The Portuguese Immigrant: Atlantic Heritage Story
I grew up around people like me but I didn't grow up reading about people like me. A child of Azorean immigrants raised in a community populated entirely by others whose family history mirrored mine. At the time, it didn't seem special since we all had the same story. What I have grown to realize is that it is special because we all had the same story. The bond is strong and unspoken between those whose families have endured the same hardships and made the same sacrifices as one another.
That's why a funny thing happened while I was reading Devin Meireles' The Portuguese Immigrant: Atlantic Heritage Story. The story is a narrative nonfiction of Devin's own grandfather's early life and immigration journey from the island of São Miguel, Azores to Canada. However, within its pages, I found reflected the stories of my own family. Striking similarities abound. It didn't matter that our families immigrated to two different countries, the experiences in his book were nearly identical to those I've heard told by my own family.
Of course we are cousins
Even funnier yet, I came to unravel that the author and I were in fact distant relatives. Devin and I made contact through Instagram after he found my It's Called Culture Podcast. We quickly realized he would be a great guest and invited him to be on an episode of the show. After reading his book and seeing familiar surnames and places, I decided to do a quick Ancestry DNA query. Sure enough, it was revealed that we were a DNA match as distant cousins. Such is the expectation when you are both descendants from the same remote island region. So much so that it has become a running joke to ponder "Are we primos (cousins)?" when I encounter others from the same island. Usually both parties laugh it off -- and then not long after, discover evidence to prove our suspected familial connections.
Deus me livre (God forbid)
The book is in English, however the sprinkling of Portuguese phrases evoked visceral reactions from me. I would read them in my grandparents voice, as they were such specific expressions echoed by all Azoreans I've ever known. I can't imagine the work that went into writing this book, as it contained a plethora of interesting historical information weaved into its storyline.
Better yet, I can't imagine the deep fear and loneliness of the immigrants of the time. They endured many years worth of separation of families, embarking on transatlantic journeys by ship or newly commercialized passenger planes, language barriers, and uncertain living and working conditions. I barely trust a plane ride in today's modern world... imagine being on some of those inaugural flights across The Atlantic Ocean coming from villages not even equipped with automobiles? Now I know why they still clap when we land.
Having been fresh off of a trip to São Miguel when I read The Portuguese Immigrant, I was able to vividly imagine the scenes described in the book. I knew the locations of the villages mentioned, the difficulty of travel between villages, the housing conditions, the layout of the capital city of Ponta Delgada -- all which helped paint the pictures of Devin's words.
It all makes sense
The biggest takeaway from Devin's book (Author's Website: Luso Loonie) and my own rediscovering of our culture is that... it all makes sense. We grew up not understanding the intricacies of how our life came to be or why our families acted in a certain way. Only by asking questions, listening, observing, researching, and reading do we discover the micro and macro influences on their behaviors that have been passed down to us through nature and nurture. Once you truly understand where you came from, the pieces of the puzzle of your own life start to fit together.
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