Book on Portuguese-Americans and Contemporary Civic Culture in Massachusetts published by University

The Center for Portuguese Studies & Culture and the Luso-American Foundation have published a new book entitled Portuguese-Americans and Contemporary Civic Culture in Massachusetts.

January 29, 2003 

Contacts: Dr. Frank Sousa, Director, Center for Portuguese Studies & Culture, (508) 999-9271; Dr. Clyde W. BalTow, Director, Center for Policy Analysis, (508) 999-9265 

Book on Portuguese-Americans and Contemporary Civic Culture in Massachusetts published by University of Massachusetts Dartmouth 

The Center for Portuguese Studies & Culture and the Luso-American Foundation have published a new book entitled Portuguese-Americans and Contemporary Civic Culture in Massachusetts. The book was edited by Dr. Clyde W. Barrow, Director of the Center for Policy Analysis at UMass Dartmouth and contains contributions by Dr. Barrow, David R. Borges and Shawna E. Sweeney, who are both senior research associates at the Center for Policy Analysis, and Dr. Rita Marinho at Millersville University in Pennsylvania. 

The book is the first systematic scholarly analysis of Portuguese-Americans' political culture to be published in more than 25 years. Dr. Marinho's study, Luso-Americans in the American Political Process was completed in 1977. The book's findings and conclusions are based mainly on a series of tele,phone surveys with more than 1,600 persons living in what the authors call "the Portuguese Archipelago" of Southeastern Massachusetts. This ethnic archipelago consists of 18 cities and towns stretching from Taunton and Attelboro southward to Fall River, New Bedford, and Wareham, where persons of Portuguese ancestry account for 8% or more of the town's population. The book provides a snapshot of Portuguese-Americans' attitudes on politics and public policy, civic participation, political involvement, their economic status, educational attainment, and important cultural and social issues. The book also reviews Portuguese language offerings in the area's public schools. 

Among the book's findings are that Portuguese-Americans continue to be concentrated disproportionately in blue-collar occupations and in traditional industries with declining employment opportunities. Nevertheless, they report being generally satisfied with their economic progress over the last five years, have a better standard of living than their parents, and are optimistic about their children's prospects of being better off than themselves. Despite a massive wave of deindustrialization that swept the region less than a decade earlier, Portuguese-Americans have shown the ability to adapt quickly to changing economic conditions, particularly in their increased recognition of the importance of education in the new economy. 
Moreover, despite recognizing the importance of education to economic success, the authors report that many Portuguese-Americans, like most other Southeastern Massachusetts residents, are having diff~culty adjusting to a constantly rising performance bar in the United States. In this respect, Dr. Marinho finds its "particularly discouraging" that the survey data shows no actual change in educational attainment among Portuguese-Americans from 1977 to the present. Indeed, the research found a significant pocket of discontent among Portuguese-Americans that largely consists of persons holding low-wage jobs and having low levels of educational attainment. This pocket of discontent also consists disproportionately of persons who are foreign-born, and since many of these persons are not U.S. citizens, they are not eligible to vote. Therefore, the political alienation of this disaffected group of Portuguese-Americans is not likely to register in normal electoral politics. These are the very people who are least likely to vote, the least likely to belong to political or civic organizations, the least likely to contact government officials, and the least likely to be politically informed at even the most basic level. 

The study also finds that most Portuguese-Americans continue to strongly identify with the Democratic party even at a time when most voters no longer identify with either major party. Yet, the authors point out that Portuguese-American support for the Democratic party cannot be taken for granted because it is clear that a "psychological and ideological disjuncture" may be emerging between Portuguese Americans' stated preference for the Democratic party and their voting behavior, since even while expressing strong support for the Democratic party, about 60 percent of Portuguese-Americans dismissed party affiliation as important to a candidate's ability to represent their interests. The study also suggests that there is a visceral tension between most Portuguese-Americans' economic liberalism and the Democratic party's drift toward economic and fiscal conservatism. 

At the same time, Portuguese-Americans surveyed for the book express opinions on a variety of other issues that would ordinarily be described as culturally conservative, such as the belief that ethnic groups should assimilate into the "mainstream" of American society, support for prayer in public schools, support for public funding of parochial schools, a belief that becoming an "American" means becoming a U.S. citizen, speaking English, and living in the United States for most of one's life, support for the deportation of legal aliens convicted of felony crimes, and concern about exposing children to violence in movies and television. On many of these issues, the book finds that it is the foreign-born Portuguese who anchor the community's tendency toward cultural conservatism, with many U.S.-born Portuguese adopting liberal views on most (but not all) such issues in the same proportions as Americans generally. 

In this respect, another major finding of the research is that the more salient differences in occupation, income, education, and political culture are between foreign-born and U.S.-born Portuguese than between U.S.-born Portuguese and other Americans. This finding suggests that the Portuguese integrate into the U.S. economy and become involved in local politics by the second or third generation, even while maintaining a distinct culture and a living language within ethnic neighborhoods, sports clubs, and fraternal societies. One inference from this finding is that in contrast to many other U.S. ethnic or racial groups (e.g., African-Americans or Mexican-Americans), Portuguese ethnic identity is becoming a predominantly social or cultural identity and not a political one. In fact, a majority of PortugueseAmericans questioned for the book's research do not think it is necessary for a person to be a member of, particular ethnic group to represent that group's interests and only a small percentage of the PortugueseAmericans surveyed felt strongly that being of the same ethnicity made a difference in an elected off'cial's ability to represent a particular ethnic group. In fact, nearly three-quarters (73%) of the Portuguese-Americans surveyed believe that they are well represented in important government and business institutions in Southeastern Massachusetts. 
However, the authors report that the findings on Portuguese ethnic identity are far from unequivocal. There are many statistically significant differences between the responses of Portuguese and nonPortuguese respondents on questions related to ethnic identity. Portuguese respondents are more likely to think of themselves as members of a particular ethnic, racial, or nationality group than are non-Portuguese respondents. They are also more likely to have felt discrimination because of their ethnicity, with nearly a third (32.0%) of Portuguese-Americans reporting they have felt discrimination because of their ethnicity or race. Yet Portuguese-Americans are about evenly divided over whether applying to the federal government for off~cial "minority" status would create educational and job opportunities that are better, the same, or worse than those for non-minority groups. 

At the same time, a higher percentage of Portuguese respondents feel that racial and ethnic groups should maintain their distinct cultures as compared to non-Portuguese respondents. A majority of Portuguese respondents feel that racial and ethnic groups should maintain their distinct cultures (52.7%) in comparison to non-Portuguese respondents (31.2%). This feeling is particularly strong among foreign-born Portuguese (70.3%) as compared to Portuguese who were born in the United States (44.6%). Yet a large majority of Portuguese-Americans also say they think of themselves as "just an American," even though a higher percentage of Portuguese respondents consider themselves members of a particular ethnic, racial, or nationality group (24.6%) than non-Portuguese respondents (3.2%). Notably, Portuguese respondents who were not born in the United States are far more likely to think of themselves as a member of a particular ethnic, racial, or nationality group (50.0%) than Portuguese respondents who were born in the United States (12.7%), which reinforces the inference that a certain degree of assimilation is occurring across generations. 

In this respect, however, the book s authors all agree that the Portuguese-American community appears to be deeply fractured between a significant minority who feel that Portuguese ethnicity should be constituted as a political identity, versus the substantial majority who view Portuguese ethnicity as primarily a social and cultural identity. However, according to Dr. Barrow, The purpose of the studies was not to provide a definitive answer to the question: Who are the Portuguese in America? . It was to stimulate discussion among Portuguese-Americans about their political and economic future and to catalyze interest among social scientists in the study of Portuguese-American political behavior and ethnic identity. With regard to the first point, the authors note that regardless of how the debate about ethnic identity gets resolved any potential impact on regional or statewide politics depends on the ability of Portuguese-Americans to enter the political system in greater numbers and to do so as a coherent political force with a unified voice. 

The Center for Portuguese Studies & Culture is sponsoring a short mini-conference on March 8, 2003 that will include noted scholars in ethnic studies to begin the process of introducing Portuguese-American studies into U.S. scholarship. 

Research for the book was conducted with financial assistance from the Luso-American Foundation and the Luso-American Citizenship Project of Taunton. The book is available for purchase through the Center for Portuguese Studies & Culture at 508-999-9270. 


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