Portuguese Immigration Testimonial

Portuguese Immigration Testimonial

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After a long and grueling boat ride across the Atlantic Ocean from the off shore island of the Azores in the Southwest Europe nation of Portugal, my parents and I arrived in New Bedford, Massachusetts in New England. It was the year 1925. Some of our family had arrived before us; some even arrived several years before we did. On the way there I remember listening to my father tell me stories about New England. My favorite story was about the explorers and how they came to find New England. He told me that there was a nautical map that dates back to 1424 which depicted New England and that a Portuguese Sailor, Dualmo, arrived in New England in 1487, five years prior to Christopher Columbus whom supposedly was the first man to discover New England.

My parents and I were the last in my immediate family to travel to New England. My grandfather was a stubborn man and did not want to leave the old country so he planted his feet and refused to follow many of his family and friends. I guess my dad was the same way for quite some time until finally he saw more opportunities awaiting him across the Atlantic. I think it had something to do with a letter he received from my Uncle Rui. I ran across the letter one day before we left. In the letter Uncle Rui was telling my father about the factories that were hiring and paying much more than what dad was making then and that there were farming communities down further on the cape that also had great working opportunities. Uncle Rui went on and on about the factories though and how much happier he and the family were.

Despite his reasoning for choosing to make the change he still acted stubborn and with a bit of my grandfather’s personality, he planted his feet (so-to-speak) and refused to make changes and adjust to a new country, lifestyle and culture. He told me some of our friends and family's surnames had changed, such as “Rodrigues” became “Rogers;” Oliveira to “Oliver;” “Silva” to “Silver;” and “Pereira” to “Perry.” He swore the entire ride across the ocean that his name was “Souza” and it would stay “Souza” until the day he died.

I often wondered why my father would tell me such stories and wondered if these stories were supposed to scare me.

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Honestly, sometimes his stories were exciting and made me more anxious for our arrival. As I wondered the boat at times I would hear others talking about New England and telling their stories about how New England was found. I actually found myself sitting in front of one older man as if he was telling a story about Gaspar and Miguel Corte-Real whom he said were the first Europeans to set foot in England. The story begins when the two brothers sailed from Lisbon to Greenland on an exploratory mission in 1501. They couldn't reach Greenland because of ice, so they modified their route and sailed to Labrador. They continued south to Cape Harrison, Sandwich Bay, and Newfoundland. Miguel sailed back to Lisbon with two of the three ships while Gaspar remained to explore. Gaspar did not return to Lisbon, so Miguel set out to find him. Two ships were sent out in different directions, in search of Gaspar, with plans to rendezvous at a later time. No sign of Gaspar's ship was ever found, and Miguel's ship never made it to the rendezvous point. Both brothers had been lost.

To my surprise when we landed and got off the ship in the New Bedford harbor all I saw were other Portuguese men, women and children. I had worried myself on the boat that I would not know many people and that I would be going to a school with “white” folk. This was not the case. To this day and after settling in I think there were more Portuguese families in New Bedford and the surrounding areas than any other ethnicity.

Through my school years, ya I experienced some name calling like “Greenhorn” and I got made fun of because of my accent. Mom and dad and put me in classes to learn English right away and well, according to some of the other kids, I still talked funny. Dad struggled a lot with learning English. I think it was partially because he did not want to learn a new language and this too was part of him planting his feet. With him working at the factory, he felt there was no need to learn English because it was not needed for him to complete his job. After while mom and dad relied on me to translate or explain things to them; it did not seem to bother them at all.

Now I sit back and watch my grandkids play here in New Bedford. Not much seems to have changed. Still lots of us Portuguese folk and very little white folk. My grandkids don’t speak the old language at all and are ok with that. I sometimes feel a bit of our culture has been lost but more importantly they are given equal rights, good schools, good wages and are overall having an easier life than I did when I first came to New England. Not that I think my time was all bad, but I see so much more available to them than what was available to me and even their parents.
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