Colloquium provides insight into social movements and civic engagement in the Portuguese-speaking world


DARTMOUTH – Portuguese-Americans exhibit high levels of integration into Massachusetts society and are politically engaged, but they still retain their ethnic specificity which continues to manifest itself along cultural and civic lines and some believe there are still prejudice against their native language and culture. These are the preliminary results of the “Assessing Civic Engagement of Portuguese-Americans in Massachusetts” project, which were presented by Dr. Daniela Melo, a political scientist who teaches social sciences at Boston University, at an international symposium organized by the Center for UMass Dartmouth. Portuguese Studies and Culture on April 8 and 9.

“Our project asks how the Portuguese immigrant community has adapted to life in Massachusetts,” said Melo, who is collaborating on this project with Dr. Paul Manuel, director of the leadership program at the School of Public Affairs at the University. American University. “We found that they helped others and felt as ‘at home’ in their state and city as they did in their ancestral Portuguese homes.”

For this study, Melo and Manuel designed a questionnaire, which was emailed to Portuguese-Americans across the country with the help of community actors who shared their contact lists with them.

“Portuguese-Americans are politically engaged inside and outside the Portuguese community,” Melo said, noting that 40% of respondents said they were very interested in politics at the national and local levels.

The survey also showed that the majority of Portuguese-Americans are active in various forms of institutional and extra-institutional political engagement and regularly vote in US elections.

“The numbers to vote are incredible. Portuguese-Americans tend to vote at very, very high rates,” Melo said, pointing out that in some places they vote at higher rates than the local population. “So it’s a population that tends to use their vote.”

Melo said she was surprised at the number of respondents to the questionnaire who believe that there are prejudices based on the Portuguese language and ethnicity.

“I actually expected the numbers to be lower,” she said. “While there are a fair number of respondents, around 30-35%, who say there is no bias, the rest of the respondents actually say they still experience or perceive there is prejudice… but less than 10% of respondents perceive that there is a lot or a lot of discrimination.

Political scientist Daniela Melo presents the project “Assessing Civic Engagement of Portuguese-Americans in Massachusetts" April 9 during the international symposium on "Social movements and civic engagement in the Portuguese-speaking world" organized by the Center for Portuguese Studies and Culture.

According to the Census Bureau’s 2019 Annual American Community Survey, there were 274,663 residents of Massachusetts, who claim Portuguese ancestry, although the actual number is believed to be higher than reported. Of these, 54,475 were born abroad (26.5%) and 40,048 were naturalized.

“When we look at Bristol County, those numbers go up tremendously,” she said, pointing out that there are 139,235 Portuguese-Americans in that county, representing 51% of all Portuguese-Americans residing in the county. the Commonwealth and 25% of the population of Bristol County. .

For this project, Melo also wanted to know how many active Portuguese organizations exist in Massachusetts.

“It was incredibly difficult to get that information,” she admitted. “Nobody seemed to have it. I got information from the consulate in New Bedford, but couldn’t get information from the consulate in Boston.

As a result, she said she spent weeks Googling Portuguese organizations and calling to see if they were still active.

“I arrived at the final count of 188 organizations,” she said, noting that more than 120 are religious or cultural organizations, but there are a growing number of academic/Portuguese-speaking organizations. “But if I have one thing to take away from this, it’s that the Portuguese community really needs to understand how big it is and how committed it is, and it needs some kind of place centralized where she can understand the scope of her organizations at the state level.”

Melo said his project is currently on hold due to the pandemic.

“We hope to get it back very soon,” she said. “It may be a project that we expand to the northeast or perhaps the whole of the United States. We haven’t quite decided yet.

Melo was among dozens of scholars and authors from the Portuguese-speaking world who use the power of the written word to promote political and social change who participated in the colloquium centered on the theme “Social movements and civic engagement in the Portuguese-speaking world”. .

Attorney John F. Quinn, who is director of public interest law programs at UMass School of Law – Dartmouth, delivers the keynote address at a panel discussion on "Public service as civic engagement within the Portuguese diaspora," within the framework of the international symposium on "Social movements and civic engagement in the Portuguese-speaking world" organized by the Center for Portuguese Studies and Culture.  Also pictured, L-R, State Sen. Michael Rodrigues (D-Mass.);  State Representative António FD Cabral (D-Mass.);  State Senator Jessica de la Cruz (RR.I.);  State Representative David Vieira (R-Mass.);  and breeder Meagan English Braga (Falmouth, Mass.).

Prominent Portuguese novelist and author Lidia Jorge and acclaimed Brazilian writer, educator and literary critic Noemi Jaffe were among the notable list of colloquium participants from several countries who took part in panels and panel discussions.

“The impact of social movements and civic engagement within and across national borders is a hot topic. One that deserves further consideration,” said Dr. Paula Noversa, director of the Center for Portuguese Studies and Culture, who also served as moderator. “The aim of the colloquium is to bring together people from different fields such as writers, academics and politicians to discuss the multifaceted aspects of social movements and civic engagement across the Portuguese-speaking world.”

Some of the topics covered included: “Brazilian Digital Literature: Writers as Agents of Social Change”, “Social Movements in Portuguese-Speaking Africa”, “Civic Engagement and Activism in Portugal” and “The Female Voice in Portuguese-Speaking Literatures” .

The symposium ended with a round table on “Public service as civic engagement within the Portuguese diaspora”. Panelists included State Sen. Michael Rodrigues (D-Mass.); State Representative António FD Cabral (D-Mass.); State Representative David Vieira (R-Mass.); Selectwoman Meagan English Braga (Falmouth, Mass.); and State Senator Jessica de la Cruz (RR.I.).

Attorney John F. Quinn, who is director of public interest law programs at UMass Law School – Dartmouth, delivered the commencement address on behalf of UMass Dartmouth Chancellor Mark Fuller .

“The subject of public service and civic engagement is very timely and particularly within the Portuguese community here on the south coast,” Quinn said, noting that he has his roots in the island of Terceira. “They are subject matter experts not by their words but by their actions. UMass Dartmouth deeply values ​​the importance of civic engagement and our roots are a place where Portuguese community, culture and education can thrive.

Panelists said being part of the Portuguese community helped them become lawmakers.

Braga, who is in her sixth term as coach, said the Portuguese language and culture were very dominant in her family’s life and she grew up feeling that we really need to take care of each other. “As an elected official, you very much can bring that sense of personal connection,” she said. attention and connection. I think a lot of that comes from the upbringing that I had.

Vieira, which represents the 3rd district of Barnstable, has its roots in Maia in São Miguel and Chaves in mainland Portugal. He said he learned valuable lessons working with his family on their farm.

“You reap what you have, that was not only the most important lesson on the pitch, but it’s the most important lesson on Beacon Hill,” he said, emphasizing the importance of values Portuguese that were instilled in him and relationships. “We, as members of the Portuguese diaspora, can bring this relationship,” he said. “We can also bring that strong voice. We can discuss, raise our voices.

Several panelists noted that the Portuguese take voting very seriously and that many vote for the individual and not for the party.

After the symposium, Dr. Noversa said she was very pleased with the results of the event.

“At the beginning of the colloquium, I said that it was a new approach. It was a humanistic approach because we were bringing together scholars and artists in the form of writers, and I felt it would lead to a more nuanced understanding of the issues that arose in terms of social movement and civic engagement. .

According to her, the symposium proved that this was true.

“Everyone enjoyed every aspect of the panels. Academics have indeed learned from artists and artists have learned from academics. For me, it was a big success,” she said.

When asked what she thought of Melo’s findings regarding bias, Dr. Noversa said she was not surprised with the results.

“I think the prejudice against the Portuguese still exists in this region,” she said. “I think we, as a community, always have to fight for respect from other groups. I think we must continue to promote Portuguese culture. Frankly, I think there is still a lot of ignorance regarding the depth, quality and beauty of Portuguese culture.

Lurdes C. da Silva can be contacted at [email protected] To read more stories about the Portuguese-speaking community in English and Portuguese, please visit


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