Exhibit Takes a Glimpse into Portuguese Immigration

Jun 29, 2022 | Arts & Culture

Exhibit on Now Display at Heritage State Park

Lurdes C. da Silva

FALL RIVER — An exhibit on Portuguese immigration to New England on display at the Fall River Heritage State Park offers a glimpse of some of the individuals and organizations that helped shape the region’s Portuguese-American communities and affirm their cultural identity.

Created by the Ferreira-Mendes Portuguese American Archives of UMass Dartmouth, “A Glimpse into Portuguese- American Immigration” can be visited at the Park’s Visitor’s Center through July 15.

“Through photographs, rare newspaper articles, and other insightful documents, this exhibit offers a glimpse into the experience of the region’s dominant ethnic community,” said Jim Lopes, the Park’s Visitor Services Supervisor.

Composed of about 15 panels, the exhibit contains digitized images of genealogical records, photographs, publications and other items from the Archives’ collection which illustrate the collective experience of Portuguese immigration, settlement and life in the United States. Three of the panels focus on individual stories, such as that of Angelina Tavares, who was born in Nabais, Gouveia, in 1897, and immigrated to New Bedford in the 1910s. She married Manuel Tavares in 1916 in Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church and worked in the city’s mills. Her husband, who was a weaver in a cotton mill, was very much involved in the city’s theatre scene and participated as a cast member in dozens of plays.

Another panel tells the story of Affonso Gil Mendes Ferreira, whose family the Archives are named after. A native of Beira Baixa, he immigrated to the United States in1920 aboard the Canada ship of the Fabre Line. His name can be seen on a copy of a Manifest of Alien Passengers sailing from Lisbon on the S.S. Canada, which is on display alongside his ticket and inspection card.

Settling in Taunton, Mass., Ferreira became a pioneer of Portuguese-language radio in the U.S., founding the first daily Portuguese radio station in the country. His radio program, “A Voz de Portugal” (Voice of Portugal) first aired in the early 1930s. He also published “O Heraldo Portuguez,” a biannual, Portuguese newspaper from 1925 to 1976. Another panel is dedicated to Manuel Mendes Lopes, who was born in São Paio, Gouveia, in 1895 and immigrated to New Bedford in 1914, becoming a U.S. citizen in 1942. Dozens of other photographs offer a glimpse into the private lives of individuals, cultural traditions, organizations, public officials and businesses, among others.

For Dr. Paula Noversa, the Archives faculty director, the park’s visitor center offers the perfect location for this exhibit. “We are happy to work with Fall River Heritage State Park to celebrate the Day of Portugal, Camões, and the Portuguese Communities by sharing this wonderful exhibit with them,” she said.

According to exhibition information materials, the Portuguese first arrived in North America more than 500 years ago, as navigators, explorers and adventurers seeking new lands and riches. But as immigrants, they are relatively a recent group. The first major wave of Portuguese immigration occurred during the country’s industrial development at the turn of the 20th century, with 82,489 Portuguese persons arriving between 1910 and 1920. The Portuguese immigration phase practically came to a halt after the passage of the National Origins Act in 1924, which established a very low immigration for Portugal.

The second immigration wave peaked in the 1970s, when 104,754 Portuguese persons entered the country. This immigration phase began with the passage of the Azorean Refugee Act of 1958, which allowed families affected by the eruption of the Capelinhos Volcano, in the island of Faial, Azores, to settle in the country. Its major cause was the passage of the immigration and nationality act in 1965, which abolished quotas and introduced a system of immigration based on family reunification.

Portuguese immigration to the United States has been declining since the 1980s, and now stands at around 1,000 individuals per year. According to the U.S Census Bureau, there are about 1.5 million of Portuguese ancestry living in the country today.

The “A Glimpse into Portuguese-American Immigration” exhibit can be visited free of charge daily from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the Captain J. Hudner, Jr. Memorial Building, located at 200 Davol St., Fall River.