Final Assignment-Object Study

Posted: April 8, 2012 by jonathansantosdts403diasporiclivesofobjects in Uncategorized

Final Assignment-Object Study

“Carta de Chamada”


















Jonathan Santos


DTS 403

Diasporic Lives of Objects

Professor McDonald



“While the Portuguese islands suffered from an economic recession, on the other side of the Atlantic there were boom times. The abolition of slavery, which had previously provided the workforce, created a demand for labour in mining, agriculture and industry. The native of the Portuguese islands, cut off from the land by inheritance laws or economic constraints, unable to find work and enticed by glittering promises of the emigration agents, abandoned his own land and headed to new destinations, to become a substitute for slaves. The treatment accorded to the emigrants caused many analysts and politicians of the time to describe this recruitment of workers as white slavery. However, no measures were ever taken on the islands to stop this flow of people” (Higgs, pp42.)



The Oxford dictionary defines object as “a material thing that can be seen and or touched”. (Oxford dictionary,

The object of this paper is, a “Carta de Chamada” in Portuguese or sponsorship letter in English. This letter initiates one of the processes in which people can immigrate to Canada.  It was through this process that my Grandmother and her children came to Canada to join her husband. My grandfather, on the other hand, did not come to Canada via the “Carta de Chamada” but rather by way of an employment contract which was an agreement between him and a Canadian employer. The purpose of this paper is not to discuss the different ways one can immigrate into Canada but rather to discuss the “Carta de Chamada” as an object, which happens to be the initiating document of the immigration process which was the process used by my grandfather to bring his family to Canada. 

This letter came into effect in 1967, when my grandfather, a Portuguese immigrant, decided to sponsor his family to join him in Canada. This specific sponsorship letter belonged to my grandfather, the late Jose Brilhante de Medeiros Canito who worked in Canada as an immigrant for 10 years before sponsoring his family to join him here.  The “Carta” was not mass produced but its use is widespread as it is part of the sponsorship program, therefore, it applies to all of those who participate in this program.  However, the use of this particular object, the subject of this paper is specific and unique to my grandfather and his family. 

This document clearly states the intention of a Portuguese male immigrant living in Canada to seek permission from the Portuguese government to allow his family to emigrate from their native land, Portugal, to Canada. This document also guarantees to the Canadian government that he will support and care for his family financially and that they will not be a burden to the Canadian government.

This sponsorship letter was made out of white paper. It was prepared by the Portuguese Consulate in Toronto and after verifying the applicant’s credentials, the Chancellor, the representative of the Portuguese government in Canada, approved the application. The document was typed on official Portuguese letterhead paper. It contains the Portuguese National Emblem at the top. It is dated and signed by the Chancellor, whose signature is authenticated by the official government seal.  It is further legitimized by the assignment of a number which from that moment on became the official government identifier of this document.  Its cost is indicated on the two stamps situated at the bottom left hand and top right hand corners. It cost approximately $240 escudos (old Portuguese currency) or approximately $10 Canadian dollars. This object became an official document on the 21st day of November, 1967 and was registered in the Portuguese Consulate in Toronto, currently located at 438 University Avenue.

Historical Context

Historically, the “Carta de Chamada”, sponsorship letter, came into effect after the Canadian Immigration Act of 1952. The Act separated immigrants into two classes: (1) Independent applicants and (2) Sponsor or dependent, classes. Immigrants from the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa-together comprising the “White” Commonwealth-France and the United States could come to Canada as independent immigrants. Prospective immigrants from other countries, including Portugal, often had to be sponsored by family members, husbands, wives, or unmarried children who were landed immigrants in order to be accepted as newcomers in Canadian society. (Canadian Immigration Act of 1952, According to the Immigration Act of 1952, sponsors were responsible for the people they sponsored. They were required to work in order to support themselves and their families and become self sufficient. This program was very successful and between 1957 and 1967 most of the Portuguese immigrants to Canada were sponsored dependents.

The sponsorship letter is used when immigration is requested. It is the beginning of several other subsequent processes of the migration process. The letter’s principle is twofold -personal and commercial. Personally, it is used by individuals seeking permission from the homeland’s government to legally immigrate and to unite with absent family members. Commercially, it is used by employers seeking workers with skills that are not easily found in the present country. The approval of all of the immigration steps results in the assurance of a passport. Indeed, the passport then and even today is the document that identifies one and permits one to travel from one country to another.  The Oxford Dictionary defines passport as “an official document issued by a government, certifying the holder’s identity and citizenship and entitling them to travel under its protection to and from foreign countries” (Oxford dictionary, In this instance, the passport would not exist without the sponsorship letter.

Undoubtedly, this object is of great value to its original owner and to anyone wishing to immigrate to a new country whether it be for personal, financial or political reasons. Arguably, it is also of value to both countries.  To the new government, it is used as a screening tool for it determines, based on the criteria set out by the state who does and does not qualify to enter the country. Clearly, entry under this process is really not based on one’s needs but rather on whether or not one meets the criteria set out in the immigration process.

Social and Cultural Context

It is argued that from the perspective of a Canadian born the sponsorship letter has little to no significance as most do not even have a basic knowledge of its purpose. On the contrary, for most immigrants, in this case the Portuguese, its meaning is significant. In most instances, it was a ticket to a new and better life. Certainly, pre-1975, it afforded Portuguese citizens the opportunity of escaping a fascists government for a life in a free and democratic society. Canada allowed them to replace their old lives with a new life full of promises and opportunities.

Portugal under the oppressive Salazar regime limited the number of individuals leaving the country and directed those that did leave Portugal to their colonies. At the same time, Canada was looking for a solution to its labour shortage. Therefore, Canada became the destination for Portuguese immigrant families wanting to escape a life of poverty and a bleak future. The “Carta” was their legal way out.   As Alan Sousa in his work on the impact of Portuguese immigration to Canada stated “in 1953 a number of bilateral agreements were signed between the Portuguese and Canadian governments allowing Portuguese workers to settle in Canada” (Sousa, pp4). Canadian authorities selected jobs for these immigrants as farmhands and mostly railway workers. My grandfather was one of these immigrants who in 1957 chose to leave Sao Miguel, one of the Azorean islands, to work on the Canadian railway.  He left a wife and four very young children behind.

In examining this sponsorship letter, it is argued that this letter was indeed a commodity. A commodity is defined by Igor Kopytoff as, “an item with use value that also has exchange value” (Kopytoff, pp64).   It is argued that the “Carta” was useful, valuable and that an exchange did indeed take place.  My grandfather paid ten Canadian dollars ($10.00) and in exchange his family was to join him in Canada.  Their lives and identities, in other words, who they were up to the moment of migration were exchanged for new lives and indeed new identifies.  In the old county they were born Portuguese citizens, and lived their ordinary Portuguese lives. In short, they belonged. In Canada, they assumed a new entity.  They became Portuguese immigrants, starting new lives in a very different society and culture.  In short, they were like fish out of water-totally out of their own element.  The goal then was to find ways of surviving and adapting to the new country and its culture.

My grandfather and his family were not the only benefactors of this commodity. It is argued that both the Portuguese and Canadian governments also benefited from this exchange.  The Portuguese government did not stop immigration and indeed benefited from a decrease in unemployment. Also, the immigrants sent money to their families back home, which contributed to boosting the Portuguese economy. As Carlos Teixeira argued, “The Portuguese government did not hinder this exodus. The future transfer of emigrant’s monies back home was essential to the country’s balance of payments and the problems of un-employment and its attendant social tensions were eased. The origins of emigration lay in the underdevelopment of the country and its lack of resources.” (Carlos Teixeira, pp44). Additionally, immigration to other countries facilitated the introduction of the Portuguese culture in the new country, thus ensuring the survival, exposure and expansion of the Portuguese culture outside of Portugal.    Equally, the Canadian government benefited from immigration. It acquired eager, young, hard workers who often subjected themselves to bad working conditions and low paying jobs all of which contributed to the growth of the Canadian economy.

            Appadurai’s definition can be used in examining the value of the sponsorship letter to its possessor. He defines a commodity as “…an object outside us, a thing that by its properties satisfies human wants of some sort or another” (Appadurai, pp7).  It is argued that this letter satisfied my grandfather’s needs and wishes, which were to have his family join him in the new and prosperous land, Canada. While it can be argued that there was no physical material exchanged, nevertheless, an exchange took place. The commodity exchange for my grandfather was much more valuable than money-it was personal.  After all, no monetary value could be placed on his longing to be united with his family.  The exchange then is the uprooting of his family from their native land in exchange for the promises of a brighter, successful and prosperous future.   

For those who are, for example, Canadian born, the sponsorship letter has little to no meaning at all due to their unfamiliarity with it. However, for immigrants its meaning is very different. Most immigrants and or descendants of immigrants will be very familiar with it and will think of it as being very significant in their lives, for it was the legal and official document that commenced the process of their entry into their new adopted country.  Indeed, for some it was their escape from their destitute lives.  For descendants of immigrants, such as me it is still meaningful as my existence in the new country is still dependant on it.  For example, if my grandfather had not sponsored his family to Canada, I would not have been born nor would I be living here. However, the significance the descendants assign to it is really derived from the significance their relatives bestow on the “Carta de Chamada”.

The “Carta’s” meaning to the possessor and how it has changed

            This object was very meaningful and important to my grandfather for it allowed him to realize his dream, i.e. the reunification of his family. By realizing his dream, he was finally able to provide a better life for himself and his family.  On the other hand, for his children, initially isHits meaning was very different.  It was not seen in the same positive light as the parents.  It was after all, the document that uprooted them from their home, their friends – their lives were completely disrupted.  Without any consultation they were uprooted from their homes, and brought to a new unfamiliar land and culture, with no friends and unable to communicate as they did not speak English. At first it was seen as the worst thing that could have happened to them – it was the reason for the upheaval in their lives.  Clearly, its meaning to the children was very different from that of the parents.  As Kopytoff argues an object “can be seen as a commodity by one person and as something else by another” (Kopytoff, pp64).  While the move was difficult to all, the children felt it more, for they were expected to continue with the Portuguese traditions while at the same time adapting to the new Canadian culture.  They were torn between their dual identities; Portuguese and Canadian.  This resulted in intergenerational conflicts between the parents and the children wanting to become Canadianized and to be accepted and integrated in their new country’s culture.  However, with time and perseverance, its value has changed. With the acceptance of the new culture there is a greater appreciation of the object by the children.  They do not afford it the same value as my grandfather gave it but it is nevertheless seen by the children as an important tool in preserving their Diasporic entity.  The “Carta” enabled them to maintain some of their old identities while at the same time incorporating characteristics of their new lives in their new country.   As a result of this object, they are now Portuguese Canadians, a true Diasporic entity and their link to their old home.  The “Carta” has now travelled a full circle. It originated in Toronto, by my grandfather, travelled to Sao Miguel, and has found its way back to its roots, Toronto and is now in my possession.   

To me a born Canadian but a descendent of a Portuguese immigrant family this object is very important as it reminds me of a brave man’s Diasporic journey to afford his family and ultimately me the opportunities that I enjoy today in this country. While I may not place the same value on this object as my grandfather or even my mother, I nonetheless see it as a very valuable object for it was the beginning of a new life for my family in the promised land, Canada. It also makes me appreciate the courage my grandfather, and other pioneers, had to uproot not only themselves but their very young families from a country where they belonged, where everything was familiar, to a foreign country where everything was different including the language, on a mere promise of a brighter future.  This object has indeed changed ownership. While originally, owned by my grandfather, it was subsequently passed down to my mother, who as set out above, assigned a very different value to it than my grandfather. It has now been passed down to me and I in turn see it differently than my mother and of course my grandfather. The value I assign to it is really based on the information that has been passed down to me first by my grandfather and most recently by my mother.   It does very significantly serve as a reminder to my family and me of our Diasporic journey.  As a family we hold on to it because it serves as a reminder of where we came from and, therefore, what we are, i.e. Portuguese immigrants or Canadian born with Portuguese roots, living in the new country, Canada.  Even after all these years, the “Carta” still connects us, old and young to the old country, Portugal.  It is part of our Portuguese Diasporic identity. 

Generally, the sponsorship letter has wide ownership. It does not only apply to my family but rather to all who sought and are presently seeking entry into Canada under the sponsorship program. In 1967 this object applied to the Portuguese and other Diasporic communities immigrating to Canada. Presently, this object is still used by world-wide Diasporic communities such as those living in the Middle-East, Caribbean, South America, Asia and Africa and sadly for the same reasons it was used in 1967, which are, personal, economic and political.














Works Cited


Appadurai, A. (1986) Introduction: Commodities and the Politics of Value. In A.Appadurai (ed) The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective. Cambridge University Press. Pp 3-63.

Higgs, D (1990) Portuguese Migration in Global Perspective. Multicultural History Society of Ontario Toronto 1990.

Koptoff, I (1986) The Cultural Biography of Things-Commoditization as process. In A.Appadurai (ed) The Social Life of Things-Commodities in Cultural Perspective. Cambridge-Cambridge University Press. Pp 64-91.

Sousa, A (1986) The Formative Years: Toronto’s Portuguese Community (1953-1967). University of Toronto 1986.

Teixeira, C (1992) The Portuguese in Canada: A bibliography. Institute for Social Research, York University, Department of Geography. March 1992.


Canadian history online, Canadian Immigration Act of 1952, accessed on April/1st/2012, located at

 Oxford dictionary online, definition of a passport, accessed on April/6th/2012, located at

Oxford dictionary online, definition of an object, accessed on April/2nd/2012, located at


Original “Carta de Chamada” is available if required for inspection.

  1. lilzak says:

    Well Jonathan, since you were first I read your paper. Very good. It seems even a little romantic. I found it interesting that each generation sees the letter differently. Take care

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