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Thursday, April 4, 2013

Having a Voice

My grandfather Avô Gilberto died a few months after I was born so I only know him from stories and photographs. I'm told he was a larger-than-life character, quick to joke and a well-known figure in the Portuguese community. He had worked as a journalist in Portugal and after coming to the U.S. he started his own newspaper, Voz de Portugal, the Voice of Portugal. I assumed that's how the family made a living. It wasn't until Vovó Flora's funeral that I learned how the newspaper was just a labor of love. It was never really profitable. Some of the family's income came from side printing jobs but mostly it was Vovó Flora's work at the Hunt's cannery that paid the bills. There was a fair bit of resentment over that. Flora worked her shift at the cannery, worked in the printing shop, and worked to keep up the home and raise the kids. That's enough to turn anyone bitter.

I love this fake publicity still. 
Still, having a newspaper brought a certain prestige. Gilberto and Flora were invited to society events and met dignitaries. I never had considered this aspect of the family business until I looked through the old photo albums and saw the many 8 x 10 glossy prints of Vovó all dressed up at a swank party, or standing alongside important-looking people. Working hard and providing for your family is honorable but hardly notable. The newspaper was a ticket to a different social circle, and that certainly had appeal.

All dressed up and posing with some guy. 
I'm reminded again how no story is simple. The newspaper was a burden, but also a dream. The tiny house on A Street with the print shop out back was the place Vovó Flora loved. After Avô Gilberto died, Tio Lourenço kept the newspaper going as long as he could but eventually it too died. In the 1980s Flora bought a bigger house in a quieter suburb, but after a year moved back to the house she loved best. By then the neighborhood had shifted mostly commercial and there were few houses left. She liked the busy street. It was her home. And all through the years, up until the fire, the big Voz de Portugal sign stood out front. It was more than a publication. For this family, for Vovó Flora, it was an identity.
Avô Gilberto, third from the left, with some official-type people and the iconic sign.

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