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

PORTUGUESE IN, The History of Generations

PORTUGUESE IN, The History of Generations

There were three major waves of Portuguese immigrants to different parts of the world. The first wave was from 1820 to 1870; the second from 1870 to 1930 and final wave from 1960 to the present. In all of these waves, over 2 million immigrants left Portugal, which next to Ireland, Portugal had the largest number of immigrants per capita during these time periods. Of the 2 million, approximately 160,000 emigrated to the United States. During this same period of massive emigration out of Portugal, the country’s principal export was often characterized by the press and being “its people.”

On Tuesday, June 27, 1542, with sails spread and a favorable wind, San Salvador and Victoria set out from the west coast of Mexico. The fleet continued along the coast when the expedition sighted a “very good harbor” which Cabrilho named San Miguel. He was the first European to sight what would later be renamed San Diego Bay.

It was to a Portuguese that the very heart of California, along Drake’s Bay, owed its first European occupation and incorporation in the civilized world. For the past 50 years, the Portuguese, along with the Native Americans, Spaniards and Mexicans, continue to pay tribute to the arrival of the first Europeans in California.

The erection of the Cabrilho monument and the move to recognize the heroic explorer came to symbolize the Portuguese in California and their integration into American Society. The Cabrilho Civic Clubs of California were founded with pride that a Portuguese mariner had discovered their State and due to the concern that this fact was not widely known.
The 17th century Portuguese writer, Antonio Vieira wrote, “God gave the Portuguese a small country as a cradle, but the whole world as their grave”.
All Portuguese and Spanish possessions, which included California, were under one king for sixty years.

Nineteenth century life in Portugal was the product of over three hundred years of struggling to make a living from the soil in an isolated environment. Especially on the Islands of Azores and Madeira. Whenever life on the islands became impossible, people left. Overpopulation, economic crises, and lack of outside involvement in the archipelago, have all provoked emigration.

The first Azorean settlers were a mixed group of people from the Portuguese provinces of Algarve and Minho. Madeirans, Moorish prisoners, black slaves, French, Italians, Scots, English, and  Flemish were among the early settlers. There were criminals, Spanish clergy, Jews, soldiers, government officials, European merchants and sugar cane growers.

Because of the isolated nature of the islands, harshness of the land, and at times climate, all settlers had to work together to survive.

From Portugal came a group of immigrants who made little recognized contributions to this country. Their story is unique. Although many ethnic groups shared these experiences, for the individuals involved, it was a personal experience and those memories remained with them for the rest of their lives.
The Azoreans first came to the United States in large numbers as members of whaling crews. They began with shore whaling in the channel between the islands of São Jorge and Pico. Whaling crews were always needed, and they could be found in Azores. Yankee captains would disembark from New England and head for the Azores or the Cape Verde Islands looking for sailors. They liked the Portuguese. They were hard working, quiet, and cheap.

In 1780, some 200 whalers dropped anchor in the Azores to round its crew. Many Portuguese earned their way to the east coast of the United States, Hawaii, or California, by shipping out as a deckhand aboard these early whaling ships. The Whaling ship was the early highway to the New World.

There are no records of the first Portuguese that jumped ship in Monterey in 1792. By 1850, whaling companies in Half Moon Bay, Pescadero, Monterey, Carmel, all the way to San Diego were mostly Portuguese. By 1860, they were traveling around the Horn. Many returned to get their families and sail back to California by windjammers. 
Hardship builds character. This is seen time and again throughout history, and this applies to the Portuguese. They had to survive earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, fierce storms, crop disease, European wars, and pirate raids to name their greatest challenges. Because of their isolation in the middle of the Atlantic, they became self-reliant, independent and harmonious to survive.