Portuguese Experience in the United States
The first references to Portuguese
presence in the United States were recorded before the
American Revolution (Library of Congress, 1998, June 10).
They relate to a group of Portuguese and Spanish Sephardic
Jews fleeing religious persecution. Their journey took them
from Portugal through Holland and Brazil before they arrived
in New York. (Stillman & Stillman, 1999). Mathias
de Sousa, believed to be of Jewish decent, is deemed to
be the first documented Portuguese settler in present-day
United States, arriving in Maryland in 1634 (Library of Congress,
1998, June 10). The Sephardim
Touro Congregation dedicated the first Jewish synagogue
in the United States in 1663 in Newport, Rhode Island (Library
of Congress, 1998, July 31b).
It was not until after 1870 that a sizable permanent Portuguese
community in the United States gained a foothold (Baganha,
1990). The US Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS)
first recorded the Portuguese presence in the United States
between 1820 and 1835, when 35 Portuguese nationals entered
Between 1870 and 1910, the resident Portuguese population
grew by approximately 5.6% per year. In 1910, the 78,000 Portuguese
in the United States represented a number eight times larger
than that registered in 1870, and 61 times larger than that
On arrival, the preferential areas of settlement were New
England (Santos, 1995d), California
(Santos, 1995c), and Hawaii
(Island Routes, 2004), each of which offered quite different
economic opportunities (Baganha, 1990). The European Portuguese
to the United States (Santos, 1995b) has been mainly from
the Azores and Madeira islands; the Portuguese immigrant experience
to North America relates primarily to the Azorean presence
(Baganha, 1990; Serpa, 1978; Williams, 1982) although there
is a sizable immigration from Continental Portugal and Madeira.
Williams (1982) describes three distinct stages of Azorean
immigration to the United States:
The first immigration stage, from 1880 to
1870, related to the whaling
ventures in New England and California and the sugar cane
exploration in Hawaii (Santos, 1995a).
The second immigration stage, from 1870
to 1920, comprised the years that followed the decline of
the New England whaling enterprise and the Gold Rush in California.
In 1880, over 60% of the Portuguese immigrants worked on farms
in California. Subsequently, a large number became involved
in the self-supporting, small-scale production of fruits and
vegetables, and the raising of sheep. Between 1920 and 1960,
the Portuguese also became prominent in the dairy industry
and comprised 65% of California’s dairy farmers. On
the East Coast, early Portuguese immigrants settled mainly
in New Bedford and Fall River, Massachusetts and in several
parts of Rhode Island. For the most part, they found work
in farming and the textile industry (Williams, 1982).
The third immigration stage, from 1957 to
1980, was caused by the 1951 volcanic eruptions in the Azorean
island of Faial, which displaced 25,000 people. Responding
to the volcanic disaster, the United States Congress passed
the Azorean Refugee Acts of 1958-1960. This resulted in an
increase in Azorean immigration during the following ten years
of an average of 10,400 people annually. Most of them took
factory jobs, while some integrated into the small business
According to INS sources, by 1969 the Portuguese were the
seventh largest group of new immigrants to the United States.
Indeed, during the 70’s an unprecedented number of 101,710
Portuguese were estimated to have entered the country. These
numbers have declined dramatically in subsequent decades.
Between 1991 and 1998 the number of Portuguese
immigrants declined to 20,436 per year (U. S. Dept. of
Homeland Security, 2003).
The 2000 United States Census reports that 1,177,112 persons
ancestry were living in the United States (U. S. Census
Bureau, 2000). States with the largest Portuguese-American
population include California (330,974); Massachusetts (279,722);
Rhode Island (91,445 4); New Jersey (72,196); and Florida
(48,974) (Euro americans, 2000). The Portuguese-American
communities are vibrant and contributing to American society
in a variety of ways as laborers, homeowners, taxpayers, consumers,
etc. (Euro-American.net, 2004).