Grandma, Fascism and Salt

I identify myself more as Portuguese than Luxembourgish, even though I was born and raised in Luxembourg, my Luxembourgish is way better than my Portuguese and I only visit Portugal once a year. The reason for this is the legacy of Portuguese culture, the liveliness of the country but most of all my family’s story.

In 1961, my grandparents got married near the wonderful city of Aveiro and, soon after, had 4 wonderful children: three boys, my uncles, and a girl, my mother. But Portugal was in the midst of a fascist reign, led by António de Oliveira Salazar. Salazar was a conservative nationalist that drove the country into poverty and made life hard for everyone that didn’t support his policies. My grandfather started working as a construction worker in Luxembourg, since work was hard to find in Portugal and Luxembourg had plenty to offer and was in desperate need for guest workers. In May 1972, my grandmother, with 4 children and a second daughter, my aunt, on the way, joined her husband in Luxembourg. Crossing the border was illegal and none of the children had legal documents. They took on the journey by train but had to cross the Spanish border by feet. In France, they were lucky to have met an officer that arranged them a cabin in the train so they wouldn’t be found out. By then, my mother was 10 months old. In Luxembourg, they lived a very humble and poor life. On the 25th April 1974, after the Carnation Revolution, the fascist dictatorship had finally been defeated after 48 years of reign.

My grandfather continued working in construction and my grandmother had a side job helping out in a few households while raising 5 children in a country she didn’t know. My mother, uncles and aunt were raised here in Luxembourg, went to school here and to this day, live here raising their own children. My grandparents left Luxembourg in 1997 after my grandfather retired and returned to Portugal.

That is what “Industrial Salt” is about: it is a deeply personal and intimate song. It’s about the sacrifices my grandparents made, the uncertainty they faced and the way I carry their legacy. Even though roughly 17% of the Luxemburgish population have Portuguese nationality and even more have a Portuguese roots, the history of Portugal is not mentioned in the school curriculum. Salazar, and his successor Caetano, don’t get as much attention as Hitler, Mussolini and Franco. That’s why many people in Luxembourg are unaware of Portuguese history.

Back then, Luxembourg relied on Portuguese guest workers. Yet outside of work, they never felt welcomed and until today many Portuguese families remain isolated in within their community as they fail to find acceptance elsewhere.

My grandmother passed in 2007. My grandfather lives in Portugal with his dog Simba. Once a year, I visit them and my grandaunts and uncles in Portugal and every time it feels like home. It is loud, it is joyous, it is lively and there is a lot of food.

When I think of Portugal, I think of salt. I incorporated this idea into the title of the song, because close to where my family lives, ocean water is used to make artisanal salt. “Industrial Salt” describes the journey of my grandparents towards the heavily industrialised Luxembourg.

“Industrial Salt” is a homage to my grandmother whom I always picture as a powerful woman. It is a homage to my Portuguese roots, to Portuguese food and to my family that I love deeply.

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