The younger De Senna Fernandes' plays are liberally spiked with the patois he heard his grandmother speak when he was a boy, a dialect he didn't always understand but which he mentally filed away. The patois weaves together Portuguese and Cantonese words in combinations like compra som, meaning to buy groceries (compra is Portuguese, som Cantonese), or avo gong, which joins together the Portuguese and Cantonese terms for "grandfather."
"For me, it's one of the most important things of the [Macanese] identity. You have something that can link everybody," De Senna Fernandes says. "What we're doing is constantly reminding people that there is such a thing as patois, reminding our people that we have this identity and reminding people outside the community that we are a community."
His works explore themes of biracial identity. In "Mano Beto Goes to Portugal," staged a few years ago, the title character confronts the widespread dilemma of whether to stay in Macao or emigrate, a question the Macanese have confronted throughout their existence as a small enclave in a far-flung outpost of the Portuguese empire.
Mano Beto chooses to go West--but finds he doesn't quite fit in, and begins to question his cultural identity.
"This is very typical" in Macanese writing, says Wong Chon, a lecturer at the University of Macao who studies Macanese literature. "There's always this question, 'Who are we?' "
The late poet Leonel Alves reconciled the two cultures within him this way: With "Chinese eyes and Western nose," an "Oriental back, Portuguese chest," and a "Chinese heart and Portuguese soul," Alves wrote, "this [is] the authentic son of Macao."
It is with the newest "sons and daughters of the land" that the future of Macanese culture rests, and it is they who are most in danger of breaking with the past.
Geraldina Pedruco, 28, the second of Henrique and Vitoria Pedruco's four daughters, feels that something has already been lost in transmission to her generation, whether out of laziness or neglect. Unfortunately, she acknowledges, the trend will inevitably continue with her 2-year-old son.
"He'll know even less. I can't teach him," says Pedruco, the reigning Miss Macao in 1995. Each of the four Pedruco daughters has won the pageant--hence the name of the family restaurant, Restaurante Miss Macau (the Portuguese spelling of Macao).
"You can't learn a culture from a book," Pedruco adds. "You have to have a context"--which Pedruco fears she and her husband, who is also Macanese, cannot properly provide.
In particular, despite the family business, Pedruco does not know how to cook Macanese food, which includes dishes that can take days to prepare.
Though still served in local restaurants, hybrid delicacies such as African chicken, grilled in a succulent marinade, and tacho, a simmering blend of cabbage, potatoes and Chinese sausage instead of Portuguese sausage, are less common in Macanese homes than before. Nor is cha gordo, a sort of Macanese version of English high tea, as big a staple of life as it once was.
"It's quintessentially Macanese," says Smith, the hotel food and beverage director. "The idea of cha gordo [literally 'fat tea'] is that it's an endless, massive spread of the things you'd like to eat," including fried rice, noodle dishes, Chinese turnip cakes and other snack foods.
Pedruco's father is retired from 35 years in Macao's civil service, which has traditionally been peopled by the Macanese, whose ability to speak Portuguese and Cantonese provided the Portuguese administration with the continuity it needed to run the enclave.
Two-thirds of Macao's civil servants still hold Portuguese passports. But the historic primacy of the Macanese in those jobs has declined, leading to questions about what kind of role they will play, beyond lending Macao a flavor that will draw tourists, after the hand-over at midnight Sunday.
"We'll have to be a bridge not just between China and Portugal, but from China to all Portuguese-speaking countries--for example, Brazil," the elder Pedruco says.
"I'm sure that they'll have a role to play, [just] maybe not in the administration," says Anabela Ritchie, the Macanese president of Macao's legislative assembly, a post she also must relinquish after the hand-over.
"The Macanese are going through a very strong transformation themselves in their rapprochement with Chinese language and culture," Ritchie says. "This is a step that the Macanese are taking because they want to integrate in this society more and more. That's part of the need we feel for adaptation."
The ability to adapt has been present from the start for the Macanese. Many believe that the first Macanese centuries ago were not of Portuguese and Chinese blood, but rather the product of intermarriage between Portuguese sailors and women from other parts of Asia, such as India and Malacca, that had already been Catholicized by Portuguese or other Western missionaries.