“The history of Cape Verde and Cape Verdeans in America is a beautiful history,” says Jose DaMoura, president and acting director of the Cape Verdean Museum.
Founded by Cape Verdean-American Denise Oliveira, the museum has been a part of the Rhode Island community since 2005, when it opened in East Providence. Come early this fall, the museum is moving to Pawtucket, where the largest population of Cape Verdean-Americans in the state reside. In addition to providing more space for exhibits and educational opportunities, the new site also puts the museum at the center of New England’s Cape Verdean community, notes DaMoura, citing the large populations of Cape Verdean-Americans in Connecticut and Massachusetts, as well.
The museum is also the first of its kind, with only one other similar institute that opened last year in East Falmouth, MA that covers a broader scope of topics. DaMoura explains that the Rhode Island museum has a more distinct focus. “Of everything we have in the museum, the majority was donated by Cape Verdeans in the community and from Cape Verde,” DaMoura says of the cultural artifacts, art, and historic documents on display that “tell our complete story.”
DaMoura notes the differences between their history and that of other immigrant diaspora stories in the United States. “When whaling was really prevalent in the United States – after they discovered the incredibly hard-working and talented sea people that Cape Verdean people are – the majority of whaling ships began going and picking up workers in Cape Verde,” explains DaMoura. As whaling became obsolete with the invention of electricity (replacing the need for whale oil-lit lamps), many Cape Verdeans began immigrating to the United States.
“Our immigration story is a bit different from the standard, in which people come in through Ellis Island,” shares DaMoura. “The Cape Verdean immigration began with the whaling ships coming through docks in Fox Point, New Bedford, and Cape Cod.”
The grand opening, slated for September 24, will include an outdoor celebration taking over the street around the new building and an evening gala at the Omni Hotel in Providence. It will also be a historic moment for the community, both locally and globally as Cape Verde President José Maria Neves and Prime Minister Ulisses Correia e Silva are slated to attend.
DaMoura traveled to Cape Verde in January to invite the officials. “At no time in recent history have both of them been here to celebrate at the same time,” he explains. “This is historic for the Cape Verdean
community of the United States.”
A grant from the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts, in addition to a donation from the Cape Verdean government and local support, have helped fund the museum, though they’re still just shy of their goal. DaMoura encourages donations from the state’s Cape Verdean population, but also from the Rhode Island community as a whole.
“This is a community effort because everybody wins,” he says. “With the high number of Cape Verdeans in the state of Rhode Island, it’s only right that we educate and learn about each other. We want to be inclusive. That’s the point of us having the museum – to teach and learn and build a stronger community.”
Until their September opening, guests can still visit the East Providence museum before August. CapeVerdeanMuseum.org
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