Portuguese immigration

2011-02-24 11:23:04

The Portuguese have a long tradition of migration—to Brazil, to North America, and to other European countries. Yet of more than 1.5 million Portuguese emigrants between 1880 and 1960, less than 5 percent immigrated to North America. According to the U.S. census of 2000 and the Canadian census of 2001, 1,177,112 Americans and 357,690 Canadians claimed Portuguese ancestry. The largest concentrations of Portuguese Americans lived in New York City, New England, and California. The largest Portuguese communities in Canada were in Toronto and Montreal.
Portugal occupies 35,300 square miles on the Iberian Peninsula in the extreme southwest of Europe, including the Azores and Madeira Islands. Portugal faces the Atlantic on the west and south and borders Spain on the north and east. In 2002, the population was estimated at 10,066,253. About 92 percent are ethnic Portuguese, with the rest of diverse groups, mostly from Portugal’s African and Brazilian empire. The chief religion is Roman Catholicism. Most of the Iberian Peninsula was conquered by the Muslim Moors in the eighth century, and local rulers spent the next 700 years driving them out. In the process, Henry of Burgundy was made count of Portucale by King Alfonso VI of Leon and Castile. By the 12th century, Portugal was recognized as an independent kingdom, though it sometimes fell under the political influence of its more powerful neighbor. The Portuguese had a rich seafaring tradition and took the lead in European exploration from the first decade of the 15th century. By the mid-16th century their empire included Brazil, Guinea, Angola, Mozambique, Ceylon, Formosa, and the East Indies. With a small population and relatively few resources, Portugal declined as an international power beginning in the 17th century. A republican revolution in 1910 drove out King Manoel II from power. For much of the 20th century, Portugal was ruled by dictators or military regimes. In 1982, the constitution was revised, however, leading to greater political stability.
Portuguese immigration to the United States was in many ways defined by Portugal’s unique geographical positioning in the Atlantic Ocean. The earliest substantial immigration was from the colonial territory of Cape Verde, followed by a new wave beginning in the 1870s from the Azore Islands, then finally by a larger mainland and Madeira Island group from about 1900 on. Once in the United States, however, they tended to identify with the larger Portuguese community. The first Portuguese known in the Americas were Sephardic Jews who settled in Dutch New Amsterdam (later New York City) in the 1650s. One Aaron Lopez became a successful merchant after settling in Newport, Rhode Island, in 1752, and through him a labor connection was established that brought a small number of Portuguese immigrants in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Most of these were whalers and seamen, including Cape Verdeans of mixed black and Portuguese parentage, who eventually settled in port towns, including New Bedford and Edgartown in Massachusetts; on Long Island, in New York; and Stonington, Connecticut (see Cape Verdean immigration). In the 1870s, significant numbers of Azorean Portuguese began to immigrate to the United States, mainly for economic opportunities. Significant numbers also immigrated to Hawaii (then the Sandwich Islands), where they worked on sugar plantations. Portuguese immigration from the mainland began around the turn of the 20th century, peaking at almost 90,000 between 1910 and 1920. Some Portuguese immigrants continued work in the fishing industry, but most settled in mill towns, such as Fall River and Taunton, Massachusetts, or worked as industrial laborers in Providence and Pawtucket, Rhode Island.
Two pieces of legislation greatly reduced Portuguese immigration in the 1920s. First, the Immigration Act of 1917 required a literacy test, which few Portuguese could meet. Then the Johnson-Reed Act of 1924 established a low quota of emigrants from Portugal. Between 1931 and 1940, only 3,329 were admitted. In 1958, the United States passed the Azorean Refugee Act, admitting 4,800 immigrants from the island of Fayal in the wake of volcanic eruptions and earthquakes. With passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which abolished racial quotas, there was a great resurgence of Portuguese immigration. During the following 20 years, almost 200,000 came to the United States. Between 1991 and 2002, the annual average immigration from Portugal was little more than 2,000.
Portuguese immigration to Canada was much slower in beginning, but the official numbers are generally considered to be greatly understated. Portuguese fishermen had plied Canadian waters since the 15th century but left no permanent settlements. Between 1900 and 1950, only about 500 Portuguese came to Canada, many illegally. In the 1950s, however, Canada openly sought agricultural and construction workers, and the Portuguese were eager to fill the positions. Almost 140,000 settled in Canada in the 1960s and 1970s, the peak period of immigration. The majority were single men from the Azores, and they lived in poor housing in the inner cities. Although they gradually progressed in the economy, most Portuguese remained out of the Canadian cultural mainstream at the turn of the 21st century. From the 1970s on, Portuguese immigration to Canada steadily declined. Of the 153,535 Portuguese immigrants in Canada in 2001, about 43,000 came between 1981 and 2001.