In conversation with Professor Manuela Marujo about language, children and immigration
In the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at the University of Toronto, we are lucky to have excellent faculty members from all over the world. Each edition of Palabra & Voz will present you with a conversation with a professor from our tight-knit community, in order to give students the opportunity to learn about their instructors outside the classroom.
For our first and holiday edition, we spoke to Professor María Manuela Vaz Marujo – Senior Lecturer and Associate Chair of our Department. We discussed the impacts of language on one’s worldview, on travel and on the children of the diaspora, among other topics. She shared intimate details with us about her path to becoming an educator, as well as insight on her research.
It was an honour to sit down and speak personally with Prof. Manuela Marujo. She will be retiring in two years, and will be missed at the Department. It was a pleasure for us to be able to converse with a scholar, and person, of her calibre.
Interview conducted by Jaclyn Bucar and Joana Milcheva
J.B.: We are going to start with a very simple question: where in Portugal are you originally from, have you lived anywhere else in Portugal and what are the differences between these regions?
M.M.: I am from Alentejo, which is the southern part–not the touristic, well-known Algarve, it’s between Lisbon and the Algarve.
I think people who live in the Alentejo are kind of marked by it because it’s a region that historically had the very rich and [the people who were almost slaves]…When we are growing up, we hear the stories of the big landlord and all the others. So, if you are not born a daughter or a son of these rich people, you are nothing. I think that marks people. So, you have, either through education or other means, to get out. And I think I was influenced by that.
I come from a very small village. Don’t ask me how I got into this curiosity about the world, but I knew very early in my life that I was not going to stay there. I understood that learning languages would be a way out. Of course, I was early on aware that it was through education that I could do whatever I wanted to do, and my dad influenced me on that. And when I look back–from that small village, not many people left. Some, which I became friends with, did, but [they were] very few. That’s part of the history of Alentejo–Alentejo was very isolated, so there were no schools that we could attend in the village. You had to move to the “big city.” I moved, when I was thirteen, to Beja, which is the capital of the region. The region is very large. We used to say that Alentejo could be independent from Portugal, because it has Lower Alentejo and Higher Alentejo, and two big cities–Beja in the Lower part and Évora in the Higher part. It was far from Lisbon. My dad gave me a present when I completed what would be…grade eight–I went to Lisbon. Going to Lisbon was a big deal and influenced me a lot.
So, people didn’t leave. We went to the big city…When I was thirteen, I left in September and came back for Christmas. It was a big responsibility because my dad couldn’t travel there, nor[could] my mother…I went with my two brothers at a certain point, and we were by ourselves. That also, I think, shaped people that had to leave their houses when they were thirteen. My dad gave me the money [I had] for three months. And, you know, when I think about that today, I think that was a big deal. I felt really important and I managed. I had to manage the money. So I am from that part of Portugal. And we became–although we were in a very strict political regime–we became aware of the injustice and unfairness of the system. We are all labeled “communists” in Alentejo. When you say you are from Alentejo, you are a communist. Not today–today it doesn’t represent anything, but in those days, you were marked. We didn’t know [what it meant to be a] communist–we just knew that it was unfair, what we had. It became…something that you lived, not something that you read about.
J.B.: That actually brings us very nicely into the next couple of questions that we have. Where were you on April 25th, 1974? (This is the date of the military coup in Portugal to overthrow the regime of the Estado Novo, often referred to as the Carnation Revolution, Freedom Day, or simply April 25th)
M.M.: I was in Angola. I was teaching in Africa. Why Africa? When I finished university, it was a very controversial time because [of the] late sixties movements in Europe…there was a rebellious movement in France, and Portugal was affected–although we were under a dictatorship, we were affected. There were lots of strikes, etcetera, and I was not happy with what was going on in university…there was a war in Africa and one of my brothers went (and I always had this thing for travelling)…I asked my brother if it was safe and, where he was, it was safe. There was a war, but not in the harbour where he was working. So, I was there when April 1974 happened. And to tell you the truth–I have a story that I wrote about it–we didn’t feel any difference at all, the first months. We knew that the war was going to end–there was a dissatisfaction with the political system–and, of course, we all talked about it. For us, it indicated the end of the political war. There was an autonomous movement in Africa and we knew it would affect us, as it did. But, you see, I didn’t go to Portugal in those days, I stayed in Africa. I only left in March 1975 and the independence in Angola happened in November 1975. Then I went to Luanda. First I was in Lobito, which is a southern city–not so much affected by the rebellious movement–but when I went to Luanda, we experienced first-hand the three political parties that came and wanted to take over the regime. And it became intolerable. In my classes, five students would leave one day, another three the other day, and then you had just girls. All the boys were called [into] the guerilla war and it became frightening to see–I’ll always remember–one of my students armed at the door of a supermarket and ready to shoot…That is what I experienced after the 25th of April.
J.B.: Discussing that aspect a little bit, can you give us an impression of what it was like living through the dictatorship in Portugal before 1974?
M.M.: At university, for example…my first year at university was scary. We had decided to go to [a discussion about] the evaluation system. It was really unfair, what we had in those days–an exam, if you fail, that’s it, after one year of studying–so, we decided to discuss it. [That] day the hall was completely filled; we started [hearing] lots of noise and we saw about thirty militants coming–completely shielded, helmets, guns–and they were going to be there for the discussion. So, that was our first experience as first-year students. I thought, ‘oh my god!’ And after that, there was a prohibition that a group of–I think it was ten–more than ten couldn’t get together because that could be conspiracy against the government. Of course, we were scared all the time. I had a part-time job at the post office and there were lots of workers in the post office that were militants and, of course, having university students there, they tried to inform us, and we didn’t want to hear [it]. We knew it was dangerous, you know. There was always this fear of talking politics. I remember one of my friends there–a worker–one day was trying to give me pamphlets and that sort of thing, and I didn’t want anything. One day, he just didn’t come to work. And months later, he came–no nails, [his face] completely broken, and he told me he had been tortured, he had to give names of people, and this-and-that, “I’m glad I never had anything to do with you,” etcetera. So, that was what we had to live. And we knew of so many people that were taken and, so, it was fear. Fear and lack of knowledge–we didn’t want to know because if we knew too much, that would be dangerous. For a university student, that was terrible because you were there to learn, but you were not allowed to discuss certain topics. There was a danger because we knew that in our class maybe three or four were informants and if you asked a question, you might be just “labeled” because the question was not supposed to be asked.
J.B.: I imagine that sentiment might have been something that contributed to the desire later on in your life…to leave [Portugal]?
M.M.: Yeah. And I was in Germany–after, when I came from Africa, I didn’t come to Portugal–just passed [through]. I went to Denmark, then I went to Germany. I stayed [there] for about three months. In Germany there were lots of leftists that were following and helping Portugal through the revolution, and I remember being confronted once at the University of Bonn by a group of students who told me, “You’re Portuguese? What are you doing here? Are you the daughter of some rich guy who’s [taken] all his fortune from Portugal?” I said, “What?!” I was so uninformed. I said, “What are you talking about?” They said, “You should be in Portugal right now, helping the people, you know, helping the country people in Alentejo”–I said I [was] from Alentejo–“there’s co-ops of workers trying to take over the land of the rich people, you should be there helping them.” I said [to myself], “What am I doing here?” I had no idea what was going on in Portugal, so when I came back I really noticed a lot of differences. But, you see, you had to be outside to talk about these things (chuckles). No one had told me there were these movements in Portugal. I hadn’t followed them because I had been away–I was in Africa three years, and then I went to Europe. So, it was only outside that you had some idea of what was going on in the country.
J.B.: You’ve mentioned a couple of places you’ve been to, both as a student and as a teacher–are there any countries that were notable for you in your travels? Even as a tourist, for example.
M.M.: When I started travelling, I became interested in–for example, when I was in Europe–in immigrant kids because Portugal is a country of immigration, as you know. There are immigrants everywhere. For me it was interesting to see what was happening to these kids. So, I was in Sweden several times because I taught Portuguese to Swedes. People were going to Africa–after we left, the Swedes, the Norwegians and the Danish went as experienced workers and I thought that was so admirable–it was fantastic. Then I noticed that they were just making so much money. For me, they became the new colonialists and I tried to educate them. I said, “What are you going to Angola [for]? How much are you going to make? What are you going to–do you speak–? Do you know the history of–?” “No.” They [just had] lots of advantages [in] going there–no tax, double salaries, etcetera. So, I became more informed and very curious about the education of these kids in countries like Sweden [and] Denmark. I decided when I came back from going to many places [that] I would work as [an] educator for teachers who were going to teach these kids and help them. And that’s what I did. I literally knocked at somebody’s door–this woman was responsible for the Portuguese teaching abroad–and I said, “I’d like to work here.” She said, “Um, who are you?” I said, “Well, I’ve been doing this-and-that, and I saw lots of these children, and–I don’t know, some programs in Sweden, for example, are very good, but some programs in Germany are not very good…” I think the woman was so surprised by my… (J.B. chuckles) audacity that she said “Okay, well, as a matter of fact, do you know anything about publishing magazines for children?” I said, “No, but I can learn, what’s the big thing?” So, I started working in this department that was creating pedagogically interesting materials for kids. So that’s what I did. And that brought me to Canada, as a matter of fact. Years later, they had the need [for] someone [to do] teacher training in Canada–this was 1981–and I was the person chosen to come. That’s how I started doing teacher training programs, because I had a little bit of experience while I worked in this department–I went to Germany several times, to England, and I was doing training for teachers who worked with kids from Portuguese backgrounds. When I came to Canada I was really interested in what was going here, because in the eighties–it was when [Pierre] Trudeau introduced the Royal Commission on Bilingualism. There was so much excitement here, there was so much money to support the Portuguese–well, not just the Portuguese, the language program…I came here in 1981, then in 1983 and in 1985, I was teaching at UofT.
J.B. & J.M.: Wow.
J.B.: That’s fast.
J.M.: In university, you studied English and Germanic literatures.
J.M.: Language, I assume from what you just said, was one way for you to see Portugal from the outside. Is there something else that drove you to the study of languages? You were heard in a lecture a couple of years ago saying that “thanks to and because of languages” you saw the world…
M.M.: Well, as I said in the beginning, being from a small place, you know you have to learn languages in order to outreach. We didn’t have any contact, when I was in Alentejo, with foreigners. I don’t remember seeing a black person until I don’t know when, I don’t even remember–maybe when I went to Africa (all laugh). I remember when I was in high school, I liked everything–science, math. Then I had to decide [what to study], ‘cause we had to decide very early on, in grade nine. I discussed [it] with my dad, and I said, “What do I choose? I like everything!” My dad was very good with that; he said, “You have to think what you want to do in life!” And I said “I want to go places, I want to translate for UNESCO.” That was my thing. And he said, “Well, then you should study, learn some languages.” We had French compulsory, so I already had three years of French–I was good at French. I decided to study what my school was offering, which was English and German. But then, at university, I also took Italian, and Spanish, for me, was easy. And I remember, the first time I went to Germany, I could speak with everybody–all the world–because of the languages, the basic language that I had. That always gave me this sense of empowerment, that I could speak with anybody–go to South America and understand everybody, go to Africa–either they have colonial French or colonial English, right? German was a little more limited, but Germany always attracted us in Europe because of it being very organized, very wealthy–you know, they must know something that we don’t, and they do (all laugh). Even in soccer. So, [learning] languages. for me it was a way out. Even going to Japan or China, you have people who speak English. It opens the doors to the world.
J.M.: You’ve traveled so much–which one is the country that stood out to you most for its linguistic variety? Did you see something that you [didn’t expect]?
I resisted to go to Brazil for a long time. Brazil was…I don’t know…poverty, violence, etcetera. I went to Brazil for the first time in 2000 and I changed my mind completely. I have a house in the south of Brazil and I really thought that I would spend a lot more time [there] if I had the time, right? So, I convinced my husband to invest in the south of Brazil, saying, “Oh, we’re coming! I’m going to retire when I’m sixty and we’ll come here.” Well, I’m sixty-six, I’m still here (laughs) and not having so much time to go, but I have spent quite a bit of time in Brazil. You know, when I look at Brazil–first of all, it’s important to have a common language. It’s a language that we share. It’s really important. You know, although I speak English… when you go to a country that shares a language with your own mother tongue, I think it makes a big difference. And also, Brazil is a very young country…Canada is young, but with a lot of old people. Brazil has lots of children, lots of young people, and I think that gives you a sense of potential, of future–they can do anything and they have the resources, they have the beautiful landscape. But they also have so much to be done, so much that we can teach, so much that you can learn from them. I don’t know–I probably would choose Brazil if I had to choose a country among the others. Other countries, like China, I wasn’t attracted to at all because I saw so much poverty–the gap between the rich and the poor. Of course, Brazil also has that–but Brazil has more potential, I believe, to be–because of the political regime, right?–to be, one day, a little more balanced between the very poor and the very rich.
J.M.: You mentioned children a couple of times and a lot of your research revolves around children–grandchildren and the relationship with their grandparents. Often, that involves the diaspora of the Portuguese. Could you talk to us a little bit more about how your interest in this generational (and almost geographical) gap happened?
M.M.: When I did my PhD, it did it here at OISE. I did my research in an elementary school with kids from Portuguese background, and how, unfortunately, the school, instead of helping the child who comes already with the knowledge of a language–be it Portuguese, Italian, Vietnamese, Ukrainian–helps them forget. That is really something that hurts me, you know, and the educators [as a whole]. The child goes bilingual to school, and comes out monolingual. That is something that always interests me–how to avoid that. When I studied the bilingual aspect of the family, of the school, of the environment, I also heard a lot about the family and how [it] can have the most important role in maintaining the heritage language…It became a natural thing. I have volunteered for many, many years with the Board of Education–both boards of education (the Public and Catholic school boards in Toronto)–and, then, in the community with several organizations–Parent Involvement Committee, Family Involvement Committee, Language Promotion Committee–name it, I’ve been there. While my daughter was in school, I was very active. I was bothering principals, I was asking impertinent questions. I did a lot for the Portuguese community in that sense–asking the questions [that] people couldn’t, or didn’t know [how] to, or did not have the time [to ask]. That became a little bit [of] my focus while I was doing the work. Then I started doing a little bit work on women. The first conference I did was on the Portuguese immigrant women, in 2003, when the Portuguese celebrated the fiftieth anniversary [in Canada] because there was no research on Portuguese immigrant women. I said [that] there must be something that we [could] say. That was very successful…this year, it is going to be in Porto. We already had it in Berkeley (California), in Brazil (Curitiba)…then we went to Macau, then we went to France (Paris)…This year, it’s going to be in Porto–for the first time in Portugal. And then I was challenged at the second one, because I presented on grandparents–grandmothers–in Berkeley . Someone challenged me and said, “Why don’t you do something specifically on grandparents?” I said, “Yeah, why not?” (J.B. chuckles) It was [originally called] The Voice and Choice of Portuguese Immigrant Women, and then [the new conference] became The Voice of Grandparents. And there is enough [material]. There are lots of people interested, in multidisciplinary fields. I’ve had artists in several media: video, painting, etcetera. I’ve had, of course, social workers…historians, people in literature talking about the representation of grandparents…That became so exciting! We already had three conferences on that–two in the University of the Azores, and one in Lisbon–and the following [one] is going to be in Toronto because I want to have something here before I leave. It’s natural because I believe that the [voices of] family and, namely, the grandparents, have not been heard. Now a few books have been published and I think it’s great because the subject is there, people just haven’t been thinking about it a lot. For the first conference I invited Gina Valle, who did her PhD with me at OISE. She has a book called Our Grandmothers, Ourselves, and she has an exhibit, etcetera. Of course, that’s on multicultural grandmothers, because the Portuguese grandmothers are just one aspect–it can be said about any grandparent. So, I am very excited about that topic.
J.B.: That’s actually really, really fascinating. That leads into one thing that I was curious about, personally: how you actually perceive the Portuguese diaspora in Toronto. You have been here for so long–I imagine you have seen many changes. Do you that think the solidarity of the community has changed? Do you think that the Portuguese-Canadian community still plays a significant role in the lives of people who are either direct immigrants or generations subsequent to the people who immigrated here originally?
M.M.: A positive thing is [that] a lot more students, for example, are from [the islands]…When I came, it was a lot more mainland-born parents who sent their children to university and we knew that 80% were from the islands. That always surprised me–how come these kids were not coming? They are coming a lot more in the last, let’s say, ten or fifteen years, ’cause I’ve been here thirty…At the beginning, there was a little bit of an embarrassment and it’s really amazing, because it has to do with language–all the time with language, the importance of “speaking well.” I had students, in the beginning, from São Miguel–the majority of Portuguese immigrants come from the islands, namely from São Miguel. And in São Miguel, there is an accent. It’s the same language, but there is a strong accent–like Newfoundland [here], let’s compare that. I had students coming to me and saying “I don’t know Portuguese–I am Portuguese, but my parents do not speak right. I want to learn everything from the beginning.” I said, “But…why?!” [They said things like] “…you cannot hear me speak any word of Portuguese because I know I don’t speak well.” That took a little bit of work to disappear. I think the community is a lot more informed and aware that there are differences in accents and [that] there’s nothing wrong with it, we just have to learn the standard and then choose whatever you want to speak. I had the same problem when I arrived in Lisbon–I had an accent from the south of Portugal and everyone [asked me], “Are you from Alentejo?” I didn’t want to be known as from Alentejo (demonstrates difference in accents between Lisbon and Alentejo, and then São Miguel–explains that accent from Lisbon is considered “nicer”). There’s [still] a connotation–“If you speak with an accent, you don’t speak as well as I do.” So, I have seen that difference–a lot more integration of [people of] the Azorean background–now second or third generation. I have had students who already come to me and say, “I know that I have an accent, but that’s OK,” so I have seen an evolution in the community. [There are] a lot more people with very good jobs–before, everyone was either a cashier at the bank, [or a] cleaning lady. I think that’s the past. The community is very strong in numbers, so there are lots of organizations that help newcomers, and newcomers are coming again. There was a time when there was no one coming, but now because of the Portuguese economic crisis there are people coming again. I believe the community has a role in that. There’s a lot of support. For example, The Working Women Community Centre is one of the pillars of helping students with tutoring programs, helping families know about educational programs. Yeah, I think in the last thirty years, definitely, I have seen better integration. People are more educated, better informed, etcetera. Although, some of the problems still [persist]–a lot of parents, for example, think that high school education is great and [that] it’s enough. We have to do more in that sense–of informing [them] that, today, in Canadian society, if you don’t have a university degree–you are less able to find a good job with a grade 12 education.
J.B.: Related to that, obviously you have had personal experiences as an immigrant in Canada on the one hand, and in Toronto on the other hand. We know that this hasn’t always been the multicultural mosaic that we have now. Insofar as that, what has your experience been as an immigrant without the Portuguese connotation, and what have been some of the positive and negative aspects of being an immigrant in Canada in general, and in Toronto specifically?
M.M.: One of the funniest things is–I do it on purpose–I go to some mainstream thing like giving blood, or banking, and then people ask me “What do you do–are you Portuguese? Such a cute accent!” And I always say, “Oh, I’m a polyglot–I speak several languages, it’s natural that I have an accent. How many languages do you speak?” “Oh, just English.” I say, “Oh, poor you, you must feel so bad.” (all laugh) If they can’t be cured, you know, monolinguals, they must suffer. I always do that. And then they say, “So, what do you do?” and I say, on purpose, “I teach.” “Oh, you like children?” I say, “Yeah, I do…” “So…what elementary school do you teach at?” “Hmmm, I don’t teach at an elementary school.” “Oh, so you teach at a secondary school? You teach a little bit older kids?” “No, I don’t.” I don’t volunteer [the answer]. Finally, they say “So, where do you teach?” “I teach at U of T.” “Wooooah!” They move a little bit back (laughs) and say, “Oh, you are a professor!…When did you start?” I say, “About 30 years ago…” “Oh. So, did you study here?” I say, “Nope. Studied in Portugal.” “Oh really???” (awestruck tone) So this is always a surprise. And it’s constant–it didn’t disappear throughout the years. People do not expect an immigrant [to hold these positions]. If they ask me more questions, I say, “Yeah, I came here expressly to U of T, direct from my country–from my house–to U of T.” “Oh, really–I didn’t know that U of T had Portuguese, first of all…and second–that you could hire a foreigner.” I say, “Yeah, if there are not enough people educated in Canada, they go abroad and pick us–choose us.” It’s always a surprise and I think it’s because of the immigrant label–if you are an immigrant, you are not supposed to be hired as a professor. That’s a negative thing I find. The accent part–I mean, who doesn’t have an accent in this country?! Very few [people]. And if they do not have an accent, probably they are monolingual. So that irritates me all the time, although, of course, I can deal with it…I think it’s ignorant people, but not just ignorant people. When I was here for the second time representing Portugal in this meeting with about 150 superintendents and principals, I was trying to defend the teaching of Portuguese–this was in the Catholic Board–and one of the principals told the group (I was with a several people), “Well, I only speak English, I don’t even own a passport and look at me (J.M. laughs; J.B.: Wow)–I am in this position.” What do you say [to this]? There are people like that that you have to deal with if you are an immigrant. And on many, many occasions I was at the Board of Education with the Chair of the Board and [others]–and they didn’t speak a language. You talk about something that they don’t get. You have only one solution–you feel sorry for them and you try to inform. Yeah, I have an accent–thank God! This is not my first language; I have other languages–I can talk to many people.
The negativity–it’s, of course, there. If you achieve a situation like I did…being part of U of T–then it’s a little bit downgraded, ‘cause, okay, “She is one of those that is teaching at U of T.” But you feel it all the time. [There is] no way out, I don’t think.
J.M.: Speaking about maintaining bilingualism in the Portuguese context, in the heart of the Portuguese community [in Toronto] there is a high school–Harbord Collegiate Institute–that began teaching Portuguese a long time ago.
M.M.: The seventies, yeah.
J.M.: It still teaches the language. In your experience, high schools that teach Portuguese or other second languages–the kids that come out of there, would they have more interest in continuing their studies?
M.M: I think so. I have, as I said, been involved in many programs. The programs have disappeared, most of them–not because sometimes there are no students, but the changes in the curriculum led languages to be second in choice or third in choice because they don’t recognize the credits, etcetera. So the schools that had programs and [that] I visited…with the Association of Students–sometimes we went there and spoke with the teachers–[they’re all gone]…Now I think it’s only Harbord Collegiate. And I have followed Harbord Collegiate programs–I think now they only have a Portuguese Club, or something. We get many students that studied Portuguese–and we used to have more that studied Portuguese in high schools. Then they would come and do another grade–a second or a third level–because they already had the basis. I find that, if high schools motivate children and young people to learn other languages, that would be something that we would like to have more of, but it has disappeared. And also, you know, the other thing is that not so many people are coming now, so a lot of the kids are born here and the parents already do not speak [the language] very well. So they are not comfortable enough, and I have spoken with many of these parents, especially mothers–they say, “Well, my Portuguese is not good enough, I can’t.” And I have had students like that. For example, I remember one that I know, her mother is a lawyer and she speaks basic Portuguese, so she sent her kid here to learn [it]…These kids are fewer–[kids] with Portuguese parents who still know how relevant it is to speak Portuguese, especially because of their family connections, right? So, it’s natural that if they have no credit in high school, why would they choose a language like Portuguese? It also has to do with the pattern of immigration, and it’s not just in Portuguese, [there are] many other languages that students are not picking up. I think our university doesn’t do a good job in promoting languages.
J.B.: Especially when they are trying to shove all the language departments under one conglomerate unit.
M.M.: Yeah!…I remember talking with the president [of the university] when he went to Brazil last year, ‘cause he had been here at the conference I organized on the sixty-fifth anniversary of the Portuguese –and, of course, he had no clue about Portuguese. Then he went to Brazil and, of course, he had a translator…I said, “What did you think about Brazil?” “I was impressed–you know, the quality of universities there.” I said, “Yeah, you know, thats why we should continue to promote Portuguese.” But a lot of these [people with] high-level jobs, they have no knowledge of other languages. They have no time to “lose” learning languages. So, how can they perform this role of promoting? They’re stuck! (J.M.: They can’t really) Yeah, they’re stuck…For us [in Europe], it’s so easy to understand how a language can benefit you. Here in North America, when you speak to North American people, [you see] how narrow-minded they are in relating to languages. On the other hand, I mean, are they going to travel, to go anywhere? Very few people go, so we have to understand–in Europe, it’s easy to go to Spain, to Denmark…it’s “over there.” I remember when I went to England–it’s two hours. So, for us it’s natural–even in the country…For North Americans, it’s a far away thing to dream of going anywhere, so why would they learn a language? I understand that. I think, for example, in the United States everyone should learn Spanish, because that’s a reality. In Canada, we should be–and when I came here, that’s what I thought–we should be like an example for the world. We could have experts in every language in the world, easily, with a little bit of support from schools. You don’t have to do much–you just have to cater to the kids who already come with these languages [so as] to not let them forget. Pathetic, what’s happening in schools.
J.B.: Well, they’re taking everything out. The only thing we have mandatory now is French.
M.M.: And the way they teach French–the way they look at French teachers, the way French is disregarded. It’s really sad…when I came here, I was so excited with this bilingualism thing–I went to China to speak about Canada as an example of multilingualism. Today, I wouldn’t (all laugh). I wouldn’t dare. So much changed in the nineties with the conservatives in power–they cut, cut, cut, cut the programs.
J.B. It’s become much more “anglicized” and much more americanized, at the end of the day, right? (M.M.: Yeah, yeah) That actually is relevant to a segway to pick your brain on this: we do have a multicultural community here, but we do recognize its shortcomings. With that in mind, if you could pick somewhere other than Toronto–[either] a different city in Canada, or somewhere outside of the country altogether–to have settled, either personally, professionally, or both, what do you think you would have picked? We spoke about Brazil already, but this is a little bit of a different context.
M.M.: I went to England many times and I went to many schools and worked a little bit with educators [there]. I think they have fantastic programs. I worked as an education officer in London for three months before coming here. During that period, I went to every workshop [and] conference they had on language maintenance, language acquisition, etcetera. I believe the British system, at least theoretically, is very good. I think they have many issues they have to solve with large communities of people coming from the Commonwealth that they have to support [and] educate, but I believe I could go and learn a lot from the British system. I think Britain has many “pilot programs”…and, for example, in what concerns materials for teaching English as a second language–I mean, they have it all. I’m a little biased on the British because [of] my education…that was the first country I visited, and I studied there–I was an au-pair girl for the summer in a British home, and then I went back to Britain several times. I admired the way the English do things–I think they have a long tradition of very well educated, interested people in the well-being of the children. I had the opportunity of going to Scotland and Wales and seeing how they try to support these communities that are not the standard British families. I believe I would learn from them.
J.B. …After decades of experience and success in your field, if there was anything you could tell your younger self that was embarking on all these journeys a while ago, what would it be?
M.M.: I didn’t understand, when I came to U of T, the difference between the teaching stream and the others. I would have thought twice if I wanted to come to the teaching stream, and I know that the Faculty Association is trying to work on this with the main partners. There is a difference and we feel it here in the academic milieu. For me, I never understood how a professor who teaches five students in a literary field is better paid, better regarded and has a lot more consideration at all levels than someone who teaches 100-200 students and “feeds” the other courses. And that’s what’s happening here. So, the teaching stream is kind of “second-class” in the overall structure of the university. I know there’s a strong movement to end that, but I am a part of it. So, looking back, I don’t think I would have stayed if I knew that. I didn’t understand that. For me it was a challenge coming to study here and I never questioned this thing of teaching, ‘cause I love teaching language…I don’t know if I would have stayed. Maybe not.
J.M.: Well, we’re glad that you did (all laugh). For better or for worse, it’s the twenty-first century and there’s so much technology around us. You have been teaching for a long time. How has technology impacted the process of learning and teaching and do you think it’s a good or a bad thing for the students nowadays?
M.M.: Oh, I love it, I love it. (all laugh) I am all pro–Facebook! I am not on Twitter yet. I think technology is amazing. I really try to incorporate it as much as I can. In some courses it’s easier than in others, but I wish I was a student now because I think that the students that really want to learn can follow all the tips that we say. What I think is it’s taking a lot of time to learn how to use these new technologies and incorporate them into teaching, because time is very limited for all of us. I think there is still a lot of misinformation on the Web, so to try to teach–and that’s what we have to do!–the students how to select from the various sources, etcetera, is still a process. And even for us, because you always have to check the sources. Everyone wants to just go to Wikipedia and that’s it, but [it still] has a lot of mistakes. I do love technology…those people who tell me they don’t like Facebook, I say, “Your problem–I love it.” It’s an easy way of contacting people, you just do what you want to do with it. I think it’s irreversible, so you better accept, embrace [and] learn how to use it. If there is a new colleague that comes, we have to tell her or him that it’s part of the deal–you have to use the technology (because some people resist, even younger people). And the other thing that I learned, because I am so interested in technology, [is that] at the beginning, I thought the students knew a lot more than I do. And then I realized, “No, they don’t” (all laugh). I have taught a lot of students how to use PowerPoint, etcetera. Again, it’s new and you don’t have the time to learn everything. At the beginning, I felt [like], “Oh my God, I am going to class with this thing, they know this better…” I tested this several times–no, they don’t know more than I do. I am comfortable. If something doesn’t go well–oh well, then maybe next time. It’s a new thing and we all have to learn new things. So, I feel comfortable with anything that comes new. I’ll try it…Teach me, because I want to use it! …And for language learning–my God!–technology is a must. You can go and listen to all the stuff you can find on the Web.
J.M.: Lastly, what is your advice for the twenty-first century student?
M.M.: I always advise to travel. Go travel, please…As a matter of fact, I think our college–Victoria College–has embraced this new century and they try to have the students–I think it’s compulsory for Victoria students–to travel at least once. They support it, yes…There are lots of scholarships, etcetera. I think it should be compulsory. And I have been criticized–my daughter, when she was eighteen, I pushed her to go to Brazil. Everyone said, “Oh my God, why are you sending your daughter to Brazil–it’s so dangerous.” Thank God, nothing happened. Anything can happen here–with your neighbour, your brother, your uncle–I mean, bad things. I believe that traveling is the best way of learning. If you want to miss a year of university and travel–please, go ahead! I am what I am because of the way I tried to go [places]. I remember not buying stuff. It never interested me. Shoes, purses, bracelets–I don’t care, give me the money and I’ll go somewhere else. I think investing in going places is much better than having a fur coat or gold earrings. What for?! I never valued that. My husband–he knows. When he wants to give me something, I say, “Yeah, give me a weekend away in New York and I’ll be happy,” you know? (all laugh) Going and comparing your life with people’s lives in other places–it’s so eye-opening!…I remember one of the earliest experiences I had: I was in Germany working in a hotel as a chambermaid and I had this [colleague] from Birmingham–an English girl, also a student. We were talking and she said, “Oh, now, when I go back, I’m going to share my room with this friend of mine, this boy.” I said, “Oh, are you going to get married?” She looked at me and said, “What?! Getting married? No, I’m sharing a room with my [friend].” I said, “With a boy?” and she said, “Yeah, he’s a very good guy, I mean, I know him from school…” I said, “But that’s not possible. I mean, in Portugal, no one would rent a room to a boy and a girl!–unless they’re married”. She said “What?! What country do you live in?” And I remember going back and telling my brothers, “You know what? In England, girls can live with boys without being married!” They said, “You don’t come home with these crazy ideas–you think you can do that here?!” I remember things like that–simple things like that. People do things in different ways. To get an apartment with a man, you married–in Portugal, in my days, right? Now, [and] here, of course, it’s different–and thank God it’s different. But we never had these [regular] experiences…I remember being told, for example, “Don’t talk with a man when you go abroad.” And I remember this guy in a museum in London asking me for coffee after we saw the art. And I said [to myself], “Oh my God, what do I say?” I felt so stupid–I said, “Coffee? Sure.” “Or tea, if you prefer it.” I said, “Yeah, tea would be nicer.” We started walking, and I started looking for a café, right? And he stopped at a building and said, “Oh, I live in this building, do you want to come up?” I said, “No way!” And he said, “Why not?” and I didn’t know what to say–I said, “It’s a question of principles.” He said, “OK. If you don’t want to come up, I’m not forcing you or anything–it was just an invitation.” And I said “OK. Let’s go to that café!” Then I started thinking about what I said. I mean, I felt so out of this world where he lived in. I said, “I would never,”–I told him–“I would never go up to a man’s place.” He said, “I just asked you–you don’t have to come. No forcing, it was a question!” And this, you learn from going to places and, you know, testing yourself…