2021 2021: UMass Dartmouth researchers receive Mass Humanities grant to collect the lived experiences of Cape Verdeans on the SouthCoast
UMass Dartmouth researchers receive Mass Humanities grant to collect the lived experiences of Cape Verdeans on the SouthCoast

Interviews conducted will explore how Cape Verdeans have added to the economic, cultural, and social fabric of the Commonwealth

Cape Verdeans sitting outside
Antone M. Lopes and Micaella do Rosario Lopes, on their farm at 62 Sherman Street, S. Dartmouth, Mass. 1950's. Image courtesy of the Lopes Family Archives

UMass Dartmouth researchers Sonia Pacheco (Librarian Archivist) and Professor Emerita Memory Holloway (Art History) recently received a $17,6000 Mass Humanities grant for their project “Our Town/Nha Vida (Our Town/My Life)”. The project will consist of interviews with 25 multigenerational or first-generation Cape Verdean-Americans immigrants to uncover their personal experiences and stories of their lives in Massachusetts.

The project is important because it will provide Massachusetts residents with a more inclusive understanding of how Cape Verdeans have added to the economic, cultural, and social fabric of the Commonwealth.

“It’s a privilege to be able to be part of the documentation of the Cape Verdean experience in Dartmouth and it is critical to my continued investigation into the relationship between archives and immigrant communities as well as capturing and preserving community memory,” said Pacheco. “This project embraces many of the diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives taking place at UMass Dartmouth, and we are approaching it from equity planning model, where our project participants will be compensated, the interviews will be conducted by community members, and the exhibit will be designed by community members in reflection of the oral histories.”

The Cape Verdean community has been migrating to Massachusetts since the mid-late 1800s, as part of the whaling industry. They settled, predominantly, on the SouthCoast, and went on to work in the cranberry industry after the decline in whaling. They married, raised families, and became an integral part of Massachusetts society. Estimates from the 2014 American Community Survey (ACS) show that 37,145 foreign-born individuals from Cape Verde reside in the United States, and of those, 25,013 live in Massachusetts (Cape Verdeans in Boston, 2016). This minority community remains woefully under-documented, specifically their migration to, settlement in, and daily life experiences in Massachusetts.

“Cape Verdeans have contributed so much and in every way to the SouthCoast community. It’s especially important that we acknowledge these contributions and ensure that all the participants are compensated for interviews, said Holloway. “We anticipate a lively exhibition based on the interviews that will be put together by the participants. Can’t wait to see what we come up with!”

Pacheco and Holloway believe that what will make their project stand out is geography. Other than an early 2010s study, all other projects focused on the Cape Cod area or within Boston. By looking at the experiences of Cape Verdeans on the SouthCoast, the project will encourage local audiences and the larger Cape Verdean diaspora to learn and grow in their knowledge of an increasingly multicultural Massachusetts.

The collection of oral histories will be conducted by local Cape Verdean community members themselves, who will interview other Cape Verdeans. These interviews will be conducted with contemporaries and elders and will document their lived experiences as residents of Dartmouth. The results of the oral histories will provide a greater understanding of how Cape Verdeans have shaped their respective geography and how this place has shaped them. The researchers expect the study to conclude in October 2022, with opportunities for the public to learn more about this topic through both digital and physical exhibitions.

The project is funded by the Mass Humanities through the Massachusetts Cultural Council and is supported by the Dartmouth Historical and Arts Society, the Dartmouth Historical Commission, the New Bedford Public Library, and the Friends of the Southworth Library.