Eucalyptus trees rise among the pines. Planted by the first Portuguese who arrived on the island of Groix 60 years ago, symbolizing their native land, these trees grew like this community representing 10% of the island’s population.
Today, more than 200 Grossilones, out of a total population of 2,200, are from Portugal, making ‘the pebble’ their heart.
In a bistro, Alice da Silva fluently switches between French and Portuguese.
Originally from Vila Nova de Gaia, opposite Porto, she arrived in Groix in 1972 with her parents and her brother Victor after a trip on foot to Brittany.
“We got here on Monday. On Tuesday, I was already enrolled in school and on Wednesday, my dad started work. The island amazed us, it was heaven here,” says the 50-year-old.
– Dam construction –
The family came to join a grandfather who arrived on the island in the 1960s to escape the poverty that then ravaged Portugal and four years of compulsory military service imposed by Salazar’s dictatorship in times of colonial wars as in Angola. .
He was part of a group of 16 Portuguese who fled the country illegally and disembarked at Groix, a plot of land measuring 3 km by 8, to join a construction site of a dam on the island, still devoid of running water.
For Victor, “We must never forget that our grandparents and our parents were immigrants. They had incredible courage to land in France with absolutely nothing.”
Brothers and cousins da Silva, Teixeira, Rodrigues … make up the first Portuguese diaspora on the island.
“When they arrived, they were without feathers. We housed them, prepared food for them, washed their clothes… Since they were religiously inclined, like the Islanders and the Bretons, everything was immediately accepted,” says Jean-Paul Legouve, Grosillon for generations. .
The dam is built, the Portuguese stay: between purifying the water and building new housing, there is no shortage of work.
Some marry women from Grosillon, set up their own construction companies and employ family members from the country.
The island’s mayor, Dominique Yvonne, sums up, “The first one or two came and then they attracted their wives, sisters, cousins, brothers…”.
“Today, there are a large number of business leaders and they are very involved in the local economy. Many of them have acquired French citizenship: they are fully integrated Groisillons.”
– ‘Home is here’ –
Between two stone houses flanked by dark blue shutters, a sign reads “Da Silva, Father and Son,” one of the two main builders on the island with Teixeira Construction, which employs about 15 workers each.
Paulo Mendonca, a former driver from Porto, arrived in 2005 to work in construction.
He is part of this new wave of Portuguese expats who then set up his own company, “Paulo Mechanic”, becoming the person “without whom at Groix all cars would break down”, according to his friend Jean-Paul Legouve. .
Since then, the brown-bearded man could no longer see himself living anywhere else: “It was France that gave me the most, and for that I will always be grateful to him.”
His son, Edward, was educated at the 28-student Island College. If it feels Portuguese, French or Groisillon? “During a football match, I’m for Portugal. But my home is here, in Groix.”
It is impossible to choose Alice da Silva: “When I am in Groix I have the impression of being Portuguese and in Portugal they make me feel French: I feel doubly foreigner.”
But one thing is for sure, every time you leave the island you are drawn by a force like a magnet in the midst of this wild nature of heather and sedge.
“The pebble is like a member of my family.” And for Alice’s family, “it’s precious.”