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A special thank you to those who have passed it on to others. We are heading quickly to amazing page visits to this blog! Welcome to folks from all over the country and other countries as well, including Lisbon!!

The "Village", as it was called, is located in the northwest corner of the city of Taunton, Massachusetts U.S.A. It covers about 1 square mile with the center being School Street. A large portion of the Village population was Portuguese when I was growing up.

This blog covers a lot of the history of the Village, much to do with my years as a child there: 1940 through the late 1950's. I do have many wonderful photos and information prior to that that and will share those as well. Always looking for MORE PHOTOS AND MORE STORIES TO TELL.

If you would like to send photos or share a memory of growing up in the Village
e-mail me at
feel free to comment on the posts. Directions are on the right side of the blog posts. Jump in, the water is fine and it is easy!!!

I will be posting photographs but not identifying individuals unless I have permission or they are a matter of public record. It you wish to give me permission, please let me know.

I am looking for any and all photos of the Village...

Please note: the way blogs work is that the latest post is first. It you would like to start from the beginning of the blog, check out the post labels on the right of the blog and go from there. Thanks.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

A VOZ DE PORTUGAL….The Voice of Portugal

Recently, while planning another series of posts, an audio memory reached down through time to me.  It was the voice of the one and only Ferreira Mendes (pronounced in Portuguese with softened consonants).  Do you remember?  This is a photo of Senhor Ferreira Mendes.

Sunday mornings the sounds of the Taunton Band Club rehearsing sweetened the air.  
Later that morning, came the well- known voice of Ferreira Mendes,
 his strong Portuguese addingto the sounds of drifting through open windows up and down the streets of the Village.  With his distinctive voice, he pronounced the language beautifully. 
 You knew it was Sunday when your ear caught his voice.

As with much of the research for this blog, the story began to tell itself.  It did that with the help of Otilia Mendes Ferreira, Sr. Ferreira Mendes' daughter who has gracefully given us all of the information.  In case you are wondering, somehow in the early days of his career,
 Mendes Ferreira was transposed to Ferreira Mendes. 
 It stayed Ferreira Mendes and it is how everyone knew him.

Affonso Gil Mendes Ferreira was a pioneer of Portuguese language radio in the United States.  He was born January 23, 1899 in the village of Barroca do Zezere on mainland Portugal.  The last of nine siblings, his mother died in childbirth.  Poignantly, and as a measure of his generous spirit, he supported his wet nurse, Ana Marcelina throughout her life.

Immigrating on August 6, 1920 to the U.S., he would be the only one of his family to do so,  Sr. Ferreira Mendes worked briefly at the Whittenton Mills in Taunton.  He and his family would always live in Taunton and be members of St. Anthony's Church in the School Street Village.

After working in the mill he one day (an early sign of his ambition),  bought himself a raccoon coat, bought a car and hired a driver until he was able to get his license. 
 Marriage came in 1929 after he met M. Rosa Santos.  He was embarked on a new life. 
 Establishing a Portuguese club located above where Hanson's Drug Store would be on Broadway, he went on to launch a Portuguese language newspaper in 
1923 or 1924, O Heraldo Portugues which was published until 1976. 
 Above is a copy of the 1929 Easter cover and below a photo of himself 
and two of his newsboys, the Fonseca boys from the Village.

Sr. Ferreira Mendes was a colorful, gregarious and generous person becoming known to one and all as simply Ferreira Mendes.  His impact began in earnest in 1933, when he became a fixture on local airways broadcasting his Portuguese language radio program, A Voz De Portugal.  He would broadcast that program for nearly sixty years!  This is a great photo as it really shows the emotion and integrity with which he approached his life's work.

There were no Portuguese radio stations in 1933.  The growing population of Portuguese people living especially on the East coast of the U.S. at that time were thirsty for news in their own language.  He began on WNBH in New Bedford, then on to WPRO in Providence, then WSAR in Fall River for 9 years until during WW II when they felt they did not wish to broadcast foreign language programs.  At that point WOCB on Cape Cod welcomed him.  Then on to WRIB, Providence, where his daily Portuguese program would be the only daily Portuguese program in the country for 15 years.  At that same time he was on WPEP, Taunton for his Sunday program.  
This is the program listened to in the Village.

Because of failing health, in 1975, his daughter Otilia did the program while he opened and closed it.  He continued to direct it, however.  He died in 1992 at 93 years of age.

As was noted earlier, Ferreira Mendes was a celebrity all on his own.  But, he was more that that, he was a tirelessly generous man.  He was an ardent fundraiser raising funds for Portuguese orphanages, supporting handicapped children or refugees and wounded veterans from the Angolan war as well as many other causes dear to his heart. There were times when requests would show up at the Taunton Post Office with no address other than his name and U.S.A.

 It is said that often when Ferreira Mendes would travel to Fox Point in Providence, to New Bedford or to the Weir or School Street villages in Taunton, people would shout out to him 
in welcome their chant: " a comissao  agradece" or "the committee thanks you." 
 He would often say this after his speeches or presentations.  
The humor was that he was the sole committee member.

Sr. Ferreira Mendes was awarded the Portuguese highest medal of honor : The Commander of the Order of Prince Henry the Navigator for his work.  That work was highlighted by what he accomplished for victims of the earthquakes in the Azorean Island of Faial in the early 1960's.  His influence helped to open the quotas for Portuguese immigrants coming to the United States.

A poignant story tells of how he helped a disabled young girl such that she went on to become a teacher.  She would write to him throughout her life.

An advocate for the Portuguese community when they were an unsung group he presented his radio programs sharing local events as well as events in mainland Portugal, Madeira and the Azores keeping people connected to their homeland as well as to each other.  He arranged for showings of Portuguese films renting the Park or Strand theaters in Taunton as well as others in Rhode Island.  If even a few people showed up, he would show the film.  In those days there were shifts of workers at the mills, he made early morning showings available for them.

He put on Portuguese musicals at Taunton High School.  Fascinating is the fact that he introduced the great Portuguese Fado singer Amalia Rodrigues to America in her premiere performance at Hope High School in Providence, R.I.   Fado is the traditional and haunting folk music of Portugal and the soul of that music was Amalia Rodrigues.

It was important for me to try and find an audio of Ferreira Mendes, but that seemed impossible.  However, when I spoke with his daughter Otilia I discovered something marvelous.  During WWII the U.S. government was suspicious of foreign language radio programming.  They either prohibited them or watched them closely.  It was feared that such programs would send secrets to the enemy.  In 1943, Ferreira Mendes, as we mentioned, could not present his program at WSAR as the station was leary of presenting any foreign language programs.  However, WOCB on Cape Cod welcomed him enthusiastically not being intimidated by the government.

Unknown to Ferreira Mendes, during the war years the U.S. government recorded many of his radio programs.  Thus, they were preserved for posterity.  In those days  since there were no digital or tape recordings, they were recorded on large vinyl records with a circumference of around 17 inches which can only be listened to on special equipment.  Some of them have been put on CD's and are at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, MA.  More on that later.

Which brings us to the final part of this story.  In loving memory of their father, Otilia and and her sister Justina Ferreira are the lead benefactors of the Portuguese- American Archives located at the University of Massachusetts in Dartmouth, Massachusetts.  A third sister, Esther, had passed away in 1953.  That was the only time that her father ever missed presenting his program.

The Archives were dedicated to their father in 2009.  The Ferreira-Mendes Portuguese -American Archives is the largest repository of materials documenting the Portuguese people and their experience in the United States in the country.  Ferreira Mendes recordings are only one part of their extensive and ever-growing collection, including early Portuguese newspapers available online.  When I browsed through the online newspaper collection I found a photograph of one of my uncles in an early 40's ad.

Affonso Gil Ferreira Mendes is a treasure still for the people he so loved. I am one of those people and have researched at this marvelous library.  Full of genealogical information and other records of the Portuguese experience it is not that far for many of us 
who grew up in the Village: grandchildren and children of Portuguese forebears.
As we said, also, much of it is now available online.

I hope that I have been able to do justice to the memory of this extraordinary man.  You can find more information about the Archives and what can be found there at this link.

"A comissao agradece"

The Committee thanks you.


I am grateful to Otilia and Justina Ferreira for their willingness to share
and for their patience.   They have made this post
 a very special post indeed.


Photo of vintage radio from Pinterest.

1 comment:

  1. I remember my parents listening to him on the radio. I also remember seeing him at various occasions at Portuguese gatherings. He was a great man and so many people loved him.