By:Lurdes C. da Silva
NEW BEDFORD - The new consul of Portugal
in New Bedford said she practically feels at
home in the Whaling
Dr. Graça Fonseca, 33, a native of Aveiro, mainland Portugal, arrived in the Southcoast last month and has been busy getting to know the community.
"My city also sits by the Atlantic Ocean. It's also known for its maritime vocation and has a long fishing tradition," she said. "My adaptation has been very easy."
Dr. Fonseca holds a Law Degree from the University of Coimbra, where she also completed a post-graduate program in "European Studies." She worked three years as a legal counsel for the City Hall of Aveiro before being admitted to the Portuguese Ministry Foreign Affairs (MNE) in 2005.
That year, she joined the Portuguese Mission at CPLP (Community of Portuguese Speaking Countries). In 2007, she was appointed to the Portuguese Permanent Representation to the European Union in Brussels, Belgium, where she remained until recently.
She assumed her first consular post in New Bedford less than two weeks after she argued her doctoral thesis on "The Europeanization of Services of General Economic Interest" at the European University of Institute in Florence, Italy.
"It will be a challenge, but I hope I can contribute a lot," said Dr. Fonseca about her new duties.
She promises to be an active consul.
"It's my full intention to collaborate and participate in all activities that preserve and promote the Portuguese culture and language," said the consul.
Her agenda has been jam-packed since she arrived acclimating herself to the issues of the community.
She has met with numerous city, state, federal, judicial and religious officials, as well as businessmen and representatives from local institutions.
"All the contacts I have made so far have been very affable and pleasant," she said. "They are happening at a rapid pace, but they feel very natural."
Although some of these encounters were courtesy visits, she took the opportunity to address matters pertinent to the Portuguese community, including the deportation issue.
She described her meeting with Bristol County District Attorney Sam Sutter as "positive."
"I knew there were various [deportation] motions pending... the perspective is that he intends to give a recommendation and reduce the number of pending cases shortly," she said.
Yesterday, she hosted a meeting at the Consulate for Portuguese teachers, the coordinator for the Teaching of Portuguese in the East Coast, Fernanda Costa, and the advisor on Portuguese language to the Massachusetts Department of Education, João Caixinha.
"The intention is to equip Portuguese schools with more tools, including computing resources," said Dr. Fonseca, who will also be meeting with Taunton High School teachers on Nov. 3.
She has met with Judith Downey, director of the Casa da Saudade, to address the library needs and plans for the upcoming year.
"I hope to work with Casa da Saudade to enrich and modernize its collection so that it is even more appealing to children and youth," she said.
She intends to work closely with other area institutions that project Portuguese language and culture in the United States, including the Center for Portuguese Studies and Culture at UMass Dartmouth and the New Bedford Whaling Museum.
She plans to participate actively in community initiatives. She has already attended a number of events, including the Blessing of the Fleet, the launching of a bilingual book on Azorean history and the Prince Henry Society annual banquet. Next week, she is attending the meeting of the New Bedford Committee for the Commemoration of the Day of Portugal.
"I gladly accept any invitations I receive from associations, as long as I do not have a previous commitment," she said.
All the while, she will oversee a Consulate that processes on average 8,000 consular acts annually and is short-handed. In last the two years, the office lost two staffers to retirement and currently two other employees are on extended medical leave.
"We need to reinforce the staff and we have submitted that request to Lisbon," she said.
However, she said she can't make any promises.
"We cannot guarantee everything, but the Consulate is open to all initiatives that will not only promote the language and culture, but also entrepreneurship, investment and strengthening of bilateral relations," she said.
Dr. Fonseca replaced Fernanda Coelho, who returned to Lisbon in August to work at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
O Jornal, aqui.