Portuguese American Journal

Thanksgiving celebrated home away from home – Azores

The Massachusetts Bristol County Sheriff’s Office, in partnership with the Government of the Azores, organized a Thanksgiving dinner celebration, held in Ponta Delgada Sunday, dedicated to the many deportees sent back to the islands from the United States.

Thomas M. Hodgson, Bristol County Sheriff, travelled to Ponta Delgada last week with a team of volunteers to organize the event with Graça Castanho, Director of the Department for the Azorean Communities.

About 40 donated turkeys together with traditional Thanksgiving dinner trimmings were shipped to the island of São Migue to feed over 200 guests.

According to Graça Castanho, the event was a request by the deportees themselves for whom Thanksgiving is a specially cherished holiday which reminds them of family and home in the United States were most of them grew up. Many have not had a Thanksgiving dinner since being deported.

“This was a request by the deportees,” said Castanho. “The hardest time of the year for deportees is Thanksgiving because it’s the season in which they feel the most penalized.”

Sheriff Hodgson, responsible for the Bristol County detention center that processes deportations to the Azores, is supportive of initiatives aimed to processing deportations in a more compassionate human way. He is also working closely with the Government of the Azores and federal authorities on an amendment to the existing legislation on deportation.

Last year, 61 Azorean-born immigrants in the United States were deported to the Azores, most of them legal residents deported for minor misdemeanors. Those deportees are Azorean-born children of legal immigrants from the Azores that were not naturalized American citizens at the time they broke the law.

Because current US deportation laws are disproportionately harsh and can be applied retroactively many are being deported for minor misdemeanors which took place many years ago and for which they may have not served time. Once deported, individuals are banished for life from entering the United States. Since 1989, about 1,000 Portuguese nationals were deported to the Azores, most of them males.

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Picture by Alcione