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.