By Grant Welker
Herald Hews Staff Reporter
Posted Sep 18, 2009 @ 09:10 PM
The University of Massachusetts
Dartmouth unveiled its Portuguese-American
archives on Friday, with officials and supporters calling the opening of the
center "a crown jewel," "a monument" to Portuguese heritage and "an important
milestone" for the university.
"A long-awaited dream come true has taken place today," said Otilia Ferreira, whose father, Affonso Gil Mendes Ferreira, is the namesake of the archives, believed to be the only of its kind in North America as a center for Portuguese-American artifacts, newspapers, books and historical documents.
The Ferreira-Mendes Portuguese-American Archives has transformed an under-used area of the Claire T. Carney Library to something that archivist Sonia Pacheco and others believe will be used nationally by scholars, students, genealogists and others. Locally, the archives could help support Portuguese curricula in schools and host field trips, Judy Farrar, the archives and special collections librarian, said.
Frank F. Sousa, director of UMass Dartmouth's Center for Portuguese Studies and Culture, said the creation of the archives shows how differently Portuguese-Americans are treated now compared to when the first wave of immigrants arrived and they were "the invisible minority."
The ribbon-cutting ceremony included area officials, legislators and university leaders, as well as Joao de Vallera, the Portuguese ambassador to the United States. Vallera, who traveled from Washington for the event, said the opening of the archives is "a great significant moment" for the Portuguese community and "a monument to our shared heritage."
Others also found it difficult to downplay the significance of the day, which also included a lecture by Pedro Bicudo, the director of Portuguese Public Television.
"I would say it's great to be here, but that word isn't really good enough," said Fall River Mayor Robert Correia, who Sousa called one of UMass Dartmouth's Portuguese center's "greatest champions." Michael Rodrigues, the state representative from Westport, said UMass Dartmouth is "the epicenter" of Portuguese-American studies.
UMass Dartmouth Chancellor Jean F. MacCormack called the archives "a national, and indeed international, resource" and "an important milestone achievement in the life" of the university.
The archive features a reading room with a work station and reference desk, a gallery of rotating exhibits and a climate- and humidity-controlled storage vault that houses documents not only on Portuguese-American culture but also court documents and FBI interviews from the Robert F. Kennedy assassination, records and photographs of the area Jewish community, and a collection of folk recordings.
The focus, of course, is on the area's Portuguese culture. The gallery includes documents, photographs and other materials from former Fall River Mayor Carlton Viveiros, state Sen. Mary Fonseca and other notable Portuguese-Americans. Most of the documents were donated by either the individuals themselves or their families, Farrar said. Donations have increased recently with publicity on the opening of the archives, she said.
Another highlight of the archives is digital - a searchable database of Diario de Noticias, a Portuguese-language newspaper that was considered the most influential of its kind in America. Nearly 17,000 issues, from 1919 to 1973, are available. Bicudo, the Portuguese Public Television director, called the newspaper valuable for its insight into daily life, trends and politics.
The archives, whose namesake was the founder of Portuguese radio in the U.S., also includes radio and TV recordings, rare books, and literary papers from immigrant author Alfred Lewis.
A few events are lined up for the archives this fall. Among them, two genealogists will give a workshop on researching ancestors at 10:30 a.m. Oct. 31, and a Portuguese-American stories reading in the library browsing area at 5 p.m. Nov. 3.
E-mail Grant Welker at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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