View across the Spree to the Reichstagbuilding in Berlin

The power of diasporas: migration management through a sense of belonging

Paulo Teves loves the Azores with all his heart. In addition to being a full-time Azorean, he started his new position as Director for branding and promotion of the Azores to the world in 2021, after having spent almost two decades working directly in the field of migration and as the Regional Director of the Azorean Communities between 2012 and 2020.

As a host of the 16th International Metropolis Conference in 2011, migration to the Azores and from it, the interconnectedness of people and the diasporas that community-building all around the world creates are his passion. In his interview, Mr Teves presents insights into precisely these various aspects of migration – from the Azores and towards the Azores – and talks about the power of belonging. He is a firm believer that an expansion of culture through migration will ultimately benefit the people and the countries they migrate to and from.

Paulo César Câmara Teves

Paulo César Câmara Teves

Director for Management and Promotion of the Azores Brand, Former Regional Director of the Azorean Communities, Host of the 16th International Metropolis Conference in 2011

Paulo César Câmara Teves

Mr Teves, please tell us a little bit about one of the main or ongoing challenges you had to face working in the field of migration in the Azores.

The biggest challenge is to bring together representatives of all the different interest groups and get them all to sit around a single table: political interests and research interests, the people’s interests – and in this specific area, most important of all, the migrants’ interests. As the former Regional Director of the communities and subsequently host of the 2011 IMC, the main areas we focused our daily work on were migration, immigration and diasporas. The lion’s share of our work actually focused on the Azorean diaspora.

Can you explain more of what you mean by that?

You need to imagine the Azores – situated in the middle of the Atlantic. The Azores represent 2.3% of the entire Portuguese territory and consist of nine small islands – some with a distance of 600 kilometres between them. However, I’d say that we are all Azoreans, though it can be challenging to manage policies across this distance. We have bigger islands, and we have small islands with only 17 square kilometres and 400 inhabitants. Despite – or maybe exactly because of – the history of the Azores, which is a history of migration and immigration, there is a sense of belonging and ultimately responsibility for one another. There are only round about 240,000 inhabitants in the Azores, but you can knock on anyone’s door and I assure you that every person who opens the door for you will have a family relative who lives somewhere abroad: in Brazil, the United States, Hawaii, Canada, Uruguay or Bermuda, just to name a few. Being a relatively small group of islands and the place being so unique, the people who emigrated have built strong communities all around the world, and the key to this success story is the strong relationship back to the Azoreans. For example, there is a band in Hawaii (Hawaii Count Band – Hilo) that was founded in 1883 by two brothers from San Miguel Island. And although they are of course Hawaiian, they are also Azorean. Throughout our activities, we have put a lot of work and focus into managing these relationships, our Azorean diaspora.

What are the benefits of strong diasporas?

Interconnectedness and community-building. A feeling of belonging, a place to call home – or, rather, two places you call home. It is a well of ever-growing curiosity about your ancestors, it is a driving factor for cultural learning and understanding and for building bridges. And it is key in resettlement policies, if you have cases where visas were discontinued or where people move abroad – you can link people, help them with housing, entering the labour market, healthcare, friendships, and so on. It is the oldest network-building humankind knows, but it is one a lot of the world seems to have forgotten how to actively do.

Eleven years ago you hosted the 16th International Metropolis Conference. How did that come to be?

Our actual involvement with Metropolis International started in 2008, at the International Metropolis Conference in Bonn, Germany. When we attended, we just casually started talking about hosting it in the Azores one day. But with the support and commitment of Professor Lucinda Fonseca, who teaches at the University of Lisbon and who was next in line to host the International Metropolis Conference in Lisbon, and other partners, we applied.

One of our central focal points was precisely the difficulties that might come with the location, because of our geographic centrality – in between Europe, North America, South America and the Caribbean and the challenges an island state faces in terms of migration issues and policies.

Truth be told, I do think that one of the advantages was exactly this context of islands – to approach new areas of research and new areas of dialogue. And being in this unique location, having to travel by boat or plane to the next island, being surrounded by water and right in the middle of Azoreans and their culture really helped to shape arguments and deepen understanding for struggles and challenges outside of big city flows. Diasporas are also something that the previous conferences weren’t talking about very much, so we knew we could set an agenda: geographically unique with a strong network of diasporas.

And – how was the conference? Can we get a tiny glimpse?

It was one of the most gratifying things I have been able to do in my career. We had study tours about immigration and integration, we invited the local organisations to share their work: one was about deportees, another one was about the history of immigration in the Azores, and for yet another one we went to Pico Island, UNESCO’s heritage site, and Faial Island. It was beautiful. I think – and the feedback we got confirmed this – that we really managed to steer the conversation and allow for new viewpoints. Because for a whole weekend, the Azores literally were Metropolis International.

Now, over a decade later, and gearing up for the 25th Metropolis Conference in Berlin – what would you like to say to the whole field of migration, if you could?

There’s strong communication and exchange, and we are coming together to meet. That is extraordinary. Looking back at the past two years, this wasn’t a given. But this year again, people from all over the world are coming together to share their research, ideas, thoughts and struggles with each other in real time.

I am a firm believer that from every challenging and new conversation you can take away ideas and tools and that you can step by step improve your surroundings if you start with your own street, your own job, your school and your own integration. Start on your own front doorstep and you’ll have an automatic spillover effect. I wish people had more courage to get inspired by new ideas and to start implementing them.