A few months ago it happened again. I was meeting with a bright young Portuguese university student who had come to me for career guidance, when he turned to me and said “I have never dealt with another Portuguese person in business before.” And again, just like it has done every other time I have heard it in the past, my heart broke and I was deeply saddened.
We have known for years that our students have one of the highest high school drop out rates in the city, and I can testify to seeing the end results. After teaching four semesters at both undergraduate and graduate levels, I have yet to have a single Portuguese student. We are underrepresented in government, technology, business, finance, healthcare, you name it. Everything except the trades. Now, don’t mistake this article as a denigration of skilled trades. I have nothing but respect for people in the trades, and frankly I think that the long term employment opportunities in that sector are much better than many other areas. In fact, I think that our representation there proves that the problem with our community is most certainly not work ethic. What I am saying is that we have a problem. When a population on the whole limits itself largely to one sector of the economy, it limits its own growth. We are not part of the dialogue in various fields. Sure we, until recently, could count the finance ministers of both Ontario and Quebec as our own, but I would challenge you with the following: name another one of us in business or politics, in a position of senior authority? And worse yet, we eat our own. Our community seems to love tearing down the successful “big shots” and we take some sort of perverse satisfaction when they stumble.
More than two decades ago I started my career in the financial industry at one of the big brokerage houses in the country. In my late teens and early 20’s, in a branch with over 100 people, managing billions in investor money, I was the sole Portuguese person in that branch. It’s been a long time since I started my career and yet I have seen the number of our people that surround me diminish the higher up I climb, both academically and professionally. I go to many technology, financial planning, investment, insurance, tax, and estate planning conferences and still 20 years later I find so few of us that I can, most of the time, count our people in attendance on one hand. When we do find each other and see the others name tags, the conversation immediately turns to where we were born and where our parents are from. Several of us who have managed to find each other, form friendships, opened up about our shared frustration and disappointment over how rare it is to find our own, and asked the question “whats gone wrong?” And while we are not alone, we have all felt alone.
Who am I to make this observation? I am many things: a financial planner, technology entrepreneur, part time professor, writer, broadcaster, and podcaster. Holder of two degrees, eight designations, three companies, several board positions, various mentorship positions, and close to two dozen awards. But more importantly I was born and raised in Toronto to Portuguese immigrants who came here looking for a better future. A bravery and sacrifice that has simultaneously inspired me, brought tears to my eyes, and driven me to achieve as much as I can. I speak the language (all be it rather poorly), I go back when I can, I believe that the custard tart is the greatest pastry in history, and there is no team I watch with more passion than the Portuguese National Football team. So yes, I am not just Portuguese, but proud of our heritage and contribution to history and have even gone out of my way to educate myself on the topic. That is why our current place in Canadian society saddens me so much.
So why am I writing this? Because frankly I am tired of having my heart broken over this, and I don’t want to see my son or daughter who are three and one years old respectively, grow up, turn to me and ask why they seem to be the only Portuguese person in their program/workplace/field. I want them to learn more of where we came from and not just look back with pride, but look forward to the contributions of our people as well.
What’s to be done? In all honesty, I don’t know. I am overwhelmed by the problem and I have no expertise in the subject matter. So all I can do is this. Write an article that will hopefully wake some people up to the problem and say “I am willing to help solve the problem in my own way and hopefully motivate others to help in their own way.” I have no organization behind me, but I have an extensive network in various professional fields from finance to technology and I am open to using all of them in this pursuit. I will also offer the following advice to all parents out there reading this: push your kids to work harder at school. Encourage them to not just achieve what you have, but to dream and to reach beyond. Have them proactively reach out to professionals such as myself for guidance, to understand what’s out there and what’s possible. Together, lets all work to change our place in Canada to one of leadership where our children will never experience the heart break that I have experienced for so long. And if anyone in the community is willing to take the lead on some sort of outreach organization because this bothers you as much or more than it does me, know that you will have my outmost support.
Jason Pereira is a Partner and Senior Finacial Consultant at Woodgate Financial where he caters to business owners and entrepreneurs providing award-winning comprehensive financial planning advice and services. He holds two degrees, seven designations, and has been the finalist or winner of 28 different industry awards including being named one of Canada’s Top 50 financial planners for three years in a row, and is the first person in history to win three Global Financial Planning Awards.
A frequent presence int he media, Jason serves as a financial expert on SiriusXM, is a regular contributor to the Globe & Mail’s Financial Facelift column, has appeared on The Business News Network (BNN), and his commentary has been featured in every major national newspaper.
In addition to his financial services work, Jason has co-founded two technology companies, is the host of the Fintech Impact Podcast, is a part-time professor at the Schulich School of Business at York University, and holds several board and volunteer positions.