Did the emigrants come back for the holidays?

Beginning of July 2020, and after months of lockdown, followed by timid bits of return to normal life, I decided to travel north and visit the villages I had seen for the last time in January.

I was in touch with two families in particular: one split across France and Bragança area; and the other reunited because of the effects of the sanitary crisis on employment (the oldest son was abroad, and his workplace closed, forcing him to go back to Bragança’s region). For the first family, the summer is the time the grand-children come to the grand-parents, and this for the entire holiday period. We talked by messenger for a while, and they told me they would try to travel south and to cross the border the same night I travelled north.

After a night in the village, early morning, the grand-parents and myself were anxiously waiting for the message saying that they had effectively crossed.

If and how to come back to Portugal was on everyone’s mind the last month. Mundo Portugues published a piece illustrating the different strategies adopted by emigrants, and the exchange of “dicas“, tips on when and where to cross despite the closed border between Spain and Portugal (only reopened on 2 July at midnight). At that point, many were hesitating altogether to come to Portugal. And those who decided to come anyway chose the car first, leading shuttle bus companies to really worry for their business.

When the family finally arrived, after having successfully crossed the border, they told us how it went: the main road was closed, but they manage to reach a secondary road. There, a police check-point was installed, and they got through because one of them holds a Portuguese ID! Many of their friends decided not to go to Portugal, or send their kids there as they usually do.

And indeed, the whole region was very quiet. Bragança’s cafés and restaurants did not display their usual summer animation. At that point, I really wondered…

Nevertheless, after this quick visit, I came back beginning of August. And already, things had changed. I began to see more and more cars with foreign plates – mostly from France and Spain, but also Luxembourg and Switzerland. After the first week-end of August, the changes were also noticeable in restaurants, cafés and public spaces. As for the families I was in touch with, they also had new visitors from abroad spending some holidays together. One told me that her relatives took the decision to travel at the very last minute. And it seems it was the general ambiance.

Mid-August, I spend some holidays in another area of great out-migration: Minho. And Portuguese from abroad back for the holiday were… everywhere. In the smallest villages where we stopped, we could see French, Luxembourg and Swiss plates, and hear mixed French and Portuguese. Restaurants and cafés, again, were pretty full. And the accomodation where we stayed were also full – with a majority of Portuguese.

However, besides going out for a coffee, there was little to do this summer in the villages… Regular celebrations, including the village and emigrants’ “festas” were cancelled, as well as Bragança’s city celebrations (the medieval fair, as well as the annual celebrations). For the younger visitors, such as the grand-children visiting their grand-parents, the usual boredom was at its peak.

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