A publication for the faculty, staff, administrators, and friends of California State University, Chico
May 12, 2005 Volume 35 / Number 8


In Pursuit of Their Dreams: A History of Azorean Immigration to the United States

Jerry Williams, Geography, recently published In Pursuit of Their Dreams: A History of Azorean Immigration to the United States with the Center for Portuguese Studies, University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth. He presented the book at the National Whaling Museum in New Bedford this spring.

The Azoreans have maintained their cultural identity for 150 years, and the population has remained centered on the East Coast near New Bedford and Fall River, Massachusetts, on the West Coast near San Francisco and the Central Valley, and in Hawaii.

Williams calls the story of this hard-working people fascinating from a geographer’s point of view. The Whaling Museum presents the story of how the first Azoreans got to the United States and settled in the whaling center of the U.S. Each year, from 1820 to 1870, between 300 and 400 ships sailed from New Bedford and Fall River.

Whaling was extremely difficult work, with ships gone from two to three years. Ships would start with a skeleton crew, then go to the Azores and recruit young men. “The catch was,” said Williams, “the ships didn’t always return to the Azores when they completed a whaling trip. Many young men stayed in the U.S. and worked in coastal fishing or in other jobs related to whaling such as barrel making.”

In the 1840s, ships began sailing down the East coast from New Bedford and around South America and up the West Coast to Point Barrow. They would stop in San Francisco for fresh water and meat. Once the Gold Rush began, a lot started jumping ship—whole crews. It got so that the ship owners shifted their stop from San Francisco to Hawaii. There is still a strong group of Portuguese in Hawaii.

In California, many of the immigrants returned to what they knew: farming and dairy cattle. By 1917, the national origins law was enacted, the first law of which was literacy. Since few Azoreans were literate, it essentially stopped immigration until laws changed in 1965, which began a new influx with more immigration than in all previous periods.

Williams did his undergraduate work at CSU, Chico and received his MA and PhD from the University of Florida at Gainesville. He spent a year in Brazil doing research for his thesis on regional economics. He was hired by the Department of Geography in 1969. He was chair of the department in the early 1980s and head of Latin American Studies. For 12 years, he directed the California National Geographic Alliance, a program to train public school teachers in how to incorporate more geography into their curriculums.

Williams is ending the Faculty Early Retirement Program this spring. He will retire to Portola in Sierra Valley, where he built a home next to his sister and her husband.

—Kathleen McPartland