Portuguese economy was not very industrialized
during the 19th century, therefore, much of the
population survived by fishing, farming, and mining.
Fishing and farming could be volatile; bad crops
and over-fishing plagued many communities. The
primary reason Portuguese emigrated was to escape
the unstable economy. Reuniting with family in
America and avoidance of the military draft were
also reasons many families left, but were not
as influential as the desire for economic betterment.
The earlier Portuguese immigrants used their native
skills to do similar jobs in the United States,
such as fishing and farming. These occupations
were later overshadowed by the popularity of factory
work. Textile mills were abundant in New England
during the second half of the 19th century. Many
immigrants were drawn to this industrialization,
including the Portuguese. In New Bedford, one
of the major cities of Portuguese settlement,
fourteen textile mills were in operation by 1900.
Twenty years later, that number had grown to sixty-three.(8)
As shown in the two pie charts, Portuguese immigrants
gradually shifted to factory work during the first
decade of the 20th century. By 1915, the majority
of Portuguese in New England were factory workers.
Factory jobs had drawn Portuguese to New England,
but the community was what kept them there. When
many of New England's textile mills moved to the
South, the Portuguese immigrants did not follow.
Instead, they took other types of jobs, such as
retail, keeping the New England Portuguese community
in tact and ready for the next wave of immigration.
Portuguese sense of community was, and still is,
very strong in New England. One Cape Verdean-American
wrote in her memoir; "We called all those women
who were friends of my mother 'aunts' in those
This reflects the close-knit
nature of their communities. From the beginning
of Portuguese immigration, the people settled
into very specific enclaves. Those from the mainland
settled with others from the mainland, Azoreans
settled with other Azoreans from their specific
island, and Cape Verdeans settled with other Cape
Verdeans. This created an even more complex and
interesting Portuguese society that had characteristics
of all the different groups. One late 20th century
Azorean immigrant described the Portuguese as
"a divided community," and speculated that "If
our community would get together, not just the
Azoreans, but the whole Portuguese community,
we could have some power here."(10)
Nevertheless, the Portuguese valued their communities
immensely, even if it was just their specific
of the most visual and important aspects of the
Portuguese community were Churches and Mutual
Aid Societies. The Portuguese immigrants were
mostly Roman Catholic and the church played a
major role in their lives. The first immigrants
did not have a church of their own to attend,
so they often attended services conducted in English.
Unlike Portugal, the United States had no national
church, so members had to finance the construction
of churches themselves, which was often very difficult
for immigrants and did not happen immediately.
The first Portuguese priest in New England arrived
in New Bedford in 1867 and created the parish
of São João Baptista.(11)
Portuguese parish was created in Boston around
the same time. Providence, Rhode Island received
its own Portuguese church in 1885. Another element
of the Portuguese-Catholic religious education
was the Parochial school. The first Portuguese
parochial school was created at the Holy Ghost
Parish in Fall River in 1912.(12)
aid societies, also called benevolent societies,
were another important part of the Portuguese
community. These societies were created to offer
financial and emotional support for the immigrants.
By paying a fee to the society, the immigrant
would become eligible for certain benefits, including
sick and death benefits. This early form of insurance
was very important in tying the community together.
The meetings of these communities offered more
than just financial benefits, they became places
for people to meet and share news. The first Portuguese
benevolent society was created in New Orleans
in 1847. The second, called the Sociedade Portugueza
de Beneficencia de Massachusetts, was created
in Boston in 1866. It quickly grew to over 400
members by 1872. Other Portuguese communities
in New England developed their own mutual aid
societies. The Portuguese immigrants also branched
out to create other social clubs and newspapers
that catered to their own towns. These institutions
created a permanent Portuguese community in New
England that drew new immigrants during the 20th
century keeping the cohesiveness of the Portuguese
immigration came to a standstill during the 1920s
because of new immigration laws. These new laws
put a limit on immigration based on quotas for
each country. Therefore, between 1921 and 1958,
most of the growth of the Portuguese population
in the United States was due to natural increase.
The second wave of Portuguese mass immigration
began in the late 1950s and lasted through the
1970s. Between 1957 and 1958, the Azores were
rocked with a series of earthquakes caused by
an underground volcano. There was extensive damage
to the island and the economy. In 1958, Senators
John Pastore of Rhode Island and John Kennedy
of Massachusetts cosponsored a congressional bill
that allowed for Azorean refugees to relocate
to the United States. The Azorean Refugee Act
permitted the issue of 1,500 Azorean visas in
addition to the established quota of 503.(13)
In 1960, the Azorean Refugee Act was amended and
500 more visas were added. In 1965, the Immigration
and Nationality Act put an end to that system.
Thousands of Portuguese immigrants came to the
United States during the 1960s and 1970s to escape
the poor economy that resulted in the aftermath
of the natural disasters. New England Portuguese
communities were flooded with new immigrants.
Based on statistics taken in 1972, most of the
second wave Portuguese already had family members
in the United States.(14)
migration is the same type of migration that attracted
the first wave of Portuguese immigrants to New
England. Between 1965 and 1975, over 120,000 Portuguese
people came to America, and over sixty percent
settled in the Portuguese enclaves of New England.(15)
immigration slowed during the 1970s when Portugal's
fascist regime fell and the economy improved.
However, New England continues to draw new immigrants
from Portugal, as well as other Portuguese-speaking
countries such as the Cape Verde Islands and Brazil.
Even as late as 1980, Portuguese people viewed
America as a land of opportunity. "In 1980, we
came to America in search of a better way of life…I
had heard of America, and thought that when people
came here, they would become rich."(16)
This woman and her family settled in Taunton,
Massachusetts, hoping for more financial opportunities
for themselves and better educational opportunities
for their children. Portuguese immigrants are
still the regions largest immigrant group, although
most (about three-quarters) arrived over twenty
Fall River and New
Bedford still contain the largest concentration
of Portuguese in the United States. Over twenty-six
percent of New England's Portuguese live within
those two cities, and an additional twenty percent
live in nearby towns. Unlike most of the older
European immigrant groups, the Portuguese have
remained in concentrated communities. Portuguese
immigration is slowing and the number of Portuguese
immigrants is decreasing, but the native-born
generations continue to hold the enclaves together.
The Portuguese language has drawn Brazilian and
Cape Verdean immigrants to New England in recent
years. Although these two groups of immigrants
are significantly different than the Portuguese,
the common language has given these new immigrants
a place where they can fit in easier. Between
1990 and 2000, Brazilians became one of the fastest
growing immigrant groups in New England, largely
because of the appeal that the familiar Portuguese
Portuguese have a relationship with New England
that is different from all other ethnic groups.
Small enclaves of Azorean fishermen and whalers
created a foundation that helped facilitate
growth of Portuguese communities when large
numbers of immigrants arrived. The Portuguese
sense of family, community, and religion created
a strong succession of chain migration that
has lasted for over 200 years. Although Portuguese
immigration is presently losing ground to
other immigrant groups, new waves of Brazilian
immigration is filling the gap and creating
a new culture with Portuguese roots in New
Gilbert, Dorothy Ann. Recent Portuguese Immigrants
to Fall River, Massachusetts: An Analysis
Economic Success, New York: AMS Press, 1989.
Halter, Marilyn. Between Race and Ethnicity:
Cape Verdean American Immigrants, 1860-1965,
University of Illinois Press, 1993.
Lopes, Belmira Nunes. A Portuguese colonial
in America, Belmira Nunes Lopes :Tthe Autobiography
Cape Verdean American, Pittsburgh: Latin American
Literary Review Press, 1982
Marcuss, Mamie, and Borgos, Ricardo. "Who
Are New England's Immigrants?" Communities
Banking, Fall (2004), 10-15.
McCabe, Marsha L. and Thomas, Joseph D. ed.
Portuguese Spinner: An American Story, New
Spinner Publications, Inc., 1998.
Pap, Leo. The Portuguese Americans, Boston:
Twayne Publishers, 1981.
Santos, Robert L. Azoreans to California:
A History of Migration and Settlement, Denair,
Cass Publications, 1995.
Taft, Donald R. Two Portuguese Communities
in New England, New York: AMS Press, 1967.
Ussach, Steven Samuel. "The New England Portuguese:
A Plural Society Within A Plural Society,"
Societies 6 (1975): 47-51.