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.