Sue Fagalde Lick
Blue Hydrangea Productions

Although the Portuguese constitute a substantial portion of the American population, especially in California, New England and Hawaii, they are often an invisible minority. In publishing in particular, the Portuguese have often played a very quiet role. In the last two decades, however, many wonderful books have appeared, often self-published by Portuguese-Americans determined to tell their stories, no matter what. A sampling of these books follows:

Click here for a list of useful links to Portuguese organizations and resources.


Chaplin, Manuela Da Luz. Scattered Fragments of Portugal in the United States of America: Women of Portuguese Descent. Self-published, 1989, sponsored by the Luso-American Foundation. Da Luz interviewed large numbers of Portuguese women living in the Eastern United States, capturing their stories of immigration and adjustment to American life. Although there are some problems with spelling and grammar, the book is lush with life and history that needs to be preserved.

Cole, Sally. Women of the Praia: Work and Lives in a Portuguese Coastal Community. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1991. Although not easy reading, this scholarly book is an eye-opener. It tells of the women who live and work in Vila Chã, a fishing village on the north coast of Portugal. They play a very large role in the economy there, not only maintaining homes but carrying on much of the fishing-related business of the area. The book is filled with oral histories, along with photos and facts about life in that part of Portugal.

Coli, Waltraud Berger and Richard A. Lobban. The Cape Verdeans in Rhode Island. Providence: Rhode Island Heritage Commission and Rhode Island Publications Society, 1990. Although dry reading, this 48-page book gives more information on Cape Verdeans in American than I have ever found before. It offers all the important facts: where they came from and when and why; how they relate to immigrants from other Portuguese lands; where they settled, their social groups, their churches, their education, their work, their accomplishments in the arts, sports and business. It is a short but complete overview, with a source list that would offer much more to anyone seeking to learn about these less-known Portuguese people. On the West Coast, we hear little about Cape Verdeans, but they are a real force in southern Massachusetts and Rhode Island, so it is important to read about them and include them in the Portuguese American flock.

Dias, Eduardo Mayone. Portugal's Secret Jews: The End of an Era. Rumford, RI: Peregrinacao Publications, Inc., 1999. A good follow-up to Distant Music (see below), The Secret Jews takes a scholarly look at the Jews in Portugal over the ages, beginning about the same time as the novel begins, in the 1400s before the inquisition. Dias, a longtime professor at UCLA, shows us where the Jewish people settled and how they reacted to persecution. Although many left or converted to Catholicism, a substantial number remained in Portugal, practicing their faith in secret. As the years passed, with no synagogues, rabbis, or education, and often having to outwardly perform the rituals and prayers of Christianity, their religion became an interesting hybrid of the two, neither Catholic nor Jewish. Although the inquisition ended long ago, these Jews have only felt truly feel free to profess their Jewish beliefs in public since the 1974 Portuguese revolution. The tone is scholarly, with plenty of footnotes and big words, but the book is only 90 pages and worth the effort. For those who read Portuguese, Dias offers an extensive bibliography of other books for those who are interested in reading more about the Portuguese Jews.

Emery, Rose Peters. Footprints in the Soil. San Jose: Portuguese Heritage Publications, 2003. This book, purchased from the 97-year-old author at the 2003 Portuguese Heritage Festival in San Jose, is a wonderful memoir of a time, place and culture that are long gone and which most of the remaining survivors are too old and decrepit to tell. You can tell how hungry people are for such books by the way they snapped up copies of this one. Peters, youthful-looking and acting and still clear of mind, gives us a real gift by bringing this story to us several generations later. Her parents were Portuguese immigrants. She tells of their arrival in the U.S. and of her experiences growing up on the family ranch in San Ramon. She had 11 brothers and sisters. It was a life of hard work, with no books, TV, or modern conveniences. Education was a luxury. Everything they used they grew or made. She talks of the Portuguese elements of their lives, the restrictions placed on the girls, the emphasis on hard work, the religious ceremonies, the festas, what it was like going to school in the old days, even what braces were like around World War I. The book is filled with wonderful photographs that show the era and its people and allow us to follow Rose's progression from little girl to old woman. There is a beautiful spirit to this book, and I want to buy copies for everyone I know.

Gaspar, Frank. Leaving Pico. Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 1999. This novel about a Portuguese fishing family in Provincetown, Mass., raised some eyebrows among the Portuguese because its stark portrayal was not necessarily flattering. However, it does offer a captivating story that feels very real. Gaspar, a poet and college professor who grew up in Provincetown, adds the same poetic touch to his prose as graces his poetry. An enjoyable read.

Holmes, Lionel and Joseph D'Alessandro. Portuguese Pioneers of the Sacramento Area. Sacramento: Portuguese Historical and Cultural Society, 1990. This fat book is an all-inclusive listing of family histories of the Portuguese in and around Sacramento. Members did extensive interviews to capture the generations of Portuguese and stories, as well as an overall picture of Portuguese contributions, particularly in the area known as "The Pocket." This is slow reading but a marvelous reference. PHCS is currently working on an updated version.

Langley, Lee. Distant Music. Minneapolis: Milkweed Editions, 2001. Fascinating and confusing, Distant Music is the story of a man and a woman who meet again and again in different guises in different eras, from the 1400s in Madeira, to the Portuguese mainland during the inquisition, to Lisbon in the 1800s and finally to London in 2000. There are constants: Esperanca is Portuguese and Catholic, Emmanuel is a Sephardic Jew. He is a wanderer, she is a scholar. But she is sometimes rich, sometimes poor. He is a mariner, a printer, a bookseller and a musician. The four separate stories are engaging, although none of them ends happily. The last is a bit contrived, the story of the work-driven husband clichéd, but by then we have to know how the author will pull all of these stories together, so we read on. Throughout Distant Music, Langley shares the Portuguese setting, heavily sprinkled with Portuguese history and recognizable landmarks, such as the castle at Cintra, the tourist areas of Funchal, and the boat docks on the Tagus River. At times, these details seem thrust awkwardly into place by a non-Portuguese who has visited and taken notes. But still it does give a bit of Portuguese flavor that adds a pleasant warmth as we remember when we visited the same places.

Lick, Sue Fagalde. Azorean Dreams. Palo Alto, Calif.:, 2000. This novel is a Portuguese-American love story between Simão, a recent immigrant from Faial, and Chelsea, an all-American newspaper reporter who knows nothing about her Portuguese roots. Their cultures clash, but there is a spark of love that can't be extinguished, even when Chelsea's ambition and a misunderstanding force them apart.

Lick, Sue Fagalde. The Iberian Americans. New York: Chelsea House, 1990. Written for teenage readers, this book looks at the lives of immigrants from Portugal, Spain and the Basque country, including chapters on immigration, work, family life, contributions to American society and more.

Lick, Sue Fagalde. Stories Grandma Never Told: Portuguese Women in California. Berkeley: Heyday Books, 1998. Take 62 California women of Portuguese descent and ask them to tell their life stories. This is the result. Illustrated with photos taken by Lick, as well as others borrowed from the interviewees' family collections, the book delves into immigration, work, religion, culture, education, religion, lodges, discrimination and other topics from the viewpoints of immigrants and their descendants, ranging in age from early 20s to late 80s.

McCabe, Marsha L. and Joseph D. Thomas, editors. Portuguese Spinner: An American Story. New Bedford, Mass.: Spinner Publications, Inc., 1998. It took me two months to read, but this is the most complete source on the Portuguese in America that I have ever seen. It is packed with articles, oral histories, photographs, facts and figures, focusing mostly on the Portuguese in Southern Massachusetts and Rhode Island. There is extensive coverage of the factories, the dairies, whaling, festas, arts and literature, even Portuguese cottage gardens. This folio-sized book is one to keep handy on the coffee table or another place where people can grab it and dip into its riches often. Spinner Publications has produced a series of books on the history and culture of Southeastern New England and continues to be a source of books and calendars, particularly on the Portuguese. (web site:

Portuguese Heritage Publishing. The History of the Holy Ghost Festas in California, 2002. This offshoot of the Portuguese Heritage Society of San Jose has dedicated itself to publishing the history of the Portuguese in California, starting with this thick, encyclopedic listing of all the festas in the state, their histories and the personalities involved. They recently put out a second printing and are soon to release a book on California's Portuguese dairies.

Southern Massachusetts University. Spinner: People and Culture in Southeastern Massachusetts, Vol. II., 1982. Would that I could obtain all the volumes of this wonderful collection of oral history, photographs and documentation of people and events in the New Bedford-Fall River area. The quality of the work is stunning. Although not all of the articles are about the Portuguese, many are, and others acknowledge the Portuguese presence. This volume has photographs from the Cape Verde Islands, oral histories from Portuguese and Cape Verdean whalers, and a lot of information about the textile mills in New Bedford and Fall River. There are also interesting oral histories from the Puerto Rican Community, a tale of life in Newfoundland in the early 1900s, a poem by an Irish immigrant, a photo essay on child labor in Fall River, stories about the French Acadians, and more. I will keep this as a wonderful resource.

Stonehill, Pauline Correia. A Barrelful of Memories: Stories of My Azorean Family. San Jose: Corstone Publishing, 1995. Stonehill, a retired schoolteacher, tells the story of her grandparents' immigration to America. One grandfather was smuggled aboard ship in a barrel, hence the title. This is a colorful, heartfelt, well-written tale, one with which many Portuguese families can identify. It also gives an accurate picture of farm life in San Benito County in the first half of the 20th Century.

Van Scoy, Doris Machado. A Quest for the Story of Antonio and Maria from the Azores to Washington Township. Self-published, 1992. Van Scoy, a Fremont, California, native of Azorean descent, has written a book in three parts, describing her search for the story of her grandparents, telling the story that she found and then offering her own memories of growing up in a heavily Portuguese section of California.

Vaz, Katherine. Mariana. Minneapolis: Aliform Publishing, 2004 (originally published in the UK, Flamingo, 1997). Take a slim volume of love letters written by a Portuguese nun in the late 1600s and spin the story behind them. That was the challenge Vaz took on. A massive research job led to this dense, mystical, emotional novel that opens the door to worlds the rest of us can’t even imagine. Mariana, headstrong teenaged daughter of an influential Portuguese landowner, is put into the convent during the Portuguese war for independence from Spain. Like many women of that era in the convents, she didn’t necessarily have a call to the sisterhood. She falls in love with a French soldier fighting for the Portuguese. They have a passionate affair which ends when he goes back to France. Her overwhelming love causes her to write the letters which ultimately are published and distributed far and wide. But there is so much more. We get to know the nuns and their lives in the convent as well as the lives of Mariana’s family members. Vaz, a Portuguese American from California, has totally captured the Portuguese style in her language n the magical realism that permeates the story. We learn a tremendous amount about Portuguese history and culture, but the research does not intrude on the story. It is a slow read, with dense print and long Portuguese names. For the Luso fan, it’s worth the effort.

Vaz, Katherine. Our Lady of the Artichokes and other Portuguese-American Stories. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2008. How do I describe these stories? Although Vaz is a California native, these tales are very Portuguese.They are filled with Portuguese language and traditions, superstitions and mysticism. They’re fascinating, and some of them are downright weird. But they are so rich, the settings in California and Portugal so vivid, the people so real. The title story, “Our Lady of the Artichokes,” parodies the craziness that rises around any possible sighting of the Virgin Mary. “The Man Who was Made of Netting” takes us backstage at one of the annual Holy Ghost festas that happen wherever Portuguese-Americans congregate. “The Lisbon Story,” the longest in the book, still resonates in my heart as I think about the two dying men at the center of this tale. Katherine Vaz is one of the women I interviewed for my Stories Grandma Never Told book. When we talked so long ago, she had just published Saudade, her first award-winning novel. She moved east to teach at Harvard and has followed that first book with Fado and Other Stories, Mariana and now this collection, which won the Prairie Schooner Book Prize in fiction. She told me back then that she found her voice when she started writing her Portuguese stories. It’s a voice worth hearing.

Vaz, Katherine. Saudade. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1994. This novel is often compared to Gabriel Garcia Marquez's work in its use of magical realism. Vaz follows a girl named Clara from the Azores to Northern California. Born without the ability to hear, she creates her own language and fights to thrive in a society where a deaf, orphaned immigrant girl doesn't receive much love or respect.

Vaz, Mark. The Portuguese in California. Oakland, Calif.: IDES Supreme Council, 1965. This book, obtainable at low cost at many California festas and cultural fairs, gives good basic background about the Portuguese in California, including chapters on the Age of Discovery, the Portuguese role in whaling, gold mining and homesteading, the Portuguese Press, Portuguese churches and the formation of the Portuguese societies, such as IDES.