Portuguese American Journal

Book: “Power of the Spirit” Portuguese Triumphs and Hardships – Review

By Millicent Accardi, Contributor (*) 

In the 1800s, only the courageous crossed the Atlantic’s expanse from Portugal and the Azores, to face a dangerous sea and the badlands of California in order to reach a new life in the United States. Now, the highly anticipated book Power of the Spirit, Joe Machado editor, is the latest from Portuguese Heritage Publications of California (PHPC). Contributors include, Ferreira Moreno, Dolores Greenslate, Al Dutra, Miguel Ávila, Adrienne Alston, José do Couto Rodrigues and Lúcia Soares Ávila.

The book pays homage to these original pioneer immigrants, laymen and women and the clergy, for their tenacity, teamwork and tenacious spirit, which paved the way for future generations to travel to and settle in California. The first of its kind, the book explores the experience of these settlers through the eyes of the settlers themselves as well as their priests, detailing their triumphs and hardships.

Several years in the making, this book was compiled and written after years of careful research and will be a welcome addition to the growing body of the evolving historical information about California and the role of Portuguese immigrants on the West Coast.

It was the early spiritual leaders who “demonstrated a keen sensitivity towards the ethnic diversity of their flock.” To counsel and guide Portuguese settlers, “priests and nuns from the Azores islands and Portugal’s mainland” were invited “to minister.” These brave people were men and women of the cloth, sponsored by the church who, “dedicated themselves to building places of worship and ministering in Portuguese, to the spiritual well being of their parishioners”  Most, who were from the Azorean islands, a group who were” longing for the ability to worship in their own language.”

Strength and spiritual efforts combined to form core communities responsible for both churches and establishing these early towns. And it was the priests who provided much needed guidance and spiritual support with which inspired and led these first travelers to build communities throughout the vast new Western territory of California.


“Over one hundred native Portuguese and Portuguese American priests have for more than a hundred and forty years attended to their parishioner countrymen in California.

The first missionaries to arrive on the Pacific coast were obviously Spanish. It is not unthinkable, however, that a few among them might have been Portuguese. To mention one instance, in 1587 Fathers Francisco Nogueira and Rufino, members of a Spanish expedition under the command of Pedro de Unamuno, landed on Californian shores. Nogueira is a Portuguese surname and Rufino could be either Spanish or Portuguese. After a few days, Unamuno sailed off to Acapulco, and there is no indication that either of the two priests was left ashore.

Years went by, and in 1814 the first documented Portuguese immigrant jumped ship in Monterey. Between that year and the Gold Rush, only some two dozen Portuguese were recorded as living in California. None of them was a priest. It is a well known fact that a feverish migration to California occurred during the period from 1849 to 1855. Only an extremely scant number of the Portuguese who arrived, however, engaged in gold prospecting. Rather than that, these new migrants, mainly born in the Azores Islands, developed a huge network of supply to the forty-niners. Activities included growing vegetables, raising chickens and cows, opening boarding houses and restaurants, and operating flat bottom barges to ferry merchandise in the San Francisco Bay.”


PHPC books are printed in English, Portuguese, and bilingual editions and encompass a variety of topics: the Heritage Collection documents research about major aspects of the history of the Portuguese experience in California; the Fiction Collection contains works of fiction, poetry or essays inspired by the lives and experiences of the Portuguese in California. The Pioneer Collection presents works in the English language dealing with the lives of Portuguese pioneers in California. The Colecção Décima Ilha consists of works, in either poetry or prose in the Portuguese language, by Portuguese residents of California.  Additional Publications include books of instructional value, focused on aiding the assimilation of Portuguese immigrants into American society. The Prospector’s Library is a repository of research works, white papers, academic theses and dissertations related to, or about the Portuguese immigrant presence in California. PHPC also offers original and reproduced music CDs by Portuguese musicians.

The Portuguese Heritage Publications of California (PHPC) is a non-profit educational organization and boutique publisher, specializing in the research, preservation and distribution of vanishing memories. Historical details and current relevant events about the Portuguese presence in California.

PHPC is accepting advance orders for a deluxe limited edition to be released December 2012. Pre-order here.



(*) Millicent Borges Accardi is a contributor to the Portuguese American Journal. She is a Portuguese-American poet, the author of three books: Injuring Eternity (World Nouveau), Woman on a Shaky Bridge (Finishing Line Press chapbook), and Only More So (forthcoming from Salmon Press, Ireland). She has received literary fellowships from Canto Mundo, the National Endowment for the Arts, and California Arts Council. Last fall, she was a visiting poet at The Muse Writers Center in Norfolk, VA. Millicent lives in Topanga, CA. Follow her on Twitter @TopangaHippie

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