Cape Verdeans, particularly those from the island of Santiago, form one of the biggest migrant communities in Portugal. Because of the cyclical drought that afflicts the 10 volcanic islands making up this archipelago, the country’s sense of homeland coexists with the idea of movement, with Cape Verde recognized by many as an essentially diasporic nation.
Until the 1920s, Cape Verdeans in Portugal were primarily students, merchants or public servants of the empire. The flow increased substantially in the 1960s, due to drought in the Sahel area as well as the demand for construction workers in the empire’s capital. Migrants arriving in Lisbon in the 60s and 70s were almost solely men working in civil construction and at the Lisnave naval shipyard, with the capital’s first metro line, major new roads and utility infrastructure depending on their labor. In the 1980s, Cape Verdean women reached the capital to join their partners; most of them would sell fish in the streets or work as cleaners.
Until 1980, it wasn’t uncommon to find Cape Verdean families living in central – now upmarket – neighborhoods like Campo de Ourique, Estrela and São Bento. The majority of workers, however, lived close to construction sites in self-built peripheral communities that in the 1990s became large-scale housing estates. These urban areas were, and often still are, characterized by racial segregation and social exclusion.
Nowadays the Cape Verdean community in Lisbon is fragmented according to level of integration into Portuguese society. As well as improving quality of life for many, social disintegration, thorny housing issues and problems of paperwork and statistics (some Cape Verdeans have no papers, or conversely, have Portuguese nationality, making it hard to study their marginal conditions) means there is much invisibility surrounding this long-standing migrant community.