Maria and Joseph Mendonça Oral History Interview

Dublin Core


Maria and Joseph Mendonça Oral History Interview




This interview focuses on several major themes: (1) Portuguese immigration from the Azores to Lowell, as part of the “second great wave” of Portuguese immigration to the United States, beginning in the late 1950s; (2) experiencing the Capelhinos volcanic eruption on the island of Faial, beginning in 1957; (3) adjusting to life in the United States, notably in public schools prior to the advent of bilingual education; (4) Portuguese institutions in Lowell notably St. Anthony’s Roman Catholic Church and the Holy Ghost Society, as well as in the city’s Portuguese social clubs.

Biographical Note:
Maria Rosa was born on the Azorean Island of Faial in 1945. She was one of four children (two brothers and a sister) and grew up in the village of Flamengos, a short distance from Horta, in a four-room house constructed of stone. Her father operated a small farm. She attended the public school in the village completing her education through grade 4. In 1957, when Maria was 12 years old, the Capelhinos volcano on Faial erupted, an event that altered the lives of many Azoreans. In the United States, Congress passed special legislation liberalizing immigration for all Azoreans.
Aided by a Portuguese family in Lowell, which sponsored Maria and her family, the Rosas departed Faial in 1960, arriving in Boston and then traveling to Lowell, where she, her parents, and her siblings settled in the city’s “Back Central” neighborhood. Maria entered the Lowell public schools, attending the Colburn School in her neighborhood. Despite the difficulties with having to learn English without any formal support by the public schools, Maria completed her studies at the Colburn and then at the Butler Junior High School. At the age of 16 she received a work permit and obtained a job at the Hathaway Shirt Company that operated a clothing manufacturing firm in the old Hamilton Mill. She met her husband, Joseph Mendonça, in Lowell and married him in 1966. Maria subsequently worked at the Raytheon Corporation and had a son and daughter.

Born in 1942 in Ponta Garça on the island of São Miguel, Joseph Mendonça moved to the United States at the age of 15, settling in Lowell with his family. His father had been born in Fall River, Massachusetts, in 1905 and therefore had U.S. citizenship, despite returning to São Miguel when he was quite young. Joseph attended a public school in Ponta Garça before entering high school in Ponta Delgada. Upon moving to Lowell, he was placed in the Butler Junior High School, but when he turned 16 he received a work permit and entered the employ of Grace Shoe Company, one a several shoe manufacturers in the city. For a number of years, Joseph worked in the shoe industry, while marrying Maria and beginning a family. He eventually attained a high school degree and began work at BASF Industries. Joseph and Maria were active parishioners at St. Anthony’s Church in Lowell as well as in the Holy Ghost Society. Joseph served as president of the Holy Ghost Society in the 1970s. They lived for a number of years in Lowell’s Back Central neighborhood before purchasing a house in South Lowell.


Interview conducted through the Saab Center for Portuguese Studies at the University of Massachusetts Lowell.


UMass Lowell, Center for Lowell History


Mendonça, Maria
Mendonça, Joseph


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Fitzsimons, Gray, “Maria and Joseph Mendonça Oral History Interview,” Portuguese American Digital Archive, accessed July 23, 2024,

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