2017-09-07 / News

Vieira family returns to its roots in Azores

BY RYAN GIBBS


ABOVE: Ernest and Mary Vieira renew their vows in a Faialense church where his maternal grandparents were married decades earlier. The ceremony occurred during a family trip to the Azores with their three children, children’s spouses and seven grandchildren. ABOVE: Ernest and Mary Vieira renew their vows in a Faialense church where his maternal grandparents were married decades earlier. The ceremony occurred during a family trip to the Azores with their three children, children’s spouses and seven grandchildren. What started as a birthday present turned into an unforgettable experience for a Portuguese- American family that has lived in Jamestown for more than a century.

The Vieira family trip to the Azores this summer was the first time its patriarch, Ernest Vieira IV, visited Faial, a Portuguese island where all four of his grandparents were born. Vieira, a life member of the Portuguese American Citizens Club, is a lifelong Jamestowner with a strong sense of pride in his roots, a gratification passed down since his grandfather, Ernest Jr., came to the United States in 1910.

“I always knew I was Portuguese American,” said Ernest IV’s daughter, Mary Vieira. “I was always proud of it.”


RIGHT: Members of the Vieira clan swimming in a natural pool in Pico, one of the nine Portuguese islands that constitute the Azores archipelago. RIGHT: Members of the Vieira clan swimming in a natural pool in Pico, one of the nine Portuguese islands that constitute the Azores archipelago. A very personal trip

Mary and her siblings, Rebecca and Ernest V, began planning the Azores trip in November. They surprised their father on his 70th birthday in March with plane tickets for the entire family, including his wife, Margaret, three children and seven grandchildren.

The Vieiras departed Boston’s Logan Airport in mid-July and arrived on Sao Miguel, the largest of the nine Azorean islands. From there, they took the short connecting flight to Faial, where they stayed for most of the week in the North Atlantic archipelago.

Their trip was arranged through a travel company specializing in tours and hikes of the Azores. The firm is managed by three natives.

“They really see themselves as stewards of their culture,” Mary said. “We left there feeling like we had lifelong friends. It was not like we hopped on a tour bus. It was all personalized.”

During their time on Faial, the family stayed at a restored farm in the village of Ribeira Funda, which had been converted into cottages for tourists. Ernest IV said he was particularly impressed with the cuisine, including his favorite meal, spaghetti infused with squid ink, giving it a deep black color.

“It was delicious,” he said. “It didn’t taste fishy, but of course it looked very different. They had these wonderful shrimp all around it.”

On their second day, the family was given a tour of the island and hiked around two of its volcanoes, including Capelinhos, which erupted in 1957 for 13 months, enlarging the land size by more than a square mile. The disaster resulted in nearly half of the population emigrating from the Azores to the United States and Canada.

“It was very fascinating,” Ernest IV said. “They said the island increased in size by one-third in 13 months. Now, of course, two-thirds of that has gone back into the ocean, but it’s taken since 1957 to get it back.”

They also swam with dolphins during the memorable excursion. The highlight of their trip, however, was on day four when they were guests of honor at a special ceremony at a church in the village of Capelo. The church had been central to their ancestors’ daily lives for generations. Ernest IV’s maternal grandparents were baptized and married there. According to family lore, his paternal grandparents were baptized there as well. During the ceremony, Ernest and his wife, along with their children and in-laws, renewed their vows.

“It was all in Portuguese, but the energy was very moving,” Mary said. “People from the civil parish came and knew about it. They were all very honored and enthusiastic that we wanted to celebrate our heritage that way. It had a lot of gravity.”

After the ceremony, the Vieiras met with parishioners and discovered many of them had family in Rhode Island. Some even had connections to Jamestown.

An Ocean State connection

The Vieira family’s encounter at the church, however, wasn’t the only brush they had with Rhode Island during their trip. While hiking, Mary struck up a conversation with an elderly couple in Portuguese. When the couple began talking to Ernest IV, however, the conservation turned to English. When asked how they knew the language, the old man said the couple winters in East Providence.

Mary understood the connection between Rhode Island and the Azores because she majored in Portuguese studies at Brown University. Seeing the relationship firsthand, however, took it to a new level.

“To see how deep that relationship is was really powerful,” she said.

The Vieiras have lived in Jamestown since the turn of the 20th century. Ernest IV’s father owned the E.R. Vieira coal and oil company, which operated from the site of the Jamestown Arts Center. Not only was Ernest IV a member of the Portuguese American Citizens Club, but both of his grandfathers were founding members of the Holy Ghost Society.

Of all the Vieiras who went on the trip, only Mary remains in Jamestown. Along with her husband, Glen Spears, she raises their three boys — Rio, 7, Ridge, 5, and Forest, 1 — in the same Plymouth Road home where her father grew up. Her parents have since relocated to Georgetown, Mass. Her sister lives in nearby Brookline, Mass., while her brother and his family live in Aurora, Ill.

Mary said it’s important for her children to understand their heritage and the history of Portuguese Americans in Jamestown. The trip was the perfect opportunity, she said.

“Many of the Portuguese have moved off the island, so I feel like it’s part of the island’s history that is important to remember and preserve,” she said. “I just want us to remember that this is part of the fabric of who we are as a community.”

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