By Robert L. Santos
In 1877, the Hawaiian government needed sugar cane workers, and offered to pay transportation
costs for anyone wanting to immigrate from the Madeira and Azorean islands. From 1878 to 1899, 12,780 islanders came to Hawaii, plus another 1,652 from mainland Portugal. These immigrants, sometimes entire families, worked in the sugar cane fields for 36 months, for which
they got $10 a month for men and $6.50 for women along with lodging, rations and medical care. These conditions soon discouraged many of the Portuguese in Hawaii, who also resented the fact that the local Hawaiian
population regarded and treated them as underclass laborers. This was a particularly bitter pill for the Portuguese, who took pride in hard work and achievement. Many left the Islands, while those who stayed intermarried with other nationalities, left the plantations and more or less abandoned their Portuguese traditions. Assimilation, they hoped, would rid them of the underclass stigma. The Portuguese spread throughout the Hawaiian Islands, bought land, raised cattle and grew vegetables;
others went into urban occupations. In 1920, there were at least 21,208 Portuguese living in Hawaii.
Between 1890 and 1914, many Portuguese rejected assimilation as a solution and instead chose to cleave to their community.
They left Hawaii for California, primarily the San Francisco Bay area, and especially on San Leandro's "Kanaka Road." Since then there has been continuous movement of the Portuguese to and from the Hawaiian Islands. An Azorean who eventually settled in
Turlock worked with the Portuguese who came from Hawaii:
"I especially enjoyed listening to the Hawaiian-Portuguese music. It was so sad and plaintive that it made shivers go up and down your spine. These men were from the Azores, but became indentured workers in the sugar cane fields in Hawaii. From there they came to California to work in the melon fields of Turlock, but their hearts were in the land of their youth, the lush, green fields of the
A certain ingenuity. The excerpt below from William Haley's book The Centennial Year Book of Alameda County, published in 1876 celebrating the centennial of the United States, concerns Alameda County's Portuguese population, whether
from the Sandwich Islands, the Azores or Portugal herself:
"What they called the Portuguese population in Alameda County commensed to settle here at an early date, and
are amongst the most thriving portion of our population, occupying as they do, small farms of the best land and growing vegetables and fruits. They are natives of the Azores or Western Isles, and are an exceedingly industrious and thrifty class, with simple hearts and simple pleasures."
Intensive farming, also known as market gardening or truck farming, supplied fresh produce to the surrounding communities.
The success the Azorean derived from this type of farming was
based on his and his family's hard work, ingenuity and thrift. In Opportunity Knocks Twice , author Forrest Crissey remarks, after observing a farm in San Leandro in the early 1900s, that
"When you see a house surrounded by an orchard, and the sides of the road planted to vegetables clear out to the wheel tracks, you may know that a Portuguese lieves there; but don't make the mistake of thinking that it's poverty that pushes his gardening up against the wheels of passing vehicles. It's thrift! These men with street gardens are the solid men of the town. They own business blocks and ranches, and have bank accounts that put some of us
Americans here "way in the shade." It hurts a Portuguese to waste an inch of land. He'll buy the best land out of doors --- knows the best when he sees it too--and will pay a top price without question or flinching; but after he gets it he wants every inch of it to be working for him, night and day every minute of the growing season. And he'll generally contrive to get three crops a year where an American will be content with two."
Another remark from Crissey on how intensive "intensive" can be:
"One of these town orchards in San Leandro has currants between the orchard rows, beans between the currant rows, a row of beans on each side of the trees, beans between the trees in the row and beans from the ends of the rows to the wheeltrack in the street. Not satisfied with this degree of intensiveness and interplanting, the owner doubled the number of rows in the space or corner
where his private sidewalks joined the public street!"
The Azoreans had a knack or a certain ingenuity when it came to farming and marketing, as expressed in the below passage by an anonymous Azorean farmer who came to San Leandro with only the clothes on his back and worked on farms for 10 years.
During that time he stiadied the various crops, finally deciding that tomatoes were for him:
"I began to study the tomato game by talking with everybody who grew
them about here, and especially with the men connected with the canneries. There is generally about one main trick with every crop that makes it a big thing instead of just a fair thing or a failure. The trick was to plant the tomatoes so they would mature just perfect for the best price."
This man ended up operating 500 acres and employing between 40 to 100 seasonal workers (most of whom were fellow Azoreans).
Writing in Valley of the Moon, Jack London acknowledges the
creativeness of the Portuguese farmer The main characters, Billy and Saxon, are walking through San Leandro, "Porchugeeze headquarters" as they call it, discussing why the Portuguese have succeeded where "Americans" have failed. They come upon a lineman whose family used to own the property now belonging to the Portuguese. They look at a fruit tree that has four main branches with "living braces" in the crotch. The lineman explains to them:
"You think it growed that way eh? Well it did. But it was old Silva that made it just the same - caught two sprouts, when the tree was young, an' twisted 'em together Pretty slick, eL? You bet. That tree'll never blow down. It's a natural, springy brace, an' beats iron braces stiff. Look along all the rows. Every tree's that way See? An' that's just one trick of the Porchugeeze. They got a million like it."
As they continue their discussion, the lineman explains
how the Portuguese acquired heir land:
"My grandfather used to own this. ... Forty years ago old Silva come from the Azores. Went sheep-herding in the mountains for a couple of years, then blew in to San Leandro. These five acres was the first land he leased. That was the beginnin'. Then he began leasin' by the hundreds of acres, an' by the hundred-an-sixties. An' his sisters an' his uncles an' his aunts begun pourin' in from the Azores - they're all
related there, you know; an' pretty soon San Leandro was a regular Porchugeeze settlement.
An' old Silva wound up by buy in' these five acres from grandfather. Pretty soon - an'father by that time was in the hole to the neck - he was buyin' father's land by the hundred-an'-sixties. An' all the rest of his relations was doin' the same thing. Father was always gettin' rich quick, an' he wound up by dyin' in debt. But old Silva never overlooked a bet, no matter
how kinky. An' all the rest are just like home. You see outside the fence there, clear to the wheel-tracks in the road -- horse-beans. We'd a-scorned to do a picayune thing like that. Not Silva. Why he's got a town house in San Leandro now."
Some Azoreans owned large acreages, but the average c.1912 was 46.6 acres. The farms had orchards of fruit trees, vegetable gardens, cows, chickens and hogs. Though the local economy was a healthy one, urban sprawl would soon push
these farmers eastward out into the Livermore Valley and then into the San Joaquin Valley
Not all the Portuguese in San Leandro were involved in farming. They also had jobs as carpenters, shoemakers, clerks, railway workers, cooks, store owners, blacksmiths and machinists. Ponta Delgada on Sao Miguel even became the sister city of San Leandro. But the Azoreans had truly arrived when, in the May 12,1887, issue of the Portuguese language newspaper,Progresso Californiense , there was
an advertisement for the Azores Hotel, owned by Joao D. Pinheiro, charging $5 a week for lodging.
Persisting from rags to riches. In the mid to late 19th century Portuguese built levees along the Sacramento River to reclaim the land, then farmed it in an area that soon became known as the "Lisbon District" because of its heavy concentration of Portuguese. This district had three ferryboats that crossed the river, transporting residents to school, church and to visit
neighbors. In the 1890s, the ferryboat operator charged 10 cents per pedestrian, 25 cents for a horse and rider, 50 cents for a wagon and two horses, 75 cents for wagon with four horses, and livestock such as sheep, goats, cattle and hogs rode for 10 cents each.
Antonio Mendes, born in Terceira, was one of the first to navigate the Sacramento River Abandoning mining in 1855, he bought a boat that conveyed people and cargo from Stockton to Sacramento, and soon owned many boats coming
from San Francisco, mostly paddlewheelers, flat-boats and scows.
Portuguese tried planting asparagus in Petaluma, but it was a failure because of rust damage. They then experimented with that crop in Sacramento with great success, leaving more than one Portuguese farmer with a rags-to-riches life. Many of the Portuguese who remained in Petaluma later went heavily into chicken farming, for which that Sonoma County town is still known.
Fortunes were made in lima beans in Ventura
County by the Portuguese, who learned how to manage the soil and the terrain.
One example is of Manuel Farias, who bought hill land for $25 an acre, then worked the slopes with two workhorses and one saddle horse, which he rode in front of the others to guide the plow. He and other farmers broke through the hardpan, then kept the clumps of soil on the surface to retain the moisture there.
Forrest Crissey had this to say about the Portuguese farmers he observed during his travels in
California during the first decade of this century:
... once a Portuguese gets hold of a piece of land he never rests until it is paid for, and he sacrifices his personal ease and comfort until the mortgage is wiped out, to that end saving every dollar above the sternest actual necessities. A mortgaged homestead and an automobile are contrary to the Portuguese catechism! He never stints his land or his stock, however Again, in addition to being an untiring worker,
he is an intelligent farmer I never knew a Portuguese farmer who was not a good farmer
Portuguese know-how also was brought to bear in the San Joaquin Valley There was a small wool industry in the Fresno and Hanford area that began in the 1 860s, in which the Portuguese served as shepherds, but the industry declined when drought struck in 1876 and 1877, and sheep and cattle perished by the thousands. Sheep that normally sold for $2 to $3 a head now sold for 25 cents. This was a sure
sign that irrigation was needed to water the desertlike terrain if it was to become reliably productive agricultural land.
Until the drought, one could see many Portuguese shepherds with their dogs tending 2,000 or so sheep in Merced County. One citizen of the area commented that the Portuguese "all have a natural liking for animals, and stock in their hands always thrives.
As soon as the ranchowners found this out they encouraged the firstcomers to send back to the Azores for
their husky young relatives."
As in their other endeavors, the Portuguese worked for awhile as shepherds, learned the ins and outs of the business, and only then bought their own land and flocks. Even after irrigation came, the Portuguese shepherds still drove flocks along the public roads outside their fences to use every inch of land in a productive form. This practice kept the grass down which, in turn, prevented fires and thus helped local governmental agencies. These roving
flocks would travel four miles a day perhaps ending up as far as 20 miles from home. (The advent of automobile traffic put a stop to this practice.)
By 1910, Merced's sweet potato acreage had grown to 2,114 acres begun when Portuguese John B. Avila bought flood land for $1 an acre in 1888, then planted a patch of sweet potatoes from Azorean seedlings. Sweet potatoes were planted in
abundance in neighboring Stanislaus County and, soon, in other Valley counties as well. Pop ulation in
the Merced area was also growing -- partly because of the sweet potato's success and partly because irrigation had begun.
Dairying, Azoreans & the San Joaquin Valley. Dairying and the Azoreans fulfill perfectly the cliché "goes together like hand and glove." Being unskilled and unused to tools and implements, most Azorcan foirmer peasants brought only their hands and their farming knowledge to the United States, as is eloquently put by Tony Jerome, an Azorean who migrated
early in this century to the San Joaquin Valley:
I don't remember making a decision to become a farmer. It just seemed to be the most natural thing for me to do.
For centuries my ancestors were farmers, not from choice but oot of absolute necessity as a means for existence.
When you live on an island you eat only what you can grow. The clothing we wore and the blankets we slept under were made of the wool my father
sheared from a small flock of sheep. My poor mother spent endless days spinning and weaving the wool into cloth. So generation after generation, the love of the land was inbred into us.
To the early Portuguese immigrant it was nearly unbelievable that here in the Turlock area there were thousands of acres of virgin soil, just waiting for the plow. "Sometimes when I am working in the fields, I reach down and get a handful of good clean dirt. It feels warm in the palm of
my hand. I let it dribble through my fingers and I feel as if I had just shaken hands with all my ancestors".
Azorean women as well as men had the urge to become farmers and dairy farmers, well illustrated in Jack London's autobiogruphical novel Martin Eden. During his early years, London came to know the Portuguese who lived in Oakland, and he was very interested in their innovative farming practice. But this account also makes it clear that London respected the Portuguese character
Martin Eden, a fledgling writer, promises his friend Maria an immigrant Azorean and neighbor who does domestic work for him -- that he will reward her and her children for her work and kindness when he becomes a successful
writer. When Martin asks her what would she want if he were God and could give her anything, Maria replies that " I lika da have one milka ranch good milka ranch. Plenty cow, plenty land, plenty grass. I lika da have near San Le-an; my sister liva dere. I
sella da milk in Oakland. I maka da plentee mon. Joe an' Nick no runna da cow. Dey go-a to school. ... Yes, I lika da milka ranch."
Dairying had been a traditional livelihood on the Azorean islands of Sao Jorge, Flores and Terceira, so it is not surprising that during the l880s Azorean immigrants from Sao Jorge began milking cows on dairies found in Sausalito and Bolinas. Again the pattern of learning the business while saving up money is followed: first they were milkhands, then
renters, then finally owners.
The San Francisco Bay area market was their hard-earned pot of gold.
Most milkers earned $36 a month plus room and board for a seven-day work week. Once the Azorean milkhand had saved enough money (about $2,000), he would try his hand at tenant dairying, a modified share-cropping scheme: when a large landholder -- say 55,000 acres in Marin County for example -- decided to break up his holdings for tenant dairying he would fence the land, provide the
buildings (including a comforrtable house) and cows. The tenant was expected to provide the horses, wagons, farming implements, dairy equipment, furniture for the house and all necessary labor. The tenant would rent the cows for $27.50 annually, agree to take care of the stock and the farm and make repairs when needed. One-fifth of the calves went to the owner, and the tenant could sell for himself pigs, calves and dairy products. The tenant's net annual profit was $5 to
$15 per cow, from which he saved until he could buy his own dairy.
Just before the turn of the century, Portuguese began moving to the San Joaquin Valley where they could buy cheap land to farm. Selling their San Francisco Bay area property for fat profits when urban sprawl encroached, the Portuguese would move to an area where reasonably-priced, large acreages could be purchased. It also was about this time irrigation was introduced, an additional boon for the Portuguese who migrated
and invested during this period.
One Merced resident, while riding with Forrest Crissey, the author of Where Op portunity Where OpportunityKnocks Twice, pointed out the irrigation canals and fenced-in land, saying that
"There is an example of Portuguese metho)ds that is worth the attention of any American in almost any part of the country This district through here is rapidly changing from a range country to a farming country. Every few miles you'll run across a new irrigation canal with freshly cut laterals. They welcomed it (irrigation) and said that they'd raise alfalfa and keep dairies of blood stock."
Dairying as a livelihood held great appeal for the Portuguese. For one thing,
it provided security: there was always a monthly milk check to produce a steady cashflow. If one owned land, equipment and cattle, these things could always be sold to weather an economic crisis. And as it was the Portuguese habit to save their money continuously, initial investment was possible. Here, a hard-working and frugal but unskilled, mostly illiterate and non-English-speaking Azorean peasant could achieve profit and success.
The Azoreans, people who sacrifice and work together
as a family unit towards a common goal, were ideally suited for dairying. No dairy partnerships are formed out side the family because the children can help with the work and later inherit the
Continuing contact with the Azores is important to the whole cycle: the Azorean dairy farmers commonly bring in relatives and friends from the Azores to join them in dairying, giving these new immigrants immediate jobs, homes and paychecks until each new immigrant has learned enough and
saved enough to move out and buy his own dairy.
Soon Azorean enclaves were strung throughout the Valley. By the 1960s, 82% of the San Joaquin's dairy workers were employed by Azorean dairymen, and 32% of dairy workers were Portuguese who worked for non-Azorean dairymen. To
quote from Alvin Graves' 1969 study,
"A.E Mendes of Riverdale recalls that when he migrated to the San Joaquin Valley, he first located in south-central Kings County, where no less
than fifteen families had gathered that were from the village of Santa Barbara of the island of Terceira."
The west side of the Valley has been settled primarily by Terceirans, which is 60% of all Azorean dairymen. In eastern Merced County 50% of the dairymen are from Sao Jorge. This cultural similarity among the Azoreans gives them unity as a group which collectively makes them a force in the California dairy industry
By 1915, Azoreans owned one-half of the dairy land in
the San Joaquin Valley and produced more than half of the dairy products. Milk producer's cooperatives sprang up, always having strong Azorean membership. In the 1930s, the Portuguese controlled 60 to 70% of the California dairy industry owning 450,000 head of dairy cattle representing $30 million in assets.
The natural disasters in the Azores of the late 1950s and early 1960s, combined with the resultant U.S. emergency refugee laws, funneled many more thousands of Azoreans into the
California dairy industry so that by 1972, 1,062 dairies (52.6% of the total number) were owned by Portuguese in the San Joaquin Valley
Down to the sea in ships. The shore whaling discussed earlier was conducted almost exlusively by Azoreans. Deep sea whaling or ship whaling, as it is sometimes called, involved a lower percentage of Azoreans. One example of those Azorean teenage males sometimes smuggled aboard whaling ships, Frank J. Gomess, is discussed by Cecelia Cardozo Emilio in
Azorean Folk Customs, published in 1990 by San Diego's Portuguese Historical Center:
Frank J. Gomes was born on the Island of Flores in 1855. At the age of eighteen he joined a whaling ship and voyaged four years under great hardship. He was given a mere $100 as his final share when he came ashore in San Francisco in 1877.
Indeed, the term "hardship" may be an understatement. Whaling voyages were notably treacherous and inhumane, as is described in
this fictionalized account written by William H. Thomas in 1872, The Whaleman's Adventures in the Sandwich Islands and California We find the captain punishing Joe Frank, the Portuguese cook, for giving a black crew member some rum. The captain has just hit and kicked Frank, after which
"The Portuguese arose with some difficulty and stood trembling before the quarter-deck tyrant [the captain ...
[who] then drew back his arm and let his fist fall upon the unprotected face of the Portuguese, and he fell to the deck as though struck by lightning."
One would hope that Joe Frank might jump ship at first opportunity for his own safety.
Before the European whaler sailed the oceans hunting whales, the mammoth sea creatures would migrate winter and spring from the Arctic to Mexico, San Diego Bay being a favorite spot for female whales to calve in the spring. In 1602,
Sebastian Vizcaino described the whales he saw in Monterey Bay:
"This bay also had been already surveyed by the Almirante [Vizcaino's ship] who gave it the name Bahia de Belenas or Whale Bay on account of the multitudes of that large fish they saw there, being drawn thither by the abundance of several kinds of fish."
The translator then appended this excerpt:
"But the most distinguished fish of both seas are the whales; which induced the
ancient co)smographers to call [lower] California, Punta de Belenas, or Cape Whale; and these fish being found in multitudes along both coasts give name to a channel in the gulf and a bay in the south sea."
Even in 1876, as the whale supply was waning, R. Guy McClellan wrote in his work The Golden State : "hundreds of them can be seen spouting and blowing along the entire coast."
The slaughter of the whale is richly documented. Whaler Captain C.M. Scammon, who
published a classic book on whaling and for whom Scammon's Lagoon in Baja California is named, described the massacre of whales in his lagoon in 1855:
"While the ships lay moored, as many as twenty whaleboats scoured the lagoons "mud-holing" for grays. By day the waters were noisy with the sounds of thrashing whales, the reports of bomb guns, and the cries from scores of
whalemen. By night the sky was bright with the fiery glow of boiling try-pots
aboard the anchored ships."
One can imagine the Azorean whalers Frank Gomes and Joe Frank, along with hundreds of their countrymen, busy in the lagoon, firing harpoon guns, rowing boats with a whale in tow, and manning the trypots on shore.
Shortly though, the lagoon's whales were gone and the Azoreans had to find other livelihoods. Some turned to farming or dairying ashore, others sought their place in the California fishing industry. Soon there were Portuguese fishing for
the Sacramento River, and also operating fishing boats out of every major coastal seaport San Francisco, Pescadero, Monterey San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and San Diego. By 1880 there were at least 90 Portuguese fishermen and 228
fishing-related businesses operated by Portuguese in California.
Near San Francisco's Vallejo Street wharf, roughly two-thirds of the Portuguese there were single men who lived in cheap houusing and ate in low-class restaurants, where they
paid 25 cents for a meal, or $3 a week. Some owed $20 to $150 to the restaurant for back meals. "Breakfast at the Fisherman's Home," the report specified, "consists of an egg, biscuit, and wine or coffee, and is served on a long pine table unpainted."
The tuna industry centered in San Diego, or 'Tunaville", as some have called it, was more lucrative. Though the first Portuguese fisherman came to San Diego in 1876 and fished for barracuda and yellowtail, by 1885
tuna fishing dominated. Joe Mederios and Manuel Madruga, both from the Azorean fishing island of Pico, came to California by way of Provincetown and then the Klondike gold rush, where they worked on codfish ships. Finally, settling in Point Loma on San Diego Bay they pioneered the highly profitable tuna business.
At first, fish were dried and salted, then sent to the markets. Next, the fresh fish were iced and transported to increasingly discriminating consumers on Southern
California's coastal markets. Finally in 1919, the industry changed dramatically when the canning of fish began. Tuna fishing boats evolved right along with the industry, from small wooden craft to large sea-going tuna ships worth millions and able to travel great distances. The Portuguese were integral to this evolution.
Like the dairy industry, the tuna industry became a family business for the Portuguese: they brought relatives and friends from the Azores to work with them, ensuring
continuing Portuguese dominance of the industry The tuna seasons control the life of the Point Loma community and its family atmosphere provides support for wives and children whose fishermen husbands and fathers are gone for long periods of time at sea.
The community's isolation and the immersion on ships where Portuguese is spoken is similar to the dairy industry in that assimilation is gradual: the immigrant doesn't need to learn English before beginning to function in the workplace
or in his
The Portuguese culture in California.
A series of California county histories published between 1910 and 1925 contain biographical sketches of each area's "leading men and women," as some of the histories categorize these individuals. Actually very few women grace the pages of these volumes, as they were compiled in a still male dominated world. About 20 of these histoties concerned counties with high concentrations of Portuguese, yielding a
wealth of individual biographies portraying California's Portuguese. Seventy-nine
percent of the Portuguese included in these biographies came to California between 1870 and 1900, and 21% had been born in California. Only one had been a Massachussetts resident for a substantial length oftime, but nearly 40% had stopped briefly in New England before continuing to California. Two came from Brazil, four from mainland Portugal and the rest primarily from the islands of Pico, Sao Jorge, Flores,
Faial and Terceira.
Seventy percent of these individuals were in farming and dairying; only 25% were involved in business or commerce. Four percent were general laborers, 1% were professionals law, medicine, religion, engineering and a every few were bankers,
accountants and insurance agents.
Though the Bay Area was the center of Portuguese immigrants during the 19th century by 1930 there was a clear inland drift to the San Joaquin Valley Yet second- and-third generation
Portuguese, increasingly more educated, were now turning to city jobs and moving away from rural employment.
In 1930, of California's 99,194 Portuguese, 63,799 had one or two parents born in the Azores or Portugal, and 30,395 were Azorean immigrants. In 1940, the Portuguese population stopped growing, probably because of the Depression and
unfavorable immigration laws. In Hayward: The First 100 Years, Eden Writers describe one Portuguese family's Depression-era life in the Oakland
"Mrs. Joseph Silva reports how it was on their ranch in Palomares Canyon. Food was plentiful, but people were poor. The entire family butchered regularly. Everyone had a special job, even to holding the pan to catch the blood for the traditional Portuguese blood sausage. They salted down meat, cured bacon and hams and made linguisa. The family drove to Pittsburg to get sacks of oysters and salmon to salt in barrels. They canned fruit and dried
Movement to the urban areas was the Depression-era trend for California's Portuguese: well-assimilated, second- and
third-generation Portuguese could find jobs in business and industry and higher land prices discouraged farming.
One of the best, most concise summations of the Azorean character is by One sionimo T. Almeida in his essay "A Profile of the Azorean," from Issues in Portuguese Bilingua! Education
are seen as possessing a character that is deeply religious, good- natured, submissive, indolent, sensitive, pacific, orderly family oriented, industrious, nostalgic and somewhat sad. That character is deeply endowed with a strong sense of family responsibility, one which transmits to children a worldview calling for adherence to a hard-work ethic and to well-disciplined obedience.
Further revealing the nature of Azoreans in America, Walton John Brown's 1944 USC master's thesis,
"Portuguese in California," describes the Azoreans as
... home lovers and home owners. They have attained middle-class economic status, and are satisfied, and [have] no thought of leaving. They are proud of their achievement as well as of the fact that they have seldom needed welfare aid, even in times of depresion. ... They are peace-loving people and seldom come before the courts.
Though it is always risky to describe groups (cof individuals in terms of
personality types, Almeida and others have seen distinctions in the personalities of Azoreans depending not only on which island they came from but also on the origins of the
immigrants to a given island. For example, Sao Miguel absorbed a greater number of southern Portuguese settlers and more Spanish influence than did the middle and western islands, which were settled primarily by the northern Portuguese and
Flemings. Consequently, Almeida speculates, Sao Miguelans are "rough,
industrious, sturdy and tenacious," while Azoreans from the middle and western island are "affable, somewhat cunning, fond of festivities, and indolent." The people of Pico are a mixture, being "vigorous, wholesome, sometimes heroic, and always take life seriously"
All Azoreans, of course, have been affected by the sea. the isolation of the islands, by earthquakes and by volcanic eruptions.
The influence of these natural phenomena on the psyche of the
Azorean has been written about often, but seldom as poetically as Terceirense ethnologist Luis Ribeiro puts it:
"The contemplation of the sea makes men dreamers, saddens and depresses them with its monotony ... The cadence of the waves and of the tides regulates his slow steps and wooden gestures, gives a tone to his drawl and song-like intonation, wrinkles his face and sharpens his sight. ...
During a volcanic eruption or an
earthquake, man feels both his own weakness and power of the unfathomable natural forces around him, with the usual violence. Surprised, terrorized, he seeks desperately for the shelter ofdivine protection, because the forces unleashed about him vastly exceed his every possibility of defence."
The thriftiness of the Azoreansion is a legacy of their peasant forebears, who needed every resource for survival. Thus the Azorean immigrant carefully sets goals for his money, and saves
enough either to bring his family to America or buy a house or land. Too, Azorean families tend to be large, dictating frugality. Family means survival to the Azorean peasant: everyone is needed to work the land to provide food, shelter and clothing for everyone. Raising healthy children dictates a continuation of the family and hence the culture.
Historical writings frequently state that "Azoreans make good citizens." For exampIe, one Kings County citizen described his
Azorean neighbors as "law-abiding, God-fearing folk, good neighbors and liberal givers to any good cause." And a Cape Cod visitor wrote of the New England Portuguese that "They manage to do their work without fuss or ostentation. They even create
beauty as they work."
In the Azores, women are considered working equals because of the manual labor required in the fields and around the homestead. This role slipped a bit in New Eng land's Portuguese communities
because outside work, typically in the factories,
was necessary to the family. But in California, most Azorean women work at home in rural areas. Even so, some Azorean families have broken up because the strongly male-dominated family tradition is being eroded in America; even divorce is no longer uncommon. Other Azorean family traditions have been lost in America, such as respect for the elderly -- kissing the elderly person's hand and asking their blessing as well as addressing them as
sir or madam --and no backtalk from children.
Also the Azorean Godparent system, which traditionally provided security for children, rarely survives the first generation in America. On the islands, Godparents are expected to help Godchildren if the parents have died or become incapable. (In America, the need for aid is not as great.)
One tradition that has continued, however, is religion. To be Azorean is to be Roman Catholic; even though Portuguese Jews are accepted and Portuguese
Protestants are tolerated, the non-Catholic is always suspect. The church once gave the Azorean peasant security because of its conservatism. Things had to remain the same because the peasant's livelihood is so marginal that only a static society and steady economy guarantees survival. In the French Revolution, for example, the revolutionists were shocked when so many peasants failed to embrace the liberation effort but instead clung to their priests and thus, to
revolutionary eyes, clove
to their enemy. Catholic ritual is important for the stability of the peasant class, as Jerry R. Williams explains in And Yet They Come:
From a peasant perspective, it was not necessary to understand the tenets of the church as long as one had faith and followed
the religious dictates of the priest. Bordering on mysticism, their religion combined the inordinate faith in the power of the saints with a strict devotion to the ritual and ceremony of the mass.
In general, women
have given impetus to the spiritual in the Azorean culture. Men are basically inactive church members (though they expect their children and women to attend). Though male Azoreans are anti-clerical, suspicious of the devout priest and his lack of real-world practicality, they neverthless expect him to remain moral and to teach their children. Many Azorean men refer to priests as "mother-in-laws" because of their censorious attitude, and to even utter the word "priest"
aboard ship is to bring bad luck. Even so, the church remains the nerve center of the traditional Azorean society
Universal public education eventually allows the Azorean to slip into American society: in the classroom and on the playground, basic citizenship and tolerance are learned. Azorean children learning the English language and the ways of the surrounding Protestant society bring about intermarriage and assimilation, all of which throws a good many heretofore insular Portuguese
homes into conflict.
The working place too acculturates the immigrant. As new ways are learned, the peasant's backwardness and ignorance comes to an abrupt end. The Azoreans make this transition as well as any other Southern European immigrant group, and soon own their own houses, their own farms. their own sea vessels and their own businesses.
In California, assimilation came at a slower pace than in New England because of the Azorean immigrant's isolation in various
farming enclaves, without having to quickly learn English, a new culture or to change occupational techniques. In the dairy no
English was needed to talk to the animals. Hands and basic farming skills were all that was needed. Only in the second- and third-generation Azoreans would full Americanization take place.
Several cultural similarities between the Azorean and his adopted countrymen made the procession of assimilation easier than it has been for some other immigrant groups.
Most notably, in Azorean peasant society everyone was equal, a basic American political concept. In the Azores one had to work hard to survive, which again is American, typical of an individualistic, democratic society. Finally the Azorean's strong interest in family reflects the very core of American society.
How well have the Portuguese been accepted in American society? The answer is revealed by a non-Portuguese in the Bay Area who contributed this observation shortly after World
War 11 in a doctoral dissertation survey administered by Hans
"The Portagees? Sure. Two of my mechanics are Portagee fellas. Over around the church, on Park Boulevard, is where you'll find them. They aren't as clannish as the Mexicans or the Italians either ... There isn't what you could call a Portuguese neighborhood. ... No, nobody would even think about it if a Portagee was to move in next to them. I wouldn't have thought about it
myself if you hadn't asked.
From author to reader: The foregoing article is an excerpt adapted from a book-length work that covers Azorean migration from Europe to New England and California. The point of my study was to show how the Azorean, a composite of many European nationalities, was drawn to the West, constantly seeking a land that would provide a livelihood to raise a family successfully without suppression of his or her own class. The tale is one of hardship and endurance, but
like an old movie, it has a happy ending - an American success story that ranks with the many multitudes of the genre. The complete study has been researched in great detail and is well-documented by sources far to numerous to cite here. Please contact the author for further information for purchase of the full study or if a bibliography is desired.
Robert Santos is a reference librarian and university archivist at California State University Stanislaus, where he has been a member of
the faculty since 1970. He took his M.S. in library sciences at the University of Southern California and has
published articles on library science, local history and California history. He spent a year in Florence, Italy studying history and art. The Summer 1994 issue of Southern California Quarterly (SCQ) contains his article "Dairying in California through 1910." In three 1996 issues of SCQ his work "Eucalyptus in California: Seeds of Good or Seeds of Evil" will
appear. He has privately published a comprehensive annotated bibliography with the title A Bibliography of Early California and Neighboring Territories Through 1846. Mr Santos is a Vietnam veteran, having served in the U.S. Navy, appears in the 1994 edition of Who's Whoin American Education and is a fourth generation Californian of Azorean ancestry who grew up on his family's dairy near Modesto.
The Article appeared in " The Californians" Volume 13 Number 1.
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