The last decade has seen a dramatic increase in migration to Europe, primarily by refugees fleeing conflict in the Middle East and Central Asia, but with significant flows of refugees and other migrants from North and sub-Saharan Africa as well. Portugal is not among the primary European destinations for refugees or immigrants; possibly, in part, because there are fewer migrants in Portugal, it is an E.U. country where new arrivals are still met with a degree of enthusiasm. Hard right, anti-immigrant parties—on the rise in other parts of the E.U.—have not gained much traction in Portugal. This work looks at the relative invisibility of immigrants in Porto, the country’s second largest city, which may make those immigrants a less visible target for intolerance and political opportunism, but may also impede a larger, more self-determinant role for immigrants and their communities in greater Portuguese society.
A major contributing factor to immigrant invisibility is the absence (outside of Lisbon and southern Portugal) of neighborhoods where African immigrants are concentrated. In Porto, communities do not form around geography; instead, communities form around institutions. The role of religious institutions in community formation is examined—institutions such as Protestant and Catholic churches, Catholic seminarian education, and one of Porto’s two mosques. Some of these institutions are attended mostly by non-Africans, but nevertheless appeal to sub-Saharan African immigrants on an aesthetic and/or affective level. Others are attended mostly or exclusively by immigrants. The roles of charismatic and well connected individuals in facilitating further connections between immigrants and their communities is also examined, as are aging shopping centers—the centros comerciais—which offer a secular space where Africans might gather together, socialize, and share information in the course of patronizing African groceries, cafés and hair salons.
Porto’s African immigrants have created or nurtured communities through common goals, interests, and beliefs. In the absence of geographic concentration, they have managed to find ways to share information, support one another, and celebrate their shared experiences.