When I went to New York to participate in the World Congress of Academias do Bacalhau, I was not expecting to find a pleasant surprise in the form of a miniature Portugal in one of Newark’s suburbs called Ironbound.
The atmosphere seemed to come out of a 1970’s Martin Scorsese movie set for “Goodfellas”, when sections of America were heavily influenced by the Italian immigrants who settled in the early part of the last century.
This one has a strong Portuguese flavor.
I walked along Ferry Street, Ironbound’s main artery, where Portuguese flags hung everywhere and cafes, bakeries, travel agencies, banks and bottle stores bear typical Portuguese surnames and motifs, like the national symbol, the rooster of Barcelos.
Picturesque outlets that you may find in Portugal remote villages, sell Alentejo olive oil, chorizo, salpicao, dried, salt-cured cod (bacalhau) and sardines, while canned foods bear well known Portuguese brands.
You can taste the 100 ways to cook bacalhau at Seabras, one of the many Portuguese restaurants along Ferry and Jefferson street, or drink your Torrie “bica “with a tasty “pastel de nata”, at the corner cafés that resemble and remind you of your hometown.
Inside we hear the typical conversation topics about travel arrangements for the, holidays in Portugal or the latest political jokes, while watching the soccer match between Porto and Sporting.
Teenagers hang around the entrance of the sports and social clubs that draw membership from small Atlantic coastal towns like Murtosa, to wider allegiances to Porto or Benfica, wearing jerseys and scarves featuring prominently Ronaldo and the Portuguese national team.
Posters appeal to bystanders to vote in the local council forthcoming elections for a candidate called, Brito , and that is not surprising because Portuguese descendants participating in local politics has a long tradition .I was even told that the longest serving sheriff in the Newark district is also of Portuguese descent.
Not many years ago the size of the Portuguese community in and around Newark was dwindling due to some compatriots returning to their land of birth, but with the economic crisis in Europe and arduous times Portugal that trend is changing rapidly.
Iron bound’s previous residents are returning in droves, and with them first time newcomers that you can recognize by the noticeable accent which differs from an immigrant that has been away from home for many years.
That will boost the business of the ethnic delicatessen, travel agencies and increase the membership of the sports clubs and folklore groups like Casa do Minho, bringing a new breath of life to New York’s Little Portugal