A Cape Verdean- American Story

My grandfather, Raimundo Fortes Lima, was possibly the coolest man who has ever existed… in my opinion.

 

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8 months after he was born, his mother, Joanna Fortes Lima, boarded the Bertha B. Nickerson from Brava to New Bedford with $3 in her possession. The plan was for her to save enough money to send for both of her sons, Daniel and my grandfather. My grandfather stayed with a paternal family member who refused to send him to America in 1918 along with Daniel and wanted to continue raising him. I can write so much more about how my great-grandmother’s status in life (direct descendants of former enslaved Africans in Boa Vista) and as a “Criada” in Brava would have allowed for this to have happened without a fight but I will save that for another post.

So Daniel came to the US and had a family in Onset, Joana married and had two more children and my grandfather stayed in Brava with no way to come to the States with the changes in immigration laws at the time.

Raimundo married my grandmother, Rosa, while working as a “Pedreiro” but that would only do so much to raise a family. It was during one of the most devastating famines to hit Cabo Verde in recent years that my grandfather was able to get a visa to travel to Brazil in 1945. He would not have saved enough money to travel there until 1956.  He lived in São Paulo for almost 4 years and worked in a bakery so that he could send money to his family in Brava. Daniel and Joana were finally able to get him a visa to come to America in 1959. It was then that he was able to meet his mother for the first time! His reunion with his mother was short lived as Joana died in 1961 from congestive heart failure. He only had two things to remember her, one of which was the old Singer Sewing machine I grew up watching Bibi use.

Immediately after his arrival, he started working to save money to send for each of his 6 children. From 1960 to 1971, my Titio Boboy, followed by Titia Stella, Titio Reinaldo, my mother, Joanna and grandmother, Rosa, my Titios Walter and Djondjuka and finally, my great-grandmother, arrived in Massachusetts. My family was finally reunited after 15 years of separation.

Unfortunately, Raimundo was not in the best of health and had already received two blood transfusions by 1973 for severe anemia. Only two years after reuniting with his family, my grandfather died on his birthday on January 28, 1973, at 56 years old and two weeks before I was born.

While I never personally met him, I have always had the sense that I knew him and that he was/is my guardian angel because my family always spoke about him. My grandmother often spoke of “Kel Alma” (That Soul) when referring to my grandfather

I know his is but one of the many stories of the Cape Verdean diaspora but it is one that I hold near and dear. I would love to know if any of you have similar stories to tell.

Just A Thought…

It’s “Black History Month”, the shortest month of the year dedicated to the history of Black people in America.

As a child of Cape Verdean immigrants, some may say that I don’t have a direct connection to the history of Blacks in America, slavery, Jim Crow or even the Civil Rights Movement.

To those people AND my fellow Cape Verdean-Americans, here’s a little reminder…

Cape Verde was once the hub of the Atlantic Slave Trade. Where do we think some of the enslaved Africans who worked tobacco and cotton fields came from??? They were mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers and cousins to the very ancestors that worked sugar cane and coffee plantations in Santiago and Fogo and salt mines of Maio and Sal. Come on now, People!!!

And while I haven’t (yet) found a direct ancestor who picked cotton in the fields of Mississippi, I do know of my great-grandmother who picked cranberries and blueberries for pennies a week in Cape Cod. I know that she and other Cape Verdeans weren’t allowed to live in certain areas, use certain bathrooms or sit in certain seats. And they certainly weren’t allowed to vote.

Cape Verdeans were here before America was America. Cape Verdeans helped build this country and defend it in the same segregated military. It was a Cape Verdean who was the first Black representative of the Maryland Assembly in 1642! It was a Cape Verdean who became the first black Federal Judge, Hon. George Leighton (Leitão from Brava), and who was considered for appointment to the US Supreme Court along with Thurgood Marshall, who was later selected!

So the truth of it is, Black History month is about our history as well.

But what do I know… I’m just the proud daughter of Cape Verdean immigrants 😊