This story was written for Organizing for Action’s “Share Your Immigration Story” 7 February 2013.
Photos of the Pope and JFK adorn the walls of my aunts and uncles in Ludlow, MA—the former because of a devout Catholic upbringing, and the latter because without JFK, my family could never have left Portugal.
My great grandparents came to Massachusetts from rural, northern Portugal during a period of open immigration in the early 1900’s. While in the United States, my great grandparents had a son, my great uncle. During the Great Depression, my great grandparents and my great uncle returned to the family support available in Portugal. My great uncle, who by luck of birth was a citizen, left for the United States on the eve of World War II. Shortly after arriving in Ludlow—and not speaking any English, he was the first resident to be drafted to join the war effort.
How does his story relate to the photo of JFK?
When JFK took office, he reopened immigration to the immediate family members of citizens.
Although my great grandparents had my great uncle in the United States, my grandmother, Lucinda Goncalves was born in the small town of Travassos, Portugal. Once the period of open immigration had ended in the United States, my grandparents, my uncles and aunts, and my father—Dionisio Alves, would not have been able to join my great uncle in Massachusetts. Through the efforts of JFK, my father, my grandparents, and four of my uncles and aunts were able to leave Padornelos, Portugal in 1966 and arrive at Boston’s Logan Airport via a TWA flight. My two oldest uncles would come later, but only after completing mandatory service in the Portuguese Army, and the colonial war in Mozambique.
On the day my then 12-year-old father left Padornelos, the town had just received electricity. In the United States he received innumerable opportunities and became the first in his family to attend college—Framingham State University. During senior week 1978, he met my mother, Lauren Cavanaugh, whose Irish ancestry has its own immigration story stretching back to the Civil War and the famine. I will never take lightly that the opportunities that the United States has afforded to my two older brothers, the rest of my extended family, and myself. Now a graduate of American University and a resident of Washington DC, I soon will also have a photo of JFK on my wall.