According to my therapist, I suffer from impostor syndrome. But what if, when it comes to my citizenship, I actually am a fraud? For those unfamiliar with the term, impostor syndrome is a psychological pattern that causes an individual to doubt their skills, talents or accomplishments and to have a persistent internalised fear of being exposed as a “fraud.”
This feeling is amplified each time I travel and a customs officer says “obrigada” to me as I hand over my Portuguese passport at the airport. I don’t speak Portuguese, nor do I identify with the culture. I’m not married to a Portuguese national, nor have I ever lived in the country in my 30 years of existence. So how come I was allowed to become a Portuguese citizen in 2017?
I am one of the tens of thousands of Indians to apply for citizenship under a Portuguese law that offers a fast track to citizenship for residents of the state of Goa and the coastal towns of Daman and Diu, on the west coast of India. The law applies only to those who were born before the liberation of the region in December 1961. Unlike other colonial-era immigration policies, this loophole law is enshrined in the Portuguese Constitution and even allows Indians from two generations after colonial rule to opt for Portuguese nationality.
When life gives you lemons
My path to EU citizenship has been easier than that of most. My mother’s ancestors just happened to come from a tiny region in Goa that the Portuguese did not cede to the British Crown. Decades later, this made me eligible to apply for Portuguese citizenship.
I was one of the few people in my circle in India who didn’t want a career in tech or science. Instead, I wanted to be foreign correspondent and explore the unfamiliar. EU citizenship would save me the hassle and expense of constantly applying for visas.
In total, it took me over three years to obtain my Portuguese passport. My mother and I spent the first two years digging into the archives of Goan churches and combing through tattered paper files written in Portuguese from the early 1800s to prove that my grandparents were born, and lived, in Portuguese Goa.
The upside to this painstaking process was the discovery of a lost family history. I found out that my grandfather was originally named Patrocinio, and only later anglicised it to Patrick, and that the fondness for numbers in my family might be explained by the fact that my great grandfather was an accountant.
After sending all the paperwork linking three generations of my family to the lawyers in Portugal, it was time to officially become a citizen. In March 2017, I flew into Lisbon as an Indian citizen and left the country as a Portuguese one a few days later.
The number of people acquiring citizenship in this way has risen sharply in recent years. According to the Borders and Asylum Report (RIFA), more than 74,000 foreign citizens applied for Portuguese nationality in 2019—the highest number in the last five years. Almost a third of those came from Brazil, another former Portuguese colony.
A better life
Although I have never lived under colonial rule, its effects did leave a mark on my ancestors and have been passed down through the generations, resulting in the amalgamation of my identity.
I’m aware of the harm done by colonisation to my ancestors, such as the Goan Inquisition, a long and bloody period of persecution of non-Catholic people. But I have to admit that, although my colonial heritage made me stand out as “too Western” in India, it helps me fit in easily overseas.
The benefits of the cultural legacy left behind by the Portuguese settlers are also enumerated by Stella Mascarenhas-Keyes, the first Goan social anthropologist to focus a PhD on Goan international migration in her book Colonialism, Migration and the International Catholic Goan Community.
“Goans chanced on migration because of the cultures they inherited from Portuguese rule in Goa and the conversion to Catholicism. This made Goa a more open-minded society with respect to trading alcohol and eating beef and pork. It also made it easier for Goans to be employed anywhere in the world,” she said.
Growing up, I was too Western for an Indian. Since moving abroad, I have felt too Indian for the West.
Knowing that I would always be caught in the middle of these two identities, I do not regret moving abroad. Although I miss home, I have to acknowledge that, in a way, colonialism has enabled me to live the “better life.”