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Saturday, January 9, 2010

Immigrants By Chance - Chapter 1


On a Saturday, in the fall of 1956, my mother Ana Maria, as was her custom, went to the hair dresser. My father, Gil, and my brother Francisco Jose, had gone ahead to my grandfather's summer home in Calhetas, a small village on the north side of São Miguel Island, in the Azores.
For those who are not familiar with the Azores, it is an archipelago in the Atlantic, bathed by the Gulf current, about 900 miles from mainland Europe and about 2400 miles from New York. It is now an autonomous region, with its own government. This was not so in the 1950's when it was a forgotten part of Portugal.
As my mother was getting her hair done, the hairdresser, noticing her blond hair, asked if she was Portuguese, to which she replied that she was, but that she had been born in Germany. As it happens my maternal grandfather, Mauricio de Freitas Lomelino, who was a Portuguese from the island of Madeira, had gone to work in Hamburg and married Bertha Johanna Felgenhaur. From the marriage, several children were born, the oldest being Mauricio, followed by Ana Maria. Soon there after, as WWI broke out, my grandfather found himself in enemy territory, as Portugal was now at war with Germany. His choice was to be imprisoned or to leave Germany and return to Lisbon with his family. And so, the family came to Portugal.
Let's go back to question and the answer that my mother gave to the hairdresser and to the question that followed. “Why then, don't you go to America?” to which my mother replied, “I am not going to America, because I cannot”, to which the hairdresser retorted, “I think that you can!”. My mother rushed out of the hairdresser's, to call my father.
After locating him, she proceeded to ask him,”Gil, queres ir para a América?” “Gil, do you want to go to America?” My Dad, knowing how enthusiastic my mother could get over things, told her, “Não brinques comigo”,”don't kid with me”.
My father always dreamed of coming to America, however, in those days, there was a quota system in place, established by the government of the United States, and the quantity for Portugal was around 550 persons per year. Therefore, it was almost impossible to immigrate. To make matter worst, if one had applied for immigration to America, it could take 15 to 20 years for your number (request) to come up.
As a young man, he wanted to come to the United States to become a naval architect. Much to his disappointment, my grandmother, Catarina, would not let him do so, since in her words, “nunca mais te vejo se vais para tão longe” “I will never see you again", if you go so far away”. He became traumatized with the idea of not being able to come to the United States, since he had learned English, in the hopes of realizing his dream. So he did the next best thing, he applied to immigrate to the island of Santa Maria, 55 miles across from São Miguel, where there was an American Air Base, that operated there during WWII. After receiving the approval and having gained a “carta de reponsabilidade”, a “letter of responsibility” from a friend on Santa Maria, he went to work at the American PX. There he could at least be in contact with Americans, live some of the American experience and continue to practice his English.
All of this is in a manner, an explanation for my father's answer to my mother's question, about going to America.
After some give and take, he came back from Calhetas to Ponta Delgada, where we lived, and proceeded to contact the German Consul, Leo Watsenbaur, who as it turns out, was a childhood friend if my father's. Together they had sailed on Sete Cidades lakes, many a time.
After explaining what had just happened, my dad asked “Leo, come sabes, a Ana Maria é Alemã, podemos ir para a América? “Leo, as you know, Ana Maria is German, can we go to America?” His answer was “Sim”, “Yes”.
The answer was so simple yet so far fetched!
I don't remember, however, I don't think that we went back to Calhetas to spend the remainder of the weekend, for it was time to let the family know and to start making plans. There was one more step to take, getting the confirmation from the American Consulate that it was possible.
Monday morning, my father and mother were at the American Consulate's door to speak with Carlos Alves, who was also a friend. After listening to the the inquiry, and checking the statutes, he confirmed that, in deed, it was possible. He stated that he would request the required immigrant numbers from Washington DC. The timetable was about three weeks for the paperwork to be generated, and the Alves family would be immigrating to America, not as Portuguese, but as Germans under the immigration quota numbers established for Germany, at that time, around 24,000 per year. The month was November, 1956.
Christmas was approaching, and plans were formulated on how to separate the family household goods, for many of them were to to come with us to America.
Weeks were going by, and no immigration numbers had come from Washington. Plans were made for my mother and brother to go say good bye to my grandparents, that lived in Carcavelos, just outside of Lisbon, on the ship, Lima. I was to go with my father later on, on a TWA Super Constellation,via the airport on Santa Maria, the only air gateway then, from the Azores to the world. The trip to Santa Maria, was made on the ship, Arnel.
The family returned two weeks later, on the ship, Carvalho Araújo, via Funchal, Madeira. It gave us an opportunity to say goodbye to one of my mother's cousins, Viscondessa Gerais de Lima.
It had been some time since most of the Lomelino family had left Madeira. The majority had gone to Brazil, to continental Portugal and to the Azores.
We arrived at Ponta Delgada in March of 1957 and continued with the preparations for the move. The numbers still had not arrived. Panic set in, since the expectation was to leave as soon as possible.
My father, returned to the American Consulate to check on the status of the numbers and he was informed that the best thing was to ask a new set of numbers. The request was made.
Meanwhile, we had been to the medical inspections, had the needed vaccinations and were ready to travel, even though no booking had been made because there was no definite date.
My mother had decided that she would bring all of the linens, the good china, the silverware, the silver and collectables, clothing, my father's paintings, his hobby tools. All was carefully packed in a custom made box, with a dimension of about 60”x60”x30”, and weighed several hundred pounds. There were also a trunk and several suite cases. As these were packed, they were moved next door to a ground floor storage area, in the home of our neighbor, José Horta, now a tourism store by the name of Capote e Capelo.
Some two weeks after the new request for immigration numbers was made, the numbers arrived, including the original requested numbers. Now it was certain, we were leaving for America.
The decision was made that we would take the next available ship to New York.
My grandfather, José Inácio Alves, who was the book keeper for the steamship line Carregadores Açoreanos, booked the passage for all four of us on the Monte Brasil, a freighter, that connected the Azores to Europe and the United States. The freighter was equipped to take nine passengers.
On May 9, 1957, we were on our way to Pier 29, East River, New York, with stopovers in the Island of Terceira and Faial in the Azores. The trip's duration was nine days.

José Mauricio Lomelino Alves
Vista, California
© 2010

1 comment:

Katie Alves said...

This is very good. I am glad that you are writing this all down. It makes me very proud to be in this family.
Keep Writing!!!!!
Thank You