Ernestina the ark

I lived in Providence, Rhode Island, for twenty years, most of that time very much in the midst of an extrordinary community of Cape Verdeans. Cape Verdeans? Most Americans have no reference whatsoever for this part of our immigrant history and national heritage, but part of New England knows it well.

A story in today's NYTimes about a small nineteenth-century sailing ship brought back memories of Fox Point in Providence and of the Ernestina in particular. Even almost forty years ago, since it was already an era described as the jet age, it was almost impossible for me to register that this noble little ship had been functioning as an immigrant transport. I visited it in port in the early sixties, and I was astounded by the pluck, no, the enormous stamina and courage of those it brought across the Atlantic to a new world and a new life.

I was a white guy grad student living only blocks away in a modern city! How could I possibly understand what this was all about? I wanted to know more, but my shyness and the Cape Verdeans' sense of privacy precluded much interaction with that part of the larger Portuguese-heritage community in southeastern New England. My biggest successes were friendships and affairs with Portugese boys whose families had come from Portugal or the Azores, but not Cape Verde. For at least those blessings, thank Mother Nature for the tenacity of homosexual desire!

I am now living in New York in the midst of a lot more stories and many more immigrants, of the past and of today. I think I am able to understand this thing a little more. These are the real All-American heroes. The rest of us are living on their dreams and the dreams of our own immigrant parents.

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Published on July 25, 2002 1:26 PM.

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