The recent Dia de Portugal celebration in San Jose, California was enjoyed by thousands of attendees. For many this is a time to enjoy music and dancing, native food, and unique handicrafts. But for people of Portuguese background this unique event is a very special day that takes place on, or near, June 10. What happened on June 10 to cause Portuguese communities around the world to stop and celebrate their heritage both past and present? It’s about a brilliant poet, Luis Vaz de Camões, who lived in the 1500’s and is so identified with his homeland that celebrating him on the date of his death has become a way to give voice to the heartfelt link that Portuguese people have with their country. It is a day of pride, honor, and patriotic exuberance.
Luis Vaz de Camões lived a full and eventful life, but most notable about him is that although he suffered shipwrecks, incarceration, and the loss of an eye, he completed his epic poem, Os Lusíadas. This poem celebrates the Portuguese heroes who lived during that well-known era of risk-taking explorers. These are the adventurers who brought fame, wealth, and power to their homeland by going where no one had gone before. Despite the fact that Camões is not a commonly recognized name today, scholars recognize his work to be on the same level as Shakespeare. But make no mistake, in Portugal, the poet is honored and revered as a symbol of Portuguese nationalism.
The recognition of Camões began in the 1940’s when Salazar invoked the poet in order to awaken nationalistic fervor, but the celebration aspect came to full fruition in the early 1970’s. Since that time it has become a major day of national pride in Portugal and a joyous connection for those who are away from their homeland. Wherever there are Portuguese people living, there is bound to be a celebration.
Look for Dia de Portugal near you, and join in the fun!