Volcanoes, earthquakes and the desire for a better life caused a major emigration wave to California. Travel with us to the Glory Days.

The Migration Waves

From 1864 to 1973, over 2 million emigrants left Portugal. Next to Ireland, Portugal had the largest number of emigrants per capita. Of the 2 million, 160 thousand went to the United States. It has been said that the “Portuguese principal export is its people”. There were essentially 3 emigration waves: 1820 – 1870, 1870 – 1930 and 1960 to the present. 

Documented modern Portuguese emigration to California started in 1814. Minho native José Rocha, born in 1790, deserted English schooner Columbia in Monterey California. It is said his skills earned him protection from the Los Angeles Missionaries.  Rocha built a house in the center of the pueblo, raised a herd of 600 cattle in Rancho LA Brea, married the daughter of the settlement’s police chief and died at just 47. The home he built later served as the Los Angeles City Hall. About 20 Portuguese are documented in California prior to the Gold Rush of 1849. Native of São Jorge, Azores, Joseph Miller (José de Sousa Neves) arrived in 1836 and participated in the takeover of the port of Monterey in 1846.

The latest wave of mass Portuguese migration began in 1958, after the first Azorean Refugee Act, sponsored by senators John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts and John Pastore of Rhode Island. Numerous refugees from the Capelinhos volcanic eruptions came to America. Many of these emigrants set down roots in California. Two of the main leaders in this initiative were António da Rosa Furtado and Manuel Cristiano da Silva. 

Most people, like my family, came here with only what they could carry in their pockets. The Portuguese communities have been in California for a long time. I think it’s a testament to show what this country has done for immigrants around the world.”

Devin Nunes – Congressman 

We had a second opportunity with the volcano and the sinistrados, it brought new blood to America. These immigrants brought with them their traditions. In the summer, as my friends prepared to go to Disneyland, I was 9 when it opened,  we were going to the fraternal conventions.

Joanne Câmara – Historian

The Azorean Refugee Act and Reunification Act by John F. Kennedy (also called Carta de Chamada) brought thousands of Azoreans to California after the Capelinhos Volcano.”

Diniz Borges – Honorary Cônsul

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