Pessoas of Portugal Takes on “The Street and the City” Conference in Lisbon
One amazing opportunity that Fulbright landed me was the opportunity to present my project, Pessoas of Portugal at “The Street and the City” conference in Lisbon this April 2017. The conference brings speakers all over from Portugal, America, Canada, Spain, Austria, and other countries across Europe to present work on city life. Speakers and panels had to send in a pitch on the topic and be selected to participate. Whether it was on the railway and metro systems in Portugal versus other areas of the world; personalities as seen across the world through film; Fernando Pessoa and the influences strangers in the street had on his writing; all of these topics were conference at the conference. I was fortunate enough to join these subjects and present on the various people I’ve met during my time in Portugal on Fulbright and the influences they’ve made on myself, along with what the project’s next steps will be.
Pessoas of Portugal is an idea that came to be as a result of my MFA thesis. I studied non-fiction, and I focused heavily on the personality traits of different people and how to portray them in ways that made them as animated on paper as in person. I also studied Portuguese author Fernando Pessoa. He believed that he was more of himself through other people, or rather “characters” and “personas” as he’d call them. Having traveled to over 25 countries, I’m constantly amazed at how more alike than different humans seem to be with complete strangers. I wanted to make a book that showcased the similarities between Portugal and American people.
However, things don’t often happen that way. Instead, during my first class teaching during Fulbright, I showed my students the American website, Humans of New York. These micro stories shed light onto moments that Americans face, through the good and the bad. That’s when it hit me: I wanted to create a similar platform of micro stories to virtually share the life of Portuguese people on the street back home to America. This premise is what really sold my pitch when I submitted my panel for “The Street and the City Conference.”
Even more amazing, though, was that my solo project has now become a panel. What started out as an individual endeavor has now become a team mission. Two of my students, Ruth Sousa and Arthur Oliveira, have become active participants in helping me capture these stories. Together we’ve gone all over Portugal, interviewing people in both English and Portuguese, and working collectively to translate the stories into both languages accurately to reach the widest possible audience. And it’s working! We have over 13,000 regular readers, and our largest population comes from Mozambique.
At the conference, I introduced the project and its purpose, which is to break down the stereotype that as humans, people are inherently different. More often than not, we share the same emotional experiences, the borders that surround us merely the coincidental catalyst for which these emotions take place. Arthur then presented on how this project, through translations, has helped strengthen his English skills. It forces him to talk to strangers in English, and he also must work to accurately portray emotion correctly in English through the translation process. Ruth then presented on our next steps, which is to take this project to Cape Verde, a former Portuguese colony of which she is originally from. Being that Humans of New York also travels to capture people in other countries, we figured it would be a good idea to not only share these stories of Portugal back in America, but to share all the former Portuguese colonies with each other to strengthen understanding and relationships between a similar culture abroad.
Fulbright has opened so many doors for Pessoas of Portugal this year. It has been great presenting it in both Berlin as well as Lisbon, and going from a solo idea to a team project. Fulbright has given me the chance to be a cultural ambassador between the United States and Portugal, and this project does exactly that. It breaks down walls that people often have when learning about others they deem different from themselves. And all the while doing this project, it’s helped the bond of a lifelong friendship between a Cape Verdean, a Brazilian, and an American, and we hope to continue with our diverse group and take this project all over the world.