CAPELINHOS – VOLCANO GENERATION” The Azorean forgotten “baby boom” (1957-2007)



                                  The Azorean forgotten “baby boom” 

                                                                                                                 João-Luís de Medeiros 

1- Emotional reaction to an Atlantic telluric challenge

A) Introduction

      The socio-cultural implications related to the Azorean Capelinhos’ crisis continues to provoke a wide array of scholastic narratives, which constitute a historical repository of dramatic events whose psychological impact is still verifiable. 
       In September, 1957, a tremendous volcanic crisis not only shook one of the nine Azorean islands, named Faial, but also generated a set of events still alive in islanders’ collective memory.  Needless to say a volcanologist could be the appropriate entity to provide a detailed scientific description of such a volcanic phenomenon. Therefore, I would limit my comments to succinctly express some general opinions about the proposed theme:  why Azorean immigrants profess a systematic disdain for politics?  
    Immigration’s struggles surpass paternalistic concepts of social misery; its consequences shouldn’t be translated into a cold statistical language. When an immigrant community doesn’t feel motivated to seek political power, there is often a patronizing tendency to justify it by choosing romantic excuses such as, for instance, endemic political illiteracy, civic indifference, and even religious parochialism…  
      The Azorean’s social history shouldn’t be amputated from the volcanic events and its consequences. The Capelinhos/57 telluric rarity provided unexpected international visibility to the Azorean archipelago as well as a huge wave of collective uncertainty.  Not surprisingly, such an expected phenomenon accelerated the Azorean islanders’ willingness to distance themselves from the parochial limits of their native boundaries. The Azorean islanders began accepting immigration as an irrefutable window of opportunity.
      I would like to season my comments with a respectable humorous flavor: the agonizing situation actually created by the intensity of telluric “tremors” was such that married couples, living under an umbrella of domestic conflict, would try to reconcile their destinies; consequently, the number of newborns increased…  
      History records the diplomatic diligences of that period (1958-1960) to accommodate a legal plan to minimize the consequences of the crisis: the islanders soon learned how to take an immediate advantage of the situation. Corvo was the only Azorean island that didn’t enroll emigrants.

2 – Azorean Immigrants in the USA
a) near and remote causes for their endemic political indifference

     We have learned that so-called Azorean unchangeable indifference towards politics shouldn’t be seen as an incurable democratic malady, but rather be interpreted as an old symptom of their fascist heritage. Ironically, the Capelinhos volcano crisis of 1957 can also be viewed as the magic key, which actually unlocked the gate of the Azorean limbo, and consequently generated an appetite for social mobility.             
      Incidentally, a brief but necessary reference to a political event (let’s call it ‘second volcano/1961’) that also shook the colonialism zeal of the Portuguese government: Colonial liberation war. Ironically, the receptive conditions created by the American laws brought serious political concerns to the Portuguese dictatorship. Despite an intense governmental vigilance, many families managed to have their young sons out of the country, before being drafted to serve in the colonial war. As a result, the number of emigrants to United States and Canada increased exponentially. 

 b) Azorean Exodus under the purple curtain of “Saudade”

      Those who prefer to enjoy life’s merely as spectators and evaporate their time “sentimentalizing” the Portuguese history tend to ignore that adversity can reshape   human dignity. The question still makes sense: did immigration reinvent a moral justification for unnecessary human pain? Incidentally, I wonder how many Azorean immigrants have been familiarized with Emma Lazarus’ famous poem, engraved on a pedestal tablet on which the statue of Liberty stands: 

…give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.
Again falling in a temptation to subserviently recite academic quotations to debate invisible pain, wouldn’t alter the challenges posed by “immigrant political endemic indifference”.
During the years 1959-69, neither the Portuguese authorities nor the United States administration were actually inspired by the attainment of a charitable agreement. The core of the situation can be equated in few words: Portuguese dictatorship of necessity versus American political pragmatism.
Blaming the past can be a futile intellectual exercise to justify actual failure, but diplomatic astuteness actually cultivated by both States worked perfectly. The United States’ economic order is receptive to cheap labor (whether at home or abroad); on the other hand, the Portuguese endemic poverty could become a dangerous threshold for ideological subversion.
I have already translated into poetry some instances of my predecessors’ hidden emotional pain. Now my task has been simplified, because reality dispenses fictional vestments of creative imagination…
Around the northeast coast of the United States there are numerous immigrant settlements, some of them tailored by the Azorean ethnic silhouette. Traditionally, these communities keep fighting to overcome their common immediate problems, often ignoring the availability of the civic tools provided by American democratic institutions.

     c) In Rhode Island
      It would become perhaps a pedagogical civic task to remember and even celebrate the political and civic performance offered by Portuguese immigrants: politicians, entrepreneurs, scholars, and associative leaders. In many instances, they have opted to act in an individualistic style. 
      Incidentally, there are some symptoms illustrating Azorean islanders and their mainland countrymen. There is a parallel ethnic itinerary. It seems that such an innocent but nevertheless regrettable “separatist” behavior has reached American shores within their psychological baggage. Even when Azorean islanders and their mainland compatriots are at odds with the English language, both sides still maintain a subtle linguistic and perhaps social distance, due to their respective regional accents or even the choreographic preferences of their folk dances.  
         There are a variety of ethnic associations in Rhode Island, some of them justifiably proud of their specific accomplishments: Holy Ghost brotherhoods, sporting and mutual associations, folklore groups, ethnic academic studies. The majority of these associations wouldn’t risk sponsorship towards political opinion.  Again, an old adage still in place: “religion is for priests; politics to politicians…” 

     d) Commonwealth of Massachusetts
          – Fall River
     From the early 1960s to the mid-1980s, the Greater Fall River area, for instance, received a significant number of Azorean immigrants. Most of them were blue collar workers with large numbers of children and had migrated for mostly economic reasons. As I have already briefly indicated, their main priorities were,  first and foremost, to set up housing, acquire employment, put food on the table, pay off the debts incurred in their migration orioles, and also to send money back to relatives left behind. 
      They were not immediately accepted by the Luso-Americans who had emigrated generations before and who were often patronizing and even embarrassed by what they perceived as their backward relatives arriving from the old country. However, due to the sheer numbers of new immigrants, they soon sought camaderie within their own milieu where they often became comfortable and complacent. It is also important to note that they came to a community that was primarily undereducated and blue collar, and whose mainstream population shared many of the same priorities and shortcomings as the immigrants coming in.
      It was evident from the beginning that they lacked political savvy, having left a repressive dictatorial system. Their overall goal was to do well materially and financially, leaving little time for political reflection. They also had few role models from the older generations of Luso-Americans.  
      An immigrant with a heavy accent running for political office at that time would not only have had to face ridicule and rejection from the mainstream community, but would also have faced a lack of support from their own disaffected community and the older Luso-Americans who wanted to remain autonomous. The lack of confidence in one’s command of the language and in public speaking would undermine one’s ability to articulate points and political agendas. This is further enhanced by the common feeling many immigrants experience of being “sandwiched” by two cultures, no longer belonging to their country of origin or their adopted home.
      Not surprisingly, a few courageous attempts to congregate the Azorean community under a political umbrella have failed. For instance, P.A.P.A. (Portuguese-Americans for Political Action) didn’t survive mainly because immigrants were not able to implement a common political platform: a multitude of individual erratic wishes often damaged the attainment of a common political agenda.  
      PYCO – Portuguese Youth Catholic Organization, under the dynamic leadership of father Pereira, could have become an efficient promise of civic education for the youth. Regrettably, Vatican II ideas and ideals were ignored and perhaps even feared by the American catholic hierarchy. There is still a classic confusion between attainable pragmatic interests and nostalgic wishes. Thus social emancipation with ethnic pride was prudently postponed by the majority of catholic priests.  Furthermore, self-promoted ethnic leaders would accept democratic process, but definitely would refuse its democratic consequences.         
      An auspicious yet timid sign of political activity started to take shape as the community became more entrepreneurial and prosperous (e.g. the creation of P.B.A - Portuguese Business Association, in the early 1980s). Yet despite this economic improvement, there never emerged any great interest in investing money to support a political candidate. Nor was there ever an effort made to identify and promote a potential candidate from within the community. The current situation remains somewhat the same; although, due to the changes in alien resident laws, the past decade has seen a tremendous increase in people acquiring U.S. citizenship and eventually registering to vote, and becoming active voters. Perhaps this is the beginning of our involvement in the political process.     
      Although the Portuguese community has become more educated, there are still not enough numbers of Luso-Americans political candidates. However, the community has become a large voting bloc without which any candidate can hope to win an election. Hopefully this will influence more candidates from the community to emerge. 

       - New Bedford (a singular immigrant pedigree)
       Since the dawn of the XX century, the Luso-American ethnic landscape was highly visible in Greater New Bedford area. In many instances, immigrants from Madeira, the Azores, and Cape Verde behaved mostly as zealots of their ancestral differences, although rarely co-acted as enthusiastic militants of their cultural similarities.
      During such an international turbulent period (1959-1979), it soon became obvious that southeastern Massachusetts institutions (churches, municipalities, ethnic associations) were not sufficiently prepared to accommodate the inevitable ethnic occasional clashes. During the 1960s’ and 1970s’ the so-called old guard of the Portuguese community was caught by surprise, and could no longer disguise their confused and sometimes hostile indifference towards the new-comers… “Oh gush these guys want too much, too fast, too soon…”
      Within the framework of local political struggle, the record shows isolated cases of immigrant electoral success. The record shows some of the Luso-American political servants (Manuel F. Neto, and recently Tony Cabral) have proved to be diligent democratic servants; unfortunately, their efforts were occasionally shadowed by others less prepared, who just behaved as mufflers of ethnic conflict. 
    In 1980s’ the Portuguese community felt dramatically humiliated by the infamous event known as Big Dan’s ‘rape’. Once again ethnicity was punished by main stream opinion: another classic litigation between legality and justice. Yes, those uneducated boys received a fair sentence; however the Portuguese community as a whole didn’t deserve the harsh collective punishment actually applied by the media.
       Once again, despite some honored isolated exceptions, the Portuguese community did realize that political crises (Big Dan’s saga is merely an example) couldn’t be solely managed by diligent folklore directors, virtuous parish pastors, or dedicated college professors, despite their unquestionable courageous enthusiasm.  Democratic leadership differs from corporate management…

e) California – The New World’s” magic gate”
(‘to be or not to be’ “sinistrado faialense” – that’s the question!)
It is never too late to repeat that “Capelinhos/57” was indeed an enormous, scaring, and perhaps challenging event that brought anxiety and uncertainty to the islanders. Fortunately, the record shows that such unexpected natural disaster brought no loss of human lives: only social desolation, psychological astonishment, and a sense of irreparable incredulity…
The records indicate that 700 residents from Capelo plus 500 residents from Praia do Norte, and about 300 from the island of Flores formed the very first group of immigrants: most of them settled in New England (Bristol, East Providence, Cambridge, Brockton, and New Bedford).
Until approximately 1965, immigration had been primarily studied by sociologists, followed by historians who began developing the “immigrant paradigm” as the basis for its study. The “immigrant paradigm “states that immigrants were assimilated into the U.S. mainstream accompanied by the submersion or ‘death’ of their ethnicity.’
Interestingly, the Azorean immigrant communities have instinctively rejected such a “paradigm”. After all, the United States of America represents more than a flag or a geographic territory – “is an experience in transit not yet finished”. California is the “state of mind of the Union”: historically viewed as a mythical golden gate to the islanders as a whole, principally those natives from central and western islands of the Azorean archipelago.
After the 1960s, a different generation of islander arrived and settled in areas previously chosen by their ancestors. Despite their native commonalities, these new ‘waves’ of immigrants didn’t accept ethnic claustrophobia. With just a particular and rather dramatic exception: they definitely disliked to participate in local elections.
Rural people viewed politics as an avoidable kind of social leprosy that generates corruption. The Portuguese community was not politically sensitive to participate, even peripherally, in Californian process of democratic awakening. On the other hand, the Azorean immigrants always kept an ethnic distance from Mexican braceros.
Interestingly, both central and regional Portuguese governments have become masters of political paternalism: repetitive patriotic exaltation of the immigrant character; selected aggrandizement of institutional elitism, which generates political loyalty magnanimity subsidized.
Psychologically, a typical Azorean male farmer wouldn’t allow their “tears” to be noticed by strangers, and even by their siblings: laughing could be a “public” event, but visual expressions of emotional suffering must always be a recondite matter… The Portuguese community in California is generally very proud of its civic and political leaders. Most of them lack ethnic charisma and political sophistication, but their civic determination still constitutes an example of service and sacrifice. Unfortunately, social alienation as well as political indifference was mostly motivated by the same classic trilogy: apolitical cultural background; pride bairrista (in the United States, each ethnic club is an island surrounded by America); civic timidity and lack of a common agenda based upon ethnic pragmatism. As far as multi-ethnical relationships, there is a silent tendency to adhere to the dangerous principle “separate but equal”.
Cesar Chavez was a non-violent leader and the historical founder of UFWU “United Farm Workers Union” and later integrated in AFL-CIO; when he was jailed (1970), the Mexican braceros strikers were violently dispersed with insecticide jetting. At that time, even the Mexican college students were invited to actively participate in the struggle: when Chavez organized his famous 300 miles march toward Sacramento, many Mexican college students proudly marched under his banner. Incidentally, the record doesn’t show Azorean immigrant gesture of ethnic solidarity…
Again, none of the above comments indicate finger-pointing denunciations of social subservient behavior, because no one forgets the Portuguese immigrants’ cultural uniqueness, namely their physical and psychological courage to confront and eventually change adverse events. Needless to repeat what the record shows: the Portuguese immigrants are not an inferior cast: sometimes their persistent differences represent a political price, whose payment, although reluctantly, they continue to pay…

      C.D.C. – California Democratic Council – 1960s
                      - Short life, despite its initial auspicious dreams! 
      North and central cities such as San Leandro, Oakland, S. Francisco, and later San Jose were considered important geographic references to the immigrant civic vocabulary. On the other hand, the community residing in San Diego is mainly integrated by people who speak the salty language of the ocean. Thus, not surprisingly, the common denominator has been that of celebrating traditions: Holy Ghost festivities, culinary festivals, folklore parades, bull fight rodeos (which have been translated into artistic-religious activities, thus surpassing undesirable clashes with zealots of main stream legalism); the Azorean “sweet bread”, the Portuguese “green soup” and cod fish rissole – are some of the widely known “politically correct” ethnic dishes….
        P.A.P.A.  – “Portuguese-American for Political Action” represents another failed tentative to congregate immigrants under a fragile political ethnic banner. The so-called old guard (immigrants arrived before Capelinhos/57), were viewed as obedient perpetuators of authoritarian Portuguese regime; and those who have arrived after, felt better prepared to handle creative social turbulence inherent to democratic change. Curiously, both groups were profoundly disassociated from democratic struggle.  Under P.A.P.A.’s political roof, for instance, there were singular moments of hope due to the cooperation of smart public servants (Joe Vasconcelos, Joe Freitas, Frank Sousa, and others).  Unfortunately, some impatient fellows didn’t possess enough ideological training to attain advantageous goals: people became intimidated by their wild militancy. Not surprisingly, P.A.P.A. ended fatally poisoned by political radicalism, and consequently did “evaporate” from the dormant political scene.  
     In summary: there is a persistent political vacuum within the immigrant communities on both east and west coasts. Fortunately, some of the so-called brotherhood fraternities are still alive and well. For instance: 
     Luso-American Fraternal Federation (*)
    U.P.E.C. - União Portuguesa do Estado da California(*) 
    I.D.E.S -  Irmandade do Divino Espírito Santo
    S.E.S    -  Sociedade do Espírito Santo 
    S.P.R.S.I – Sociedade Portuguesa da Rainha Santa Isabel (women, exclusive)
    U.P.P.E.C. – União Portuguesa Protectora do Estado da California (women, ex.)
    (*) first two of the above institutions are historically considered ethnic references. 

     Incidentally, and regardless marginal considerations about ideological or partisan preferences, there are some Azorean immigrants who deserve a faire reference. For instance, Carlos Almeida: his civic record could testify a legacy of frustrating difficulties between pseudo-aristocratic Luso traditions versus the main stream political pragmatism. 

Some members of the Portuguese community didn’t give up. They managed to create a common-ground editing and publishing books regarding the Azorean historic heritage: José Couto Rodrigues, Tony Goulart are two enthusiastic pioneers who have accepted a mission to honor our traditions, exempted them from partisan glorification.
Later, in 1991, The Portuguese Business Association (Santa Clara Valley) was publicly introduced as a huge generator of ethnic expectations. It was then the right time to reach an arranging agreement with the Association of Portuguese-American Chambers of Commerce (APACC). It didn’t work! Why? Again, in some cases, dubious militancy of political tokenism poisoned the foundations of ethnic political credo. Where there is immediate reachable material abundance, the political angle to debate ethnic identity becomes slimmer…
A brief reference to the Portuguese Caucus in Sacramento, in which Assemblymen such as Dennis Cardosa, Jim Costa, Fred Aguiar, John Dutra, Rusty Areias, and Henry Mello (and State Senator John Vasconcelos) despite their bargaining political skills, seem to be emotionally detached from the hidden social conflict s of the Portuguese immigration as a whole.
Finally, the time has come to make a brief commentary about PALCUS and its institutional equidistance from associative parochialism. PALCUS is still a terrific ethnic bridge. I would like to believe that its ethereal aristocratic ethnic distance (kind of XXI century council of ethnic cardinals) is a transitory and rather corrigible factor. Thus, I would like to suggest that political relationship between Portugal and its immigrant communities shouldn’t be circumscribed to academic gurus or agents of entrepreneurial feudalism…

Final comments:
In California (as well as in other areas of the United States) the Portuguese Community leadership seems to enjoy a glorified status, unilaterally conferred by Lusitanian neo-colonial policy. Each Portuguese government (be it regional or central) cordially imposes its own agenda, unilaterally selecting loyal fellowship to implement their “immigrant” priorities. Political patronage demands silent obedience…
In summary, we are not living in a perfect society, and “an excess of virtue can become a vice”. Each administration imposes its own methodology; political failures from the past can be considered important roads of apprenticeship. The ethnic political debilities cannot be curable, but are certainly treatable. Thus gradual integration of the Portuguese Immigrant Community within the USA’s democratic spectrum will hopefully be attained: political emancipation with ethnic pride…

joão-luis de medeiros

(a) Biographic notes will be separately sent.