Thursday, May 1, 2008

Another Reflection

I have learned about their food. I have learned about their work, their feasts and festivals, their space (Fall River), and their motivations for coming to this country. I have learned about their culture. I also think that in the process, as least a little bit, I have learned about the way the Portuguese think, their internal logic.

There is a term, saudade, that the Portuguese say resides in their blood. The word is roughly analogous to “longing” and comes from deep within the heart. I think this term has a lot to do with what is going on in the Portuguese mind, of the minds of those in Fall River. The first immigrants longed for a better life and left their beloved homeland in search of this. They arrived and established their own space in Fall River, a new home. Though they did not forget their native land. These new immigrants sought to establish new lives in Fall River incorporating Portuguese tradition. They brought with them their food, festivals, agrarian roots, and work ethic.

Feasts and Festivals

Feasts and Festivals are very much a part of Portuguese culture, in the Azores, Madeira, and right here in Fall River. These feasts, often lasting a week or more, are dynamic and bring together both religious (catholic) and secular ideas. They are something special, and are set off from normal space and time. Feasts will often begin with a week of prayer, rosary recitation, and preparation. The church and surrounding streets are adorned with flags, banners, colored lights and flowers. Often images of patron saints, Jesus or the Blessed Virgin Mary, are highly visible as they are the ones for which many festivals are held. These saints are scene as intermediaries to God and are thus revered. After the religious ceremonies are held, those celebrating indulge in much food and drink. They socialize on the church grounds and in the streets while bands play, dancers perform, and fireworks light up the sky. As the festival winds down, the Portuguese partiers recall former feasts and those of neighboring towns. They compare and contrast and decide whether this years feast was traditional, yet memorable and exciting. The feasts are a large part of the group identity and a successful one assures admiration and esteem among the community and from other communities.

One such feast, the Holy Ghost Festival, occurs annually in Fall River. Revolving around the Espirito Santo Church, this festival shows the devotion the many Portuguese in Fall River, especially Azoreans, to the Holy Spirit.

Connection with class material-Space-Portuguese home gardens

Like many other communities, the Portuguese of Fall River have developed their own space, with distinctive spirit and character. This spirit comes from the interaction of the people living in Fall River and their surroundings. It is safe to say that the space influences the Portuguese of Fall River as they influence the space. This strong connection to their surroundings, their land, is reminiscent of their agricultural roots in the Azores and mainland Portugal.

One way that the Portuguese have changed the space around them, while also maintaining a continuity with the homeland, is through their gardens. Driving around Fall River during spring, it is easy to see the many cottage gardens that overtake many yards, back and front. These lush gardens are a mixture of flowers, fruits, and vegetables that seem to go beyond the typical suburban home garden. The bounty of color serves to liven the urban setting that is Fall River. Though these gardens are more than a pretty sight. They have roots in the traditional Portuguese agrarian life. The gardens contribute much to the home economy. Often, grapes are grown in the yard, used for homemade wine. This is the case with the grandparents of Kaitlin Mckenzie, a friend of mine, whose grandparents are first generation immigrants and make many bottles yearly. Also the various fruits and vegetables grown in these urban gardens are used daily as part of a meal.

The Portuguese have a long tradition of working the land and producing their own fresh food. This tradition continues in urban Fall River, where many Portuguese maintain beautiful, productive home gardens.

Saturday, April 12, 2008


So far my cultural engagement with the Portuguese of Fall River has been interesting, eye opening, and meaningful. This experience, though not complete, has certainly served to change my own beliefs and understandings of the world. I can’t say that I am a totally different person or have changed dramatically. I will say that I have been reminded of the world that exists outside my bubble of Barrington and Wheaton.

Learning about the lives of Portuguese upon arrival here, and generations later has reminded me of my ancestors, who immigrated to this country several generations ago. They, though Irish and not Portuguese, likely faced similar circumstances. Being new to this country they, like many Portuguese in Fall River, faced prejudice and struggled to start a new life here.

In the process these immigrants became a vital piece of their community, not just a separate entity. One realization I have had has to do with my view of immigrants. To be honest, I never really thought my life had anything to do with the lives of new immigrants. It was easy for me to forget that not too long ago my relatives were essentially them (though not Portuguese). I am reminded that most Americans are from immigrant stock and we are all enriched by each other’s experiences

The Value of Work

Portuguese immigrants have always been known for their work ethic. Employers noted this at the turn of the century when many of them preferred Portuguese workers. Today Portuguese immigrants, who often work in the fishing, construction, and manufacturing industries are still noted for being good and loyal workers.

Often first generation Portuguese will secure jobs at the referral of one of their relatives. They are grateful for steady employment and the ability to provide for a family coming from a country that offers little opportunity.

Even though many new immigrants have little formal education they fair quite well economically here. This is for a variety of reasons. Their humbleness allows them to take low prestige jobs and make a go of it. They are not ashamed of working hard for long hours in exchange for a modest days pay. Also, new Portuguese immigrants will often pool the resources of all workers in a family. This includes even small contributions made by the younger teen workers.

On top of this group effort is a strong desire to save money. These values are reflective of the country where they came from, one in which there is little public assistance during hard times. They are not anxious to spend their hard earned money frivolously but rather save it for the future. Many Portuguese, including one family I know, have bought their first homes with cash rather that obtaining a mortgage.

The hard work and self-reliant attitude of the many Portuguese in Fall River have contributed greatly to the area.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Understanding: Portuguese Food

The Portuguese dine well. A nation small in size, Portugal offers much variety for those who are hungry. They enjoy a range of food including various meat, fish, cheeses, and sweet desserts. Rich, well spiced meals, often accompanied by wine, are a staple of Portuguese cuisine. The social aspect of sitting down for a meal is also important in Portuguese culture. They love having good wine, talking, and enjoying the company of others while sitting down for a meal. Common ingredients include codfish, shellfish, onions, tomatoes, cabbage, garlic, fresh bread, sausage, rice and potatoes. Though cheese is well liked by the Portuguese it is not commonly included in meals but rather is eaten separately. Also cinnamon and vanilla are common in rich egg based desserts.

Some more well known foods include sweat bread, salted cod, chourico sausage, and rice pudding. Much of this diversity of food is owed to Portugal’s colonial past when many different food items were coming in and out of the country. Furthermore, trade ships not only brought back food and spices to the homeland, but they also had a role in influencing cuisine in other parts of the world. This includes Brazil, parts of India, and even Japan.

This influence can also be seen in Fall River, MA, home to many with Portuguese blood. Furtado’s has been selling Chourico and Linguica Portuguese Sausages in Fall River for more than 90 years. Restaurants (Lusitano, Estoril, Academica), markets (Chaves), and bakeries (Carreiros Barcelos, Micaelanese) cater to those looking for a taste of Portugal.

A Brief Note on My Methodology Thus Far

For my first few blog entries I have used a number of different books and websites as resources. I have used them to get some background information on Portuguese history, immigration, employment, and culture. Also, I have made one trip to Fall River to get a general feel for the city. While I was there I got names of some local Portuguese churches, clubs, and business establishments while also seeing where many Portuguese live. Some these names as well as the descriptions of the city in my first few entries come from my first trip to Fall River.

Understanding Why the Portuguese came to America

When trying to understand the Portuguese one of the first thoughts that came to my mind was, why did they come here? Like many of the immigrants that came before them (German, Irish, Italian), the Portuguese sought a better life. While there recently has been an influx of Portuguese from all parts of their home county, those who settled in Fall River, MA (my site of cultural encounter) are predominantly from the Azores. The Azores are a group of nine islands, part of Portugal, about 900 miles from Lisbon. An agrarian society, even today, the Azores offered little opportunity aside from farming. Though much of the crops, including oranges and potatoes failed. Other problems including overpopulation, lack of arable land for everyone, and little opportunity in such an isolated environment wore hard on the Azoreans. Starting around 1820 many Azoreans made the journey across the Atlantic in hopes of leaving poverty behind.

At the same time the industrial revolution in America created demand for unskilled labor in various industries. This was enough to lure many Portuguese, mainly Azorean, to Fall River to take jobs in the textile and whaling industries. Immigrants kept in contact with their relatives in the homeland and eventually these relatives joined their loved ones here in America. This process of “chain migration” continued from generation to generation making Fall River a hot spot for Portuguese immigrants.

In Fall River new immigrants found familiarity in an enclave of people like themselves. Even when some factory jobs dried up, immigrants kept coming to Fall River. They felt comfortable continuing their traditions amongst those who spoke the language and practiced the customs of the homeland. The concentration of Portuguese in Fall River remains high today where they are 50% of the total population. Today immigrants and descendants of immigrants work in the many blue collar and service occupations in Fall River. The concentration of Portuguese in Fall River accompanied by the continued influx of new immigrants assures that Portuguese culture remains alive today.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

My Cultural Site: Fall River

The site for my cultural encounter is the city of Fall River, Massachusetts. Fall River is an old mill town that is situated on Mount Hope Bay in southeastern Massachusetts. It is a city of around 90,000 mainly working class people. Over the years many immigrants have come to Fall River, drawn to jobs in the fishing industry. Textile factories also provided steady employment for new citizens. Starting in the late 19th century and continuing until today many Portuguese have settled in Fall River. The wave of Portuguese immigration started with people coming from the islands of Portugal (Azores, Madeira) with mainlanders following more recently. This has resulted in almost 50% of current Fall River residents claiming Portuguese ancestry.

Crossing over the Braga Bridge Fall River appears on a large hill sloping towards the water. Boats line the harbor under the bridge hinting of the city’s fishing past. Rising up the hill and away from the water are a mix of huge former factories, tenements and some modern commercial buildings. There is little green space; the buildings are crowded together bordered by concrete and asphalt. Even though some of the stores and houses are brightly colored, the city appears worn, a little past its prime. It is easy to see from the storefronts that many Portuguese live here. The Madeirena Club. Fereira’s Market. Estoril Restaurant. The Espirito Santo Church. It is in this setting that the tens of thousands of Portuguese residents in Fall River work, worship, and enjoy their lives

Friday, March 14, 2008

My cross-cultural encounter

I grew up in Barrington, Rhode Island. Barrington is a very white affluent bedroom community viewed as a great place to raise children, as the school system is the best in the state. With this in mind, for my cultural encounter I wish to explore another culture that I suspect is different from the one I experienced in Barrington. I have decided on the city of Fall River and its many Portuguese-speaking inhabitants as the site for my cultural encounter. Not only are there many people of Portuguese decent in Fall River, there are also a significant population of first generation immigrants. There is a strong Portuguese presence in Rhode Island yet not where I grew up. By immersing myself in the culture of the Portuguese in Fall River I hope to learn more about their worldview and in the process more about my neighbors. Furthermore, I hope to learn more about myself by contrasting the way I live with that of those in Fall River who have recently arrived from Portugal.

Because Fall River is not very far away from either Wheaton or my hometown of Barrington I hope to make multiple trips to gain first person inspiration for my blog. I am optimistic, as I know there are many Portuguese festivals, dances, and other social events in Fall River that will lend substance, and maybe some photos, to this blog.