Comunidade newspaper, 1975-1979. Part 1: Records and commentary

Education was one of the most commonly discussed topics in the pages Comunidade, and an ongoing debate in the history of the Portuguese community of Toronto, which is known for its high rates of high-school dropout. In the 1970s, there were little expectations for Portuguese immigrants and their children to follow academic careers as many Portuguese-Canadian students either dropped-out of school to join the workforce and contribute to the household economy or were streamed by the Canadian education system into trade schools. During this period, the Central High School of Commerce, seen in this photo published in the December 18, 1978 issue of Comunidade, had a large Portuguese female student population, while the Central Technical School of Toronto had a large Portuguese male student population.

Click on the thumbnail and press play in the audio player to hear Domingos Marques' comments on this photo, and learn more about education in the Portuguese community in the 1970s.

Founded on September 23, 1956, the First Portuguese Canadian Club, first located in Kensington Market, was the first Portuguese club founded in Toronto. Over the years, the First was involved in a great number of activities, becoming one of the most well-respected organizations in the community. Many second-generation immigrants came to know the First through its Saturday morning Portuguese language classes. In this photo taken in the late 1970s we can see one such class underway.

Many on the Comunidade team were involved in campaigns for raising awareness of the problems of school drop-out amongst Portuguese-Canadian youth, of the discriminatory streaming in the Canadian school system, and of the importance of heritage languages. The November 1, 1976 issue dedicated its central pages to a roundtable discussion on the theme of the "education of Portuguese children in elementary schools." Its participants were Domingos Marques, Valter Lopes (school community relations worker), João Medeiros - seen in this photo, in that order - Tony Gregório (teacher at the Kensigton Community School), Adelino da Silva (interpreter), Aldo Colângelo (interpreter), Martinho Silva and Gilberto Prioste.

In 1977, Comunidade, along with two teachers' federations and the Department for School and Community relations of the Toronto Public Board of Education, formed a committee that was in charge of organizing an eight-day field trip for twenty Canadian high school and collegiate teachers to the islands of São Miguel and Terceira, in the Azores. As the newspaper reported, this was “an opportunity for the Toronto educators to familiarize themselves in a personal and direct way with the problems, customs and necessities of Portuguese immigrants, especially those coming from the adjacent islands.” In preparation for this trip, paid for by the teachers themselves, Comunidade organized three workshops “on the geography, the history and the political and socioeconomic situation of the islands" (February 1977, Year 2, n. 25: 1 & 11). In this photo, Valter Lopes shows a escudo bill during one of these workshops held at the King Edward School.
In this photo, a group of Canadian teachers pose at the Toronto Airport about to embark on their trip to the Azores, where they would spend eight days learning about the islands and their people. In the bottom right corner is João Medeiros. Published on the March 1977, Year 2, n. 26: 20.

Academic high schools such as Harbord Collegiate had a small number of Portuguese students in the 1970s. However, those students were quite active in community development and in improving access to Portuguese studies in Toronto; many of them were involved with Comunidade. In 1975, a Portuguese class was introduced at Harbord following a petition by a group of Portuguese students led by Manuel Azevedo. In this photo, a Portuguese language class, taught by Laura Bulger, is in session at Harbord Collegiate in Toronto. It accompanied an article in English discussing "The Portuguese Language in Toronto":

"The Portuguese community in Toronto is witnessing a revolution; that of their language. Unlike before, today our Portuguese youth share an immense sense of pride in speaking their mother tongue. The embarrassement and fear of rejection are quickly perishing, while a new wave of awareness of one's heritage is expanding.

This change can be attributed to the new emphasis our society is placing on ethnicity. It no longer hurts to be "different"; individuality is now admired and respected. Becase of this, the Portuguese youth have begun to seek their identity. They yearn to know about their ancestors and their achievements in the process discovering that there are many reasons for feeling proud...

The demand for Portuguese classes in our educational system is emerging with rapid success. In Central High School of Commerce, when the Portuguese language was first introudced four years ago, there were only two classes. Today, there are nine classes tanging from grades 10 to 13, with an average of 35 students per class. These courses provide the students with adequate language skills that assure them of future job secrities, and prepare those who wish to enrol in any of the 8 portuguese language courses offered by the University of Toronto, with the basic requirements.

Further plans to spread the availability of similar courses in other Toronto schools are now being discussed by the Separate School Board, and the borough of Mississauga.

This appeal to increase the access to the Portuguese language is not only requested by the Portuguese themselves, but also by non-portuguese people who wish to learn to speak the language for social and economic reasons...

In order to arouse enthusiasm and a sense of achievement among the Portuguese language students at Harbord Collegiate, teh Board of Education is awarding four exceptional students who have demonstrated excellent perception of the Portuguese language. These students are, M. Filomena Carvalho and M. Alice de Freitas, who are in grade 13, Rosa Cruz who is in grade 12 and Maria da Conceição Bettencourt who is in grade 11...

There is no doubt that the misconceptions about the Portuguese langguage are now being erased. People are realizaing that the value of the language in Canada is increasing. They are leaving their apathy behind and drawing upon their energies in order to continue the fight for the emergence of stronger interest in the Portuguese language.

Natalie Marques,"October 12, 1978, Year 4, Vol. 2, n. 3: 10 & 12.

Some of the members of Comunidade, like Domingos Marques and João Medeiros, were themselves teaching Portuguese language classes in the community, and therefore had strong views on how to best teach heritage languages. João Medeiros, in particular, who was influenced by the philosohy of Brazilian educator Paulo Freire and his Pedagogy of the Oppressed, took issue with the inadequate way that the Heritage Language Program was being implemented by the Ontario provincial government. An editorial publlished on February 28, 1978 on this issue attracted a response from the President of the Toronto School Board, Dan Leckie.

“EDITORIAL

The Heritage Language programme, as it was initially conceived and as it is presently administered in the Toronto schools, is politically motivated, controversial, a point of division between the ethnic and Canadian communities, an application of energy and resources on secondary aspects in relation to the problems that most affect students.

This programme does not have any future garantees [sic] because it was a hastly electoral promise made before the last provincial election by the Conservative party with the aim of winning immigrant votes. Since this promise did not result in electoral gains for the Conservative Party, it will have to be reassessed in the future.

It is a controversial programme because while it is financed by public funds, it is not accessible and applicable to all taxpayers. It thus appears as a privilege, creating in this way an understandable opposition and antagonism among the non immigrant taxpayers, and those that do not benefit from the programme. In this way it creates a serious and regrettable division between the ethnic and Canadian communities.

It is a point of division and impoverishment within each ethnic community because of the way in which it is being administered. It impoverished the creative capacity of the communities, destroying the organization which they had already built and through which they efficiently administered programmes of a cultural and linguistic nature.

The Board of Education for the City of Toronto, for reasons that we have failed to discover opened its doors to a fierce competition of elites, within the ethnic communities. They selected without the involvement of the majority of immigrant parents, a determined number of persons whose aim it was to choose from among themselves a representative for the Heritage Language Advisory Committee.

The meeting for the election of the Portuguese representative, this past Fenruary 20th, had the appearance of a duel between individuals and organizations, the majority of which have no involvement in the teaching of the Portuguese language. It would be much more sensible if the Board of Education formed an advisory mechanism with individuals from organizations directly involved in the teaching of the Heritage languages. In the Portuguese case, these would include the official school of the First Portuguese Canadian Club, the Portuguese Canadian Center of Culture and Education, the Portuguese Department of the West End YMCA and the parent committees of each school where there is a language programme.

The administration of this programme by the Board of Education is burdensome, bureaucratic and expensive. It involves various departments, wastes time and energy and it further uses up financial resources that could be better used in informing immigrant parents of their rights and duties in relation to the education of their children in Canada. This time, energy and finances could also be used to set up tutoring programmes geared at those students who have difficulty at school, specifically those students who undoubtedly will fail at school and will not only harm the individual but also society at large.

Finally we arrive at the point of a blind or planned lack of perspective on the part of the Board of Education in their priorities regarding the education of arranging the children of immigrant and working class parents. There had been no remodeling of the existing programmes so as to reflect the real needs and interests of these children; there is no stress in teaching the English language and other important subjects with special tutoring after school; there is no study made of ways in which to motivate these children and involve their parents; there is no use made of the large number of bilingual teachers who could greatly assist in the gradual integration of the recently arrived immigrants to the regular school programme.

On the contrary the Board embarks on a philosophy of multiculturalism that is vague, innocuous and smelling of food and folklore. Emphasis is given to secondary aspects in the education of these children. They forget the fact that immigrant parents, like all Canadian parents, prefer a type of education that stresses fundamental subjects, and education that is structured and effective.

As far as we are concerned, the entry of the Board of Education into the teaching of the heritage language at the elementary level constitutes a great error for all the reasons stated above.

The provincial government would have made better use of the taxpayers money had it given some financial assistance to those groups already providing such services. This method would prove to be more economical, more respectful of the initiatives that various ethnic groups have already taken in this direction and less divisive.

By the same token, we think that the Toronto Board of Education, its staff and the several departments involved in this programme would prove more useful if they dedicated their energy and resources, in the first place to the resolution of the fundamental problems that have existed for years in the Inner City schools.

We can not help but conclude that the administrators and various representatives of the Board of Education are misleading immigrants in the area of finding solutions to the their real educational needs” February 28, 1978, Year 3, n. 36: 11-12.

“HERITAGE LANGUAGES PROGRAM

To the redactor:

Your editorial referent to the Heritage Languages Program raised a few questions that I would like to address. In fact, I would like to initiate a debate and a discussion on a continuous basis about the problems raised by the newspaper COMUNIDADE and other media.

The gravest declaration was that the priorities of the Toronto School Board were wrong… The Heritage Language Program only costs $300.000. Since 1973 we have dispensed 100 thousand dollars every summer with the re-structuring of the curriculum (school program) carrying important study programs in the city center with the objective of eradicating discriminatory tendencies against the ethnic working class communities (270 thousand dollars) offering supplementary staff to schools in working areas, actively seeking more bilingual people, and already organized a few teaching programs. The framework for the placing of newcomer students was also improved.

You criticized the election of a representative of the Portuguese community to the Consulting Committee… Next year, a higher number of Portuguese parents will be informed about the elections and will participate. We would be thrilled if 10 thousand people showed up. Secondly, the Koreans, South-Asians, indigenous peoples and blacks are part of the body that you alluded to. Why haven’t the Portuguese done the same?  What we need is to start. It’s called a “Liaison Committee”! Over the years we have insisted with individuals and organizations of the Portuguese Community that they form one. There was no action from your part. Maybe now is the occasion…

Can we count on you?

My friends of the newspaper COMUNIDADE: I hope that this is only our first formal communication regarding matters of education.

I thank you for this opportunity and I also ask that you continue this debate in your next issue.

Dan Leckie

President

Toronto School Board

...

We are very honoured to publish your letter commenting our editorial about the Heritage Language Program.

Generally, you make it sound as if everything is running well in the Toronto School Board, that there is no detour in the essential priorities of education, and to prove that you rely on numbers.

You know very well that one thing is spending the taxpayers money and another is being effective in teaching. Portuguese parents know by experience that their children here, besides all the school equipment that they have at their disposal, at times do not learn well or lose interest in school entirely. You know very well that many students lose interest in school, not because they are mentally delayed, but because of the methods and what they are taught in school are not adequate to their experience, interest and specific problems.

You make it sound that, in relation to the Heritage Language Program that the amount paid by the School Board is small. The public knows that the Metro School Board approved over a million dollars to continue the program next year. Well this only a percentage because the other comes from the Province (also from the taxpayers)…

We would like to know why the Director of a public school told a mother that, although her son required special help with his English, that he would have to wait two and a half years, because there were no teachers or enough money for this program… [sic]

Maybe you could inform the Portuguese parents about how many students already dropped-out of school this year before the age of 16 and is the school doing to discouraged them from doing so.

Of course we have many more questions to ask Mr. Leckie and your school administration, but for not this is where we will stay.

The Redactor [João Medeiros]” March 30, 1978, Year 3, n. 37: 3 (trans. Gilberto Fernandes).

Another controversy regarding education and multiculturalism broke out following an article on the Portuguese presence at the University of Toronto, published in the February 26, 1979 issue of Comunidade. Fernanda Gaspar's article drew a stern response from the Chairman of the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at the University of Toronto, K. L. Levy.

“EDITORIAL

In a multicultural democratic society such as Canada wishes to be, it is important to consider if the opportunities existent are available to all independently of social class and ethnicity. We know it is not so. Roughly speaking, the obvious examples are the Native Indians and Innuit, women, and recent immigrants specially the farther they are from the Anglo-Middle Class model on which the prevalent culture and values are still based.

The reasons for these differences depend as much on the characteristics of the systems we live by as on those of the groups themselves. Among other factors, the image or perception the society has of a particular group influences deeply the status of the group and its members. A positive image begets success a negative one failure. The Portuguese, because of being a recent group and because of the (intended) homogeneity of its original selection, are often deemed in terms of a collective image. Today, we are one of the most dynamic and changeable communities but the old image hovers on doing us no good.

The main article in this issue "Two Portuguese P.H.D's" attempts to show how absolete [sic] the old image is...

In a modem society, status and power are linked with culture and education and universities use the best of the country's financial and human resources in order to maintain and transmit culture and power. What each group receives from universities is fundamental in the development of the group's members. It is the right of the Portuguese in Ontario to remind U of T that it is now time for us to receive some of what we are contributing to the university, by means of taxes on our humble but well paid jobs. We are ashamed of the portuguese courses being given at U of T and have waited long enough for changes. We now demand U of T to help us bury the old image of Portuguese as illiterate people rather than continue contributing to it.

An umbrella group of social agencies, called "Portuguese Interagency Network" is right now negotiating for such changes, specifically requesting U of T to hire a professor fully competent to develop a PHD program in Portuguese, in order to meet as well as stimulate the need to establish the Portuguese language and culture as an integral part of the society which is now that of over 100,000 Portuguese-Canadians. If U of T had done more to promote appreciation and respect for our culture and conversely for us as a group, perhaps we wouldn't now be the target of a project called "Prospect 79", the purpose of which is to "change the habits of the Portuguese". The co-ordinator of this project introduced it at a recent community meeting. He explained he will be coordinating the activities of another five "specialists" who will be working through clubs, agencies, etc... "in order to teach the Portuguese to participate more and entertain themselves better, by moving away from their usual survival activities, towards more cultural activities such… sports... dancing... theatre... etc".

While the foot soldiers all speak Portuguese the coordinator doesn't and doesn't know anything about the community, but was hired because "I can talk government" (presumably the other five can't) and "to give an outside perspective to the project"(be aware of those narrow Portuguese minds...) Where did the monies come from for this silliness, in these times of restraint? The coordinator said they came from Canada Manpower, through the Portuguese Free Interpreters Services and "that even they were surprised to get it..." No doubt our old image of almsmen helped to get it.

Now that the Indians have regained their collective dignity and are telling patronizers to go jump in the lake, there are many looking around for new Indians. Let's tell them they are ten years behind the times. Indians, including these ones, nowadays know what changes they want and how to achieve them. For instance, instead of CMC's cultural charity let's have U of T deliver the cultural services we need and pay for” [Fernanda Gaspar] February 26, 1979, Year 4, Vol. 2, n. 10: 12 (trans. Gilberto Fernandes).

...

“I read, with some consternation, your article entitled "Professores Catedráticos" and the Editorial English (Comunidade, 26-2-79). Both accounts contain factual inaccuracies, erroneous assumptions and ill-founded charges against the University of Toronto and against the Department of Spanish and Portuguese. As Chairman of the latter it is my duty to reply, lest unwary readers be misled…

1. Our five undergraduate courses in language, literature and culture, range from elementary language instruction to an advanced course on Portuguese Culture and Civilization. The attractiveness of this programme may be judged from the fact that this session's student enrolment in Portuguese has virtually doubled over that of the last academic session; we are hopeful that this encouraging upward trend will continue. (...)

6. The University has authorized the appointment of an Assistant Professor of Portuguese beginning on July 1, 1979 for a three year contract, possibly renewable to a total of five years. The important vacancy has been widely publicized.

7. About a year ago, this Department voted unanimously to change its name from “Department of Hispanic Studies to “Department of Spanish and Portuguese.” The change was designed to recognize the importance of the Portuguese component in the departmental context.  I warmly welcome constructive counsel. Some time ago, representatives of the Inter Agency group offered such counsel and I had the occasion to correspond and subsequently discuss personally with them the needs of the Department. I gathered from our conversation that they appreciate our plans for the immediate and long range future and are particularly eager to cooperate with the Department in helping us find the best qualified person for the above-mentioned vacancy.

While the articles in question do acknowledge (in passing) the financial strains that haunt universities at the present moment, the writers seem to suggest, amazingly enough, that we have made, and are making, little effort to stimulate Portuguese studies, in other words that the suave sono academico rules supreme in our discipline. More perplexing still, and indeed the unkindest cut of all, is the editorial charge that we are continuing to contribute to “the old image of Portuguese as illiterate people”.  Surely the above mentioned departmental and university activities tell a very different story. It is my earnest hope that some day the financial climate will improve and our undergraduate programme will indeed grow into a graduate programme, first leading to the M.A. degree, later possibly to the Ph. D. or Doctorate… A Ph. D. progamme does not spring over-night, as your article seems to suggest, nor is it set up by one professor however competent. The establishment of a new graduate programme is a slow laborious programme as a basis and solid support by teaching staff and library resources. Attempting to do it in a hurry, “improving” it as it were, would be a useless exercise, since all new graduate programmes are subject to provincial approval. More than that, it would be counterproductive and a disservice to the discipline.

May I confess in conclusion that my major quarrel with the articles in question is their negative approach, devoid of any recognition of efforts made and modest goals achieved. Naturally there is ample room for improvement; there always is, and I value reasoned criticism. However I do not like polemic, for the simple reason that polemic all too easily breeds polemic and hinders constructive cooperation. I am not ashamed of the courses that we are offering, nor am I ashamed of the strong and active concern that my Department has shown and is continuing to show in the development of Portuguese studies.

Chairman of Department, K. L Levy,” in Correspondência, March 30, 1979, Year 4, Vol. 2, n. 11: 3.

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