Australia, we go to all these ‘casa’ functions and you say hi to all your older family. But no offence, once the older generation dies, I am left. We don’t speak Cantonese, we don’t speak Portuguese, we know very little and once they are all gone, we’re kind of scared what’s going to happen to our culture in Australia.”

Meeting new family

Traveling with thirty-eight strangers to an unfamiliar city for a week can be a challenge for some, but not for these three. “Over the past week, we were joking around with each other, just the mannerisms and the way we kind of banter, it’s just like with any other family members. (...) so immediately it’s like talking to family you’ve never met before,” said Michael.

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