The Capelinhos Eruption Influence on SanDiego
San Diego, as many other communities in the United States, received some of the refugee immigrants as a result of the volcanic eruptions at Capelinhos in 1957. Unlike other places, the numbers were few, yet, their influence was to affect the Portuguese community in San Diego in ways that became the norm, introduced new ideas and dispelled old myths.
Most likely a dream that these families thought could not be realized, they immigrated to the United States, with expectations that were conceived from the letters of family members or friends, who had for generations immigrated to America.
Although their financial contributions may have not been as great as in other communities, because of their reduced numbers, these immigrant refugees became well respected and entered several trades, including the tuna fishing industry, so much at the pulse of the Portuguese community until the mid 80’s.
Even though not all were directly impacted by the Capelinhos eruption, all, in one way or another, had a connection to the Island of Faial, thru family, study, business or employment links. Their background in the Azores represented a varied numbers of trades, from small businessmen, to workers in commerce and light industry, to agricultural workers to the proverbial fisherman, the wrongly acknowledged single trade of the Azorean islander.
Because of their different level of education from previous immigrants, they were able to enter a more varied number of trades, professions and business opportunities, and to influence daily community life.
Traditionally a male work force, heads of families entered into the inevitable occupation in San Diego, tuna fishing, and distinguished themselves along their compatriots from the islands of Pico, Madeira and mainland Portugal. Some, influenced by family and friends, accepted this new calling, even though they had never practiced it before. Others stepped into the profession with great ease, since it was a natural extension of their more artisan fishing methods. They achieved levels that previous opportunities did not grant, including becoming navigators, chief engineers, crew chiefs, tuna boat captains and owners.
There were others, who found that their work on shore, as they were more accustomed to, was more fitting to their newfound life in a new country. These men became boat builders, assistant designers, finishing carpenters, welders and general laborers.
Few others, that continued their education as an extension of the formal education they received in the Azores and elsewhere, went into banking, real estate and finance.
This latter groups, includes both men and women, for women found new opportunities, that allowed them to distinguish themselves along with their male counterparts. Times had changed, new norms were accepted and forward thinking women took advantage of new challenges.
The sons and daughters of the Capelinhos immigrant refugees influenced even more the community. They continued what their parents had started and with their parents’ support and encouragement, went into many of the same professions and expanded to new ones, such as law, law enforcement, architecture, engineering, medicine and the information technologies.
In a community that was well established, even entrenched in its ways, and not used to change and even less, to challenge, these new immigrants were to, with difficulty, create a newer, fresher and more progressive way to do things.
A difficult task, yet not forgetting their traditions or the respect for the earlier immigrants, these refugees and descendents, along with their influence continue to affect their new home.
In San Diego, a community with many local chapters of statewide Portuguese organizations and local clubs, the new immigrants along with other members of the Portuguese community, founded the Azorean Alliance, the Portuguese Historical Center and a new community band and soccer clubs,
These organizations met the needs and ideals brought by the mix of new immigrants, from Capelinhos and other places, becoming the vehicle for forward thinking and the gathering place for safeguarding tradition and culture.
Today’s San Diego’s Portuguese community is a mix of many forces and influences brought by Portuguese immigrants, starting with Juan Rodrigues Cabrillo, then by the early whalers from Pico, and on to the tuna fishermen from all parts of Portugal, who created an industry without parallel, to the modern and latest group of immigrants from Capelinhos and even Portuguese speaking Africa.
The Capelinhos immigrants who came to San Diego may have not made the area into the financial success that other areas became due to their limited numbers, however, their influence in the socio, cultural and work areas have left an impressive imprint in the make up of this Portuguese community in the extreme south of California.
José Maurício Lomelino Alves
In Capelinhos – A Volcano of Synergies
Azorean Immigration to american