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May 25, 2004 > The Portuguese Californians: Immigrants in Agriculture

The Portuguese Californians: Immigrants in Agriculture

You won't want to miss this new book that tells the story of immigrants from the Azorean Islands who came to California and chose to make their living by farming and contributed significantly to the development of the dairy industry. The book was written by Alvin Ray Graves and published by the Portuguese Heritage Publications of California, Inc.

Adrienne Alston, A Tulane historian, describes the book as "a major contribution to the understanding of the Portuguese experience. It will very soon become the standard reference on the Portuguese migration into California and the dairy industry in particular." Almost 500 people and several organizations contributed for the book which has 304 pages and many wonderful photographs and illustrations.

Alvin Ray Graves was born in Texas in 1945. He came to California and graduated from Riverdale High School in 1963. He completed his B.A. and M.A. degrees in geography at California State University, Fresno and received his P.H.D. from the University of California. His master's thesis was, "Azorean Portuguese: Portuguese Dairyman in the San Joaquin Valley of California," and his doctoral dissertation, "Immigrants in Agriculture: The Portuguese Californians, 1850-1970s."

Tony Goulart, vice-president of Portuguese Heritage Publications, found a copy of Graves' doctoral dissertation at the J.A. Freitas Library in the UPEC Cultural Center in San Leandro. He convinced Graves to write the book "on the condition that he could redo it and make it pretty and readable." To expand his thesis into a book, Graves interviewed several hundred Portuguese immigrants and their descendents. He updated the statistical information and included family stories that explore the customs, social life and attitudes of Portuguese Californians.

The section on "Family Stories" will be especially interesting to Washington Township residents because it features several stories about local families.

The first story, written by Susan Vargas Murphy, is about Francisco (Frank) Vargas who share-farmed on the Curtner Ranch in Warm Springs. Frank married Filomena Pereira at St. Joseph's Church in 1878. They had nine children who were all born in Warm Springs and baptized at St. Joseph's Church.

Jose (Joe) Maciel came to live with his cousin in Mission San Jose in 1913. He worked on local farms including the Stanford Ranch. He married Annie Vargas in 1916. Joe worked on the hay press and Annie cooked for the hay press workers, beginning at 3:30 am. She made eight to twelve loaves of bread a day for the crew and continued to cook almost daily for 75 years. The couple bought 10 acres in Warm Springs in 1920 and raised walnuts, apricots and prunes where the Franciscan Shopping Center was later developed. They later farmed on the Hidden Valley and Patterson Ranches.

The story about the Leal Ranch was written by Bernie Leal. Joseph Leal started farming and ranching at Mission San Jose in 1887. He raised cattle on the steep hills, grew peas, potatoes and corn on the hillsides and planted a prune and apricot orchard on the flat land. Joseph married Julia Perry in 1899. A number of the Leal family were born on the ranch. The original windmill-tankhouse was restored and relocated at Ardenwood. The State of California gave the Leal Ranch a 100 year membership plaque.

Antone Escobar left his home in Cedros, Faial, in 1850 at the age of 13. His older brother drowned on the trip to San Diego where Antone arrived penniless. He found work with a cattle drive from San Diego to Oregon. When he reached Washington Township, he abandoned the cattle drive to work on local ranches. He saved his money and bought a ranch in the area now known as Vargas Road and Freeway 680. He added land that included vineyards and a gravel pit. A small portion of his ranch is still owned by his great-grandchildren.

The book, The Portuguese Californians, can be purchased for $45, which includes postage and handling, from Portuguese Heritage Publications of California, P.O. Box 32517, San Jose, CA 95152 or at Local residents may call Lionel Goulante at 797-7585 and purchase the book for $40.00. It may also be purchased at the Museum of Local History, 190 Anza Street, Fremont (510) 623-7907.

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