, Salem, MA

Local News

November 15, 2010

'Keeping the language and culture alive'

PEABODY — Kyle Sousa isn't a typical 10-year old. While maybe too young to fully realize it, he's straddling separate worlds.

"Pretty much my whole family, they don't really speak English," he said, standing shyly in the lobby of Our Lady of Fatima Church, a Portuguese church on Walsh Avenue. Sousa's family resettled in Peabody from Portugal when he was just 9 months old. He speaks English easily and without an accent. But, he says, despite now living in a predominately English-speaking land, it's important for him to speak, read and write his parent's native language well. He is, after all, a much-needed family translator.

For more than 30 years Portuguese children like Sousa have been meeting on evenings throughout the school year to learn more about their family's heritage. The group meets Tuesday and Wednesday evenings throughout the school year at Our Lady of Fatima Church. It had met for more than a decade at the Thomas Carroll Elementary, but was forced to move this year due to new fees the school district began charging outside groups to use its buildings.

Though the faces and meeting places have changed a lot over three decades, the mission has not.

It's about "keeping the language and culture alive," said Ivone Barreto, who along with Rosa Romano is a co-director of the Portuguese language and culture program in Peabody.

"Culture, language and history — that's something everyone should know," says Maria DaSilva, one of the program's three teachers, and the mother of two graduates of the program. "If we don't know who we are, how can we accept others?"

Evolved with the times

Peabody is home to nearly 40,000 people of Portuguese descent, and an increasing number of Brazilians, who are also Portuguese speakers. The influx of immigrants hit an apex from the 1950s through the 1970s, Barreto said. They came to the city to seek jobs in tanneries and factories and once the first wave planted roots, it became a natural destination for other friends and family seeking a better life.

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