Portuguese American Journal

Angela Simões: How to keep all things Portuguese alive – Interview

By Millicent Borges Accardi

Angela Costa Simões, a third-generation Portuguese American, wears many hats. She is an entrepreneur, children’s book author, podcaster, PR rockstar, consultant, and mother. Living in Fremont, California, she has served as Chair and Member of the Board of the Portuguese American Leadership Council (PALCUS) where she currently serves on the Executive Committee. She also became one of the main resources for all things Portuguese in and about our global Luso community.

As an author, she is the creator of a series of bilingual children’s books to help children and their parents learn Portuguese. She claims, “I’m not fluent in Portuguese. We want our daughter to learn Portuguese but reading her a book, all in Portuguese, was very difficult for me. Having a bilingual book, not only allows me to participate in my daughter learning Portuguese, but I also get to learn as well!”

Her children’s books in Portuguese and English versions now include: Linda Menina, Pretty Girl, Maria and João Go to the Festa!, Lindo Menino, Handsome Boy, A Lenda do Galo de Barcelos, Legend of the Barcelos Rooster, Números, Cores e Fruta, Numbers, Colors and Fruit and Uma Casa Portuguesa.

PALCUS was established in 1991 as a non-partisan non-profit organization committed to advocating for the Portuguese American community, promoting greater awareness of its ethnic accomplishments, encouraging stronger ties between Portugal and the United States, and creating a leadership network to advance educational and professional opportunities for Portuguese Americans.

Angela Simões met via Zoom with Millicent Borges Accardi for an interview for the Portuguese American Journal, where she speaks of her Portuguese heritage and how she incorporates all things Portuguese in her everyday life, and how she joined the PALCUS organization to quickly realize the strengths and needs of the Portuguese American community. Her words have been edited for length and clarity.


Q: Can you describe how your work with PALCUS began?

A: I first found out about PALCUS in 1998. I was in college and Rod Alvernaz, who was one of the leaders at the Luso American Fraternal Federation said, “Hey, there’s this organization that’s based in DC and they are looking for an executive administrator.  I think you would be good.”

He put me in contact with the president at the time, Ron Cruz. I knew nothing about the organization. I mean, this is before Google. So, I ended up getting hired as an executive administrator and I worked in DC for a year for PALCUS and quickly realized that I wanted to go back to California. DC was a tough crowd, a tough place to make friends.

But it opened my eyes to the national Portuguese community. I grew up listening to Jorge Ferreira’s song, “Viva Fall River,” and my cousins and I always thought that Fall River was the Portuguese mecca on the East Coast, and it was a world away. There were Portuguese people somewhere over there, but are they like us? Are they not like us? I don’t know. We had cousins in New Jersey that we had met a couple of times. And working for PALCUS really kind of brought the community together for me. I realized that no matter where we were, the Portuguese had the same struggles as far as trying to keep things alive.

Q: Are there differences in California versus the East Coast Portuguese communities?

A: We maintained many of the same traditions, but the East Coast did things a little differently than in California. I didn’t know that there were honorary consuls. I didn’t understand the consular network. And, we had an honorary consul in Hawaii of all places. I mean, it really opened my eyes and, when I came back to California at the time, the board did not have a California representative. Even though I was only 23, they said, well, we want you to be our board representative from California.

Q: How have you continued to play a role at PALCUS?

A: I’ve been on the board ever since. I think it was me having a connection to California that was important, what they were looking for at the time. And the organization has gone through such an evolution over the past 25 years.

When I first started working, there were only two categories of PALCUS membership. It wasn’t the community outreach organization that it is today because the organization was originally founded on the premise that it would be a very limited membership and the organization would have 10 to 20 representatives throughout the country that would then serve as the advocating body. Through Ron Cruz’s work, I realized that that just wasn’t feasible because all these people had jobs, they were leaders of their own companies, and not well connected to the community. And so, to better understand the community, we started to open things up and invite everybody to become a member. Then I will say that with the evolution of the Internet having websites and being able to send out E-newsletters helped to grow our awareness.

Q: How has PALCUS changed?

A: I helped to find our purpose. We were founded as an advocacy organization (the voice on Capitol Hill) — not necessarily a lobbying group. We would advocate at the federal level for policies that affect the Portuguese community.

Then we realized there were other needs in the community as well, such as scholarships and creating a network for young Portuguese Americans. So that’s how the organization evolved and where it’s at today. Now I am an immediate past Chair after I served as Chair for a few years. I’m still on the board but in a slowly diminishing role.

Q: How do you remember your most proud accomplishment while you were Chair?

A: The one thing that we did that we hadn’t done before was a national survey of the community. Just asking questions, such as “Do you feel like you are part of a community; Where do you spend your time; where do you dedicate your volunteer time; and where do you feel there’s a need for investment?”

That was the first time we had ever taken a survey. Portuguese language classes were still important to maintain our traditions. We realized that we could be the de facto source of information about the national community as opposed to people just trying to guess and making assumptions based on anecdotes.

So, I think that it was important that the survey was done twice now. It was called the Portuguese National Index. We also surveyed whether Portuguese wanted to be classified as Hispanic. And that was a big deal because it was going to affect how the Census Bureau classified us. Our community is kind of divided on that.

Q: You started the famous Angela’s list. Can you talk about what it is and how it became the PALCUS newsletter?

A: That’s like almost 20 years ago. I just started finding Portuguese events, and it occurred to me that to help these halls and clubs attract more people to their events, I would share it with friends I had email addresses for. I started sending out the emails and I would get notes, that said, “Can you add my friend?” And then, to be a hundred percent honest, if I saw another group, I would commandeer those emails and add them to my distribution list.

I asked PALCUS directorship at the time, “Hey, I have this list. Do you want to take over the service?” And an administrator at the time took over compiling the news and events and sending it out. And so that’s how Angela’s List transitioned to PALCUS and continues to be the most-read newsletter that PALCUS distributes.

Q: I’ll switch gears a little bit. You recently got your Portuguese passport! Congratulations! What was the process like?

A: Oh my gosh, that was such a debacle. I’m a third-generation Portuguese American. My grandparents were born here, my parents were born here, which means none of them have Portuguese citizenship. And I thought, well, I can try to do the whole thing through the grandparent, but that meant I had to make my grandmother a citizen first even though her parents have passed away, all we had to do is prove that she was their daughter.

Theoretically, I ran into two problems. First, the agency that I was working with at the time said that they were unable to locate my great-grandparents’ records, which meant that there would never be a way for Portugal to verify that my grandmother was the daughter of immigrants. Second problem was that my grandmother’s name on her birth certificate is Alicia with an A, but she has gone by Alice her entire life. And Portugal wanted an official name change document where there wasn’t one. So, I hit a roadblock, and said, I’m just going to apply through marriage.

Q: Sounds like a better plan. What was involved?

A: Well, you have to get an FBI background check. You must get letters of recommendation. A lot more paperwork you must do. And I did take longer to gather everything. And by the time I sent in my application, my FBI background check had expired. So, I had to get that done again. And it was one of those things where we hadn’t heard anything. My husband was in Portugal, on one of his trips, and he went and stood in line at the Embassy, it was a good thing he did, because at the counter, when he asked about my application status, they said, “Oh, yeah, you’re just in time! Because tomorrow her application was slated to be canceled (because she’s missing this and this). So, unless “she can get it to us within 24 she’ll have to start over.”  God! Do this right now and fax it (I said) and we will email the hard copy immediately. And we were able to salvage it… My husband and daughter already had their clientship, but my process took nine years.

Q: Do you think there are things that our women share that other communities of women might not? Traits or positions or feelings about how they fit into society?

A: They faced a lot of adversity being a woman. But my experience was that women were in control. My mom my aunts and my grandmothers were all in charge of everything. This is not to say men and fathers had no say, but in the household, I never felt like we were belittled or made to feel as if we couldn’t do something.

In that regard, the fact that we have strong women, sometimes I’d see videos or things about maybe Hispanic women or Greek women. I often find that could be a Portuguese woman, or in the movie, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, there are similarities between Portuguese and Greek women. I will say Portuguese in general love tragedy, and we like to be sad.

Q: What strikes me as odd is that my editor Carolina Matos at PAJ is always saying, we need more interviews with women, and yet?  Many of the women I ask to interview say, “I’m too busy,” or “You don’t want to write about me,” but male writers or artists? They always say yes!

A: That is funny. Well, I’ll say women, in general, are very good multitaskers, which could be the reason you get the “I’m too busy” answer. And Portuguese women specifically, I think are not only good multitaskers but have ingenuity. Maybe it’s because we take on too much and we are too busy and maybe we don’t care so much about the notoriety of it.

Q: You’ve written children’s books. What inspires you?

Angela Simões the author

A: As a third-generation Portuguese American, I did not grow up speaking Portuguese. And when we had our daughter, we wanted her to learn Portuguese. And the children’s books from Portugal that we got, I didn’t understand, So, I thought… well… if it was in both English and Portuguese, then maybe I would learn, and she would learn at the same time. But there were no bilingual books for kids, except translations of Snow White or Cinderella.

In short, nothing that was really “Portuguese” in nature. I still don’t know what made me think of it, but I just said, “Well, I’ll write one.” And, so I did, and that was Linda Menina, with help from Portuguese Heritage Publications. The response has been quite good. And then all the boys’ moms wanted a book for boys, so my career as a children’s book author kind of spiraled from there.

Q: What role does family and Portuguese culture play in your life?

A: Everything! I live, eat, breathe, sleep, dream — I mean — it’s every fiber of my being. And it has been that for a long time, especially the Portuguese part. I thank my parents my grandparents and my extended family for wanting to be involved when we were kids.

Growing up, most of my friends, people that I really hung out with were Portuguese, and I would see them on the weekends at the dances and festas. And then, as I got older, I think I always knew that I wanted to marry someone who was Portuguese. And even my friends would say if I was dating somebody at college who wasn’t Portuguese, they would say, why do you even bother? You’re going to marry a Portuguese guy. And so I did. And he is very strong in his Portuguese identity. We incorporate Portuguese things in our everyday lives, whether it’s how we cook or the foods we eat, or sometimes the music we listen to, which again, it’s not folklore. It can be modern groups. We go to Portugal as often as we can. It’s part of who we are.

Q: What articles do you most enjoy at PAJ and what would you like to see more of?

A: I really like the profiles of people because I think it’s important for our community to see that we aren’t just a stereotype. Like, in California Portuguese are not all dairymen. And on the East Coast, we’re not all construction workers.

And so when there are bigger events (whether it’s an event or the popularity of NATA) and something of the Portuguese culture is starting to creep into the mainstream, which is progress. I remember when people thought Portugal was in South America and that we all spoke Spanish. So maybe PAJ could cover how perceptions have changed. Where’s our community going? How can we be better? There’s a lot of opportunity and positivity to be talking about.

It’s kind of funny, in the last month, at PALCUS, we’ve gotten three inquiries from people who live in non-traditional communities such as Arizona, the Pacific Northwest, Texas, and even Colorado. Hey, I’m Portuguese and I live here and there’s no club, can you help me?

I highly doubt that they’re going to be able to buy a building and establish an IES Society club. That’s a lot of work, a lot of capital. So what does a club these days look like and what can it look like? I think that’s a big question we’re all struggling with: What are people looking for? Is it a connection? Do they want events? And if they do, what kind of events? What are young people looking for? Do they want to connect with other Portuguese on TikTok or Instagram? I don’t know. I think there’s this element of the unknown that’s scary because it means whether or not our community is going to continue to exist because it can’t continue the way it has. The festas are getting smaller, the clubs have a harder time getting members. Some clubs even have a hard time finding a queen, that kind of thing. Everything’s getting smaller and smaller. What does the future look like? I think there’s an opportunity to explore that topic so we can keep things going. Even if it looks different, the Portuguese community is still there. For a long time, the closest thing we Portuguese had to mainstream was the movie, Mystic Pizza!

Q: Yes, definitely. I talked to a lot of my friends about that, and I went to Mystic to go to the pizza place, and they have the movie posters there, and that was the one thing we had, and it wasn’t even all that right or good, but it was something. So in that vein, I was thinking what would be your wish for our community, taking us into the 21st century?

A:   My wish is for us to make a conscious effort to prioritize being involved. And that might mean making sure to attend events to support the halls and the clubs. Or, that might mean choosing between “Do I go to a party with my friends?” or “Do I go to the Portuguese Club?” Maybe you skip the American event sometimes. It’s not the end of the world, and so my wish is for those who saw value in being involved in Portuguese events growing up to make a conscious effort to help maintain the culture today.

Q: On that same note, do you have events or projects that you’d like to mention?

A: Absolutely. The biggest project is the Heritage Portugal program that PALCUS is putting together. The first iteration of it will be in the summer of 2024. It is a two-week all-expenses paid trip to Portugal for young Portuguese Americans between the ages of 18 to 35. It’s really meant to be an immersive experience to showcase the past, present, and future of Portugal and how people can truly connect perhaps and stay connected in some way with the country and with the community here. It will be a series of visits to historical sites, visits to companies, research facilities, and universities to showcase that, listen! this is where we came from. This is how Portugal came to be. This is the current state of industry and education here, and here’s where things are going.

Q: Yes, I think so too…

A: There’s just a lot of potential for our community. I’ll end with a quote from our friend Diniz Borges. That kind of sums up everything, which is “When people say, yeah, I’m proud to be Portuguese. And you say, that’s great. What are you going to do about it?” I love that quote from him. I think it’s perfect.


Millicent Borges Accardi, a Portuguese-American writer, is the author of four poetry collections, including Through Grainy Landscape, 2021 (inspired by Portuguese writings) and Quarantine Highway (Honorable Mention at the Latino Book Awards 2023). Her awards also include fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, Fulbright, CantoMundo, California Arts Council, Foundation for Contemporary Arts (Covid grant), and Fundação Luso-Americana (Portugal). She also curates the popular Kale Soup for the Soul reading series.


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