Cape Verdean immigration

2011-02-08 10:24:13

Although Cape Verdeans have never constituted a large immigrant group in North America, they formed an important cog in the 19th-century Atlantic whaling industry before finally settling in New England. In the U.S. census of 2000, 77,203 Americans claimed Cape Verdean descent, though the actual figure is much higher. Most settled in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. According to the Canadian census of 2001, there were only 320 Cape Verdeans in Canada, though here too the figure is likely low. Most live in Toronto or Montreal.
Cape Verde is group of Atlantic islands occupying 1,600 square miles off the west coast of Africa between 15 and 17 degrees north latitude. The nearest countries are Mauritania and Senegal to the east. Cape Verde comprises 15 stark volcanic islands populated by an estimated 405,163 citizens. Portuguese settlers began to colonize the islands in the 15th century and soon began to import African slaves. Consequently, 70 percent of the people of Cape Verde are Creole mulattos, while Africans comprise the rest. Roman Catholicism is the principal religion. Through a regular series of droughts, imposition of the slave trade until 1878, and oppressive Portuguese labor legislation well into the 20th century, many Cape Verdeans chose to seek their fortunes at sea on American whaling ships, staying in New England to harvest cranberries. The earliest Cape Verdean settlers arrived during the mid-19th century, but they did not come in significant number until the early 20th century, when Cape Verdean seaman were routinely carrying laborers from their homeland to New Bedford, Massachusetts, and Providence, Rhode Island.
Until the restrictive Emergency Quota Act of 1921 and Johnson-Reed Act of 1924, Cape Verdeans arrived freely as Portuguese subjects. Thereafter, almost none were allowed in. During the 1920s and 1930s, many of those already in the country moved to Ohio and Michigan to work in the auto and steel industries. This situation remained until 1975 when Cape Verde gained its independence. Under provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, their potential allotment of visas immediately rose from 200 to 20,000.
The number of Cape Verdeans in both the United States and Canada is significantly higher than official figures suggest for a number of reasons. Until 1975, most carried Portuguese passports, reported themselves as Portuguese, and often associated with Portuguese communities in North America. Immigration agents usually grouped them with Portuguese immigrants, or in the ambiguous “Other Atlantic Islands” category, making exact counts difficult. In census questions, some claimed African-American or African-Canadian status. With the coming of independence, a newer generation asserted their Cape Verdean identity and began to speak their native Crioulo, a distinct creolized language based on Portuguese. It has been estimated that between 43,000 and 85,000 Cape Verdeans immigrated to the United States between 1820 and 1976, based on a percentage of total Portuguese immigrants.
In North America, Cape Verdeans, were both oppressed as Africans and isolated within the black community as Roman Catholics. As a result, they tended to maintain distinct communities dominated by extended families. Given their grouping with European Portuguese immigrants prior to 1975, it is impossible to say how many Americans are descended from Cape Verdeans, but generally accepted estimates place the figure at about 400,000. About 10,000 Cape Verdeans immigrated to the United States between 1992 and 2002. The total immigrant population in Canada is a little more than 300, with about one-third coming during the 1990s.