As someone with familial ties to the former Portuguese colony of Macau in China, now a special administrative region of the People’s Republic of China, I find it perplexing that a language spoken by up to 260 million people around the world, is not offered as a course at a premier public university like Binghamton University. With the fast-growing economies of Mozambique, Angola and more, it is more important than ever that the University take the initiative to provide Portuguese instruction to students, particularly if BU plans to promote itself as a premier public university and one that advocates for diversity and multiculturalism.
According to the 2017 U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, there are over 790,000 Portuguese speakers in the United States, with many Portuguese speakers residing in the northeast states of New Jersey, New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts. The 2000 U.S. Census also found that there are over 41,378 Portuguese speakers in the state of New York alone, with many of them coming from places like Brazil, Cape Verde and Portugal.
Over 205 million Portuguese speakers reside in Brazil, a country that’s an integral part of Latin America. I believe that by incorporating Portuguese with Spanish education, we are informing the wider student community of how diverse and unique Latin America is. Also, by doing so, it will provide the student community the opportunity of a richer understanding of Brazilian culture, music, history and politics that have played a major part of the development of Latin America as a whole. As Portuguese is a romance language closely related to Spanish, I believe that more integration of Portuguese will create new bridges between the Lusophone — Portuguese-speaking — world and the Spanish-speaking world in Latin America.
For example, Portuguese is offered at University at Albany, Westchester Community College, SUNY New Paltz and Monroe Community College, but not here at BU. As one of the premier elite universities of the wider SUNY system, we should put pressure on the romance languages department to offer Portuguese to students at BU. How can it be called the romance languages department if you don’t offer Portuguese, a central romance language? The absence of Portuguese classes at BU is a void in the University’s continued push for diversity and multicultural education. In order for the University to play a bigger role, not just in the future economy and development of New York state or the United States, but in promoting prosperity through higher education around the world, we must unlock those new spheres of opportunities and include Lusophones.
This argument isn’t just limited to the University. Latinx student groups should also make an effort to promote Portuguese language education and make Portuguese-speaking students feel welcome. Doing so would help spread culture and understanding between Latinx people of different cultural backgrounds.
According to José Carlos Guerreiro Adão, deputy coordinator for the Portuguese Language Programs and Educational Affairs in the United States of America at the Portuguese Consulate General of Newark, “There are about 49,000 Portuguese registered at the consulate in New York, which combines the states of Connecticut and New York. Our estimate is that there are currently 1.5 million Portuguese and Portuguese American[s], but we will only know the exact number of people who identify as Portuguese in the Census next year.” With the continued growth in Portuguese speakers in the Lusophone world and as the fifth-most spoken language in the world, I highly encourage BU to offer Portuguese classes in the future and for more opportunities to use and speak Portuguese at BU. As Adão said, “For all these reasons, teaching and learning Portuguese is an added value for students and the institution itself.”
Eric Lee is a senior double-majoring in biochemistry and economics.