Pedro Letria
The Club

The Club is an experiential journey through the Portuguese Social Clubs in the Providence, Rhode Island area. Along its course, I look at my own displacement as a Portuguese national in the United States through the plural manifestations of Portuguese immigrants in their spaces of communal togetherness.

It is an inquiry into the workings of photography, the way images communicate, and how language, once entering the conversation, establishes its own, alternate, discourse.

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Underlying this moveable stage is the question of balance and the structure itself seems to be prone to a deficit in equilibrium and needs to be shored up with the aid of two cement blocks. Excusing his permanently high-pitched voice, Duarte explains that he has had tinnitus in both ears for the past 14 years, and that it is "like being permanently attached to a factory whistle.





The members listened attentively as the newly appointed board presented the coming year's program for the Portuguese Social Club. Those elected to more senior positions occupied their seats on the rostrum and leaned on white rectangular folding tables. Their juniors were offered a more convivial solution and sat behind round white tables that were pulled from the bountiful lot of banquet furniture. Raising the camera to my left eye, I focused on the redundant fingertip.





The twin-engine plane careened over the island of São Jorge, describing an arc over the volcanic ridge, and nosed down towards the simple runway. Aboard, most passengers made the sign of the cross and their knuckles whitened as they grabbed the arm rests. At the Amigos da Terceira Club, in Pawtucket, the issue of independence from the mainland is averted, and instead, I am assuaged that all things Azorean can be simply put down to a bird of prey and the good will of the Holy Ghost.





Father Richard was careful to underline that it is not an exorcism "for such a young child needs no such thing," but that the unguent is meant to rid the boy of the devil's influence. With olive oil, he pointed the extremities of the cross, first on the forehead, then on the neck, and then on the temples. As a gesture of remembrance, he handed the mother a baby's napkin made from the finest white silk, volunteering that little Jackson will one day cherish such a prized keepsake.





"That is a son of a bitch of a shirt," laughed Eddie the plumber, sitting at the back of Dinis's restaurant on Warren Avenue, as the owner began to get in full swing and satisfy the weekly gathering of friends and family. "If he forgets the tune, he can just feel himself up," surmised Eddie. The affable Dinis made his million seven years ago when he sold his previous location, and since the improvident buyer forgot to include any clause barring him from starting all over again, he did.





Reading from left to right delivers the promise that consuming carbonated fruit sodas will result in a necessary consult, which will diagnose an affliction of the digestive tract and, inevitably, result in yet another case filed away in a manila folder. Were the course of events to be read inversely, we would then be led to believe that the very same soda may just be the panacea for an identical affliction. It must follow then, that interpretation is an unsteady venture, subject to variables as uncontrollable as our place of birth.





Is it a dream or lie if it does not come true, or is it worse? And the sign flashed its warning in the world it was forming. Show me slowly what I only know the limits of. Lift me like an olive branch and be my homeward dove. I am sentimental, if you know what I mean. Inside the covers of the Holy Rosary music book, Steve, the baritone player, kept these beloved lines and made them his.





"Everything has an end except the sausage that has 2," remarked Vicente, the one-time-bartender-turned butcher for Saturday's session of chouriço creation at the Portuguese Social Club. He grinned, sheepishly, at the Cambodian bride that descended from the club's rented banquet hall in a white satin robe that barely hid her lustrous behind. The wedding party had yet to begin, and, from the kitchen, wafts of oriental delicacies perfumed the air and contested the overwhelming odor of marinated pork innards. Swirling on her high-heeled shoes, and silenced, the no longer bride-to-be mounted the stairs and returned to her awaiting bridal gown.





The steel caskets enable the fixation of metal medallions to the inside cover through the sheer force of magnetism. As I watched, and nothing moved, I wondered at the value of such a detail given that the coffin's future inhabitants will not be disposed to rearrange any of the mementos, and access to others will be heavily denied. Elizabeth, the parlor's manager, warmly presented the merchandise and stressed that their catalog caters to a discerning clientele.





Ruth Faustino was born in the same year that Hedy Lamarr starred alongside Victor Mature in Samson and Delilah — 1949. Fascinated from an early age with the Austrian-American actress's ability to excel in fields as disparate as the silver screen and the development of hard-to-detect, frequency-hopping torpedoes, Mrs. Faustino, a soprano in the Choral, is adamant that the glamour of performing onstage is what keeps her from going insane as a Social Security claims officer.





It might be understood from the meekness with which the hands belonging to the two gentlemen on the left rest on the table that they were the losers of the last round of sueca, and that the expediency displayed by the others may be synonymous with victorious good fortune, but given the normal distribution of players, which instructs that partners should sit opposite each other, nothing could be farther from the truth, and unless there are more discrete terms of agreement, we are in the presence of genuine goodwill.





The 3 gentlemen on the upper rung of the Portuguese Heritage Choral are known for their deep and rich bass voices. Proud, they stand erect, at the back of the room. "Without us, this choir would sound like AM radio blaring at a gas station," I am told by Mário Rocha, the 62 year old manager of Lincoln Pest Control Inc. "For me, singing is like what it says on my business card, freedom from what bugs you."





Sitting upright on a desk at the Portuguese Social Club school, the cornerstone of Portuguese literature faced the wall in what must have been an unintentional punishment. Its scale immediately made me cringe with the tragedy of life its reader must endure, if all proportions were to be obeyed. César brushed alongside me and proudly announced the wondrous tome as his brainchild, and how for this year's Day of Portugal he is thinking of creating a 16th-century caravel scale model.





Halloween was celebrated with a loud and long party on Friday, October 28 at the Portuguese Social Club in Pawtucket. As costumes were being judged, and the youngest contestant a pre-decided first choice, Antonio Freitas stood in the hallway and waited — for what seemed an eternity — until the laughter had ebbed away from the vacated restroom.





The arrangement is daunting and escapes any attempt to create a typology based on the evidence. Ranging from hand-glazed Portuguese ceramics to industrial Chinese china, the pink plastic bedpans point at a very different measure of time and underscore the body's own clock and untimely foibles.
And yet, there is no shame or bashfulness and, in its stead, a quiet acceptance of humanity's common fate.





To be a verb, or a noun for that matter, must be a contortionist's ultimate challenge. The one who proclaimed herself to be the Immaculate Conception stood on the ledge of reason's balcony and through a grammatical conundrum, overran the boundaries of the word. Ensconced in a make-believe cave in East Providence, and sheltered from light's weathering rays, the image has for company an arrangement of sterile, plastic ivy.





This arrangement may be found in the Amigos da Terceira Museum in Pawtucket. Traditional handiwork has been used to posit the cultural divide and the objects turned into emblems. The space is mainly devoted to photographs of the traveling troupe of more than 40 actors and folklore dancers and their dates and venues are clearly stated. Every performed play was written by Mr. Santos Jr., the son of the incumbent President, and every performer received a speaking part.





The teacher at the Portuguese Social Club school in Pawtucket had a difficult time in harnessing the children's fidgeting as they dutifully prepared for the coming celebration. She read aloud the celebratory text in a beatific tone, and at the same time chastised Dominic for his incessant interruptions.
Standing over the minimalist manger and the lifeless Christ child, I could not help think how difficult it is to reconcile the concept of Immaculate Conception with the mechanics of birth control.





I looked as glasses crossed the table, touched and sang, returning to their places emptied and rimmed with lipstick and moisture. Men first sought out other men to well-wish and make plans for the future, leaving their wives for last and I wondered why they were taking so much for granted.





In the basement of the Providence Sporting Club on Gano Street, old glories stand side by side as trophies face the audience and tell a story of individual achievement and collective endeavor. As a counterpoint, a mounted print, with figures standing with their backs turned, faces the viewer. In it, an old man places his hand on a child's shoulder and a dog completes the trinity. They face the sea and beyond, and in the pale overhead sky, gulls glide, idly. Envious, a trophy's winged creature casts its shadow on the same unsuspecting firmament.





Game over. The relief of deliverance is uncontainable. It does not matter that the goal that gave the team a three-point lead in the championship, and inched the title a step closer, was late in coming and a lucky rebound at that. Social scientists adamantly affirm that the team's weekly victory is an ablution for the week's strife and that domestic violence in Lisbon measurably decreases every time Benfica wins.





Arms rose and fell as torsos turned away from the music and matched their partners' own convolutions. There are no manuals, the steps are sinuous and yet no details are wasted in the description of the movements. Most of the dancers have lost the mother tongue, but their bodies still belong to a buried memory and follow trodden paths. I felt foreign.





The sun's brightness repeatedly lulled the musicians in the Holy Rosary Band, on Gano Street, into believing that Spring had decided to appear unannounced. Pinched out of the warm illusion of a high noon and a scintillating sea by the conductor's baton, Artie anxiously returned his attention to the music, but before the piece's finale he would be back in the water, playing hide and seek with the shoreline, as it dipped and disappeared behind the gentle waves that caressed his longboard.





If we are to believe that the eyes are the entrance to someone's soul, then this embodiment of Lady Gaga at the Halloween party at the Portuguese Social Club, is perhaps one of the more successful denials of such a proposition. I remember watching Kung Fu with David Carradine, and wondering at how his blind Master always knew more than all of us put together, or seeing Grasshopper walking barefoot in filthy town streets and positing the sanity behind the decision. In other words, in moments such are these, interpretation must gracefully bow to the mysteries of life.





Feigning reluctance, the leaders accepted the responsibilities to which they were re-elected and their every gesture became immersed in solemnity. The accountability for the previous mandate was instrumental in the outcome of the poll, and they promised to maintain the highest levels of transparency in the exercise of power. The show of hands was unequivocal and only the most cynical could negate the obvious.





A short wiry man, Tony Pinto effortlessly pockets the balls in quick succession and returns to the side table where a cue case sits open. He unscrews the shaft from the tip and replaces it with another, made from darker wood and inlaid with mother of pearl. His opponent sighs as he racks up another frame and makes some comment about it not being Easter yet and he not being a lamb.





Seeing is believing, and whether you are Thomas, a little child, a devoted parent, and feel that one's eyes bear the power to mark you as a witness, the fact is that the hurried dejection with which this outfit was thrown over a chair, together with the two slumping black plastic bags, is wrenching in what it denies and sobering in what it affirms.





Unlike the knick-knacks and bottles of hard liquor for which tickets had been sold, the porcelain doll was to be auctioned off to the highest bidder. Made in China, blue-eyed and blonde — perhaps too prissy to be an Edwardian suffragette — she was held, robustly, inside a cardboard niche. The auctioneer's hammer came down on the podium, and at that moment, she was sold for $125 to a circumspect gentleman, sitting unaccompanied at the back of the Hall. Indifferent to the customary returning of the goods and their restocking of future fund-raising evenings, and with both arms stretched forward as a forklift would, the solemn proprietor silently received the box, carefully negotiated the swinging doors, and headed for his parked car.





I stood four feet from the stage, watched and waited in anticipation of the urge to let go and pulse to the beat. Behind me, others swirled and shook with frenzied rapture. An elbow found its way to my ribs and left me wanting for air. Hysterical cymbals announced an approaching climax, and in the expected finale, I was saddened by my ignominious failure to feel.





The bridesmaids' dress section in Ana's Bridal Gowns on Warren Avenue is on the first floor, to the left of the men's tuxedo racks as you enter from the parking lot. As I sat, waiting to be called back into the basement fitting room once decency was believed to be restored with the dressing of bodies, a woman walked in and approached the dozens of hanging dresses. Of indeterminate age and average height, with medium brown hair and median build, she unracked dress after dress and piled the padded hangers on the couch next to the dressing cabinet. With the sounds of the struggle between zippers, clips, buttons and laces growing to a flurry, I realized that no one robe would exit victorious. Storming out of the door, and looking back at me, she declared in a pitch made lower by contempt that "with men, it's so simple".





Angelo Dundee passed away in his Tampa apartment, surrounded by family and friends. "He was the brilliant motivator who worked the corner for Ali in his greatest fights, willed Sugar Ray Leonard to victory in his biggest bout, and coached hundreds of young men in the art of a left jab and an overhand right".
Joey R., the owner of Rebelo funeral home on North Broadway, excitedly read from the paper as he recalled the rush he felt while watching the Rumble in the Jungle, and, his favorite, the Thrilla in Manila. Discretely, the plush, wall-to-wall carpet soaked up the agitation and returned the parlor's mood to one of quiet certitude.





Word has it that now and then he puts his hand in the till. The Club's board believes him to be a decent guy all the same, looked the other way and renewed his contract. V. is what human resources would declare a negative asset and yet his ability as a bartender stands uncontested. Patrons particularly appreciate the sense of order with which he arranged the bottles behind the bar, irrespective of their place of origin and sequenced alphabetically. "I am what you might call a true internationalist," he explains.





With diligence, verbs, nouns, adjectives and adverbs were split into columns and lines. Lists were drawn and doubts noted. Language creates an order and uses it to tell its own version of things. The conversation is a mute one and stands to a reason that is all its own, dispensing both cruelty and love, as do all things shared. Before them, I am not a part of the circle, for there are instances I will never understand and others I am not meant to.





The President of the General Assembly of the Amigos da Terceira Club in Pawtucket, is a proud man and rightly so. He guides me past a folklore dance rehearsal and a room filled with photographs of all who performed in its Banquet Hall. He makes sure I digest the minutiae. But with all said, he is proudest of his son, whose name he sprinkles on each description of every activity that was sponsored by the Azorean Association. The firstborn's reach is pervasive and has punctuated the father's language even more so than the English vocabulary, and I imagine how it must feel for a son to embody a parent.





Dona Graciete stands firm as she recalls when gas prices were so high on the mainland that she and other teenagers would wait for darkness to fall and meet behind the church. From there, they would scour the parked cars for an unlocked gas tank lid and siphon off the petrol to an empty five-liter water bottle. "One night, a man went to the window, and seeing us, fired his shotgun in our direction. He had replaced the lead with salt and a few of us were hit in the backside." With her share of the night's lucre, she bought a ticket to the Sunday matinee at the Odeon Theater, sat back and relished another projection of To Have and Have Not.





Eva will be the ring bearer in her cousin's wedding and she was brought to Ana's Bridal Gowns, on Warren Avenue, for a fitting, by her grandmother. Silently, she glows with the attention and knowledge of having entered a rarified space, one wholly emptied of men and where history is written with the truth of experience. Ana is from Ribeira Grande, on the island of São Miguel, in the Azores, and all the women in her family are seamstresses. "As a child, I would run away from my mother's call to help out because I didn't want to sew, and would run to hide in my aunt's house. But everyone there was sewing too, so there was really no escaping it."





A chilling howl echoed in the Portuguese American Athletic Club on Warren Avenue. Silvino's head was turned up, his mouth split open, and his tongue darting from side to side. As his fist came down on the Formica top, another guttural bellow drowned the infernal din that threatened to blast open the brown windowless two-storey building. He had another ace in his hand of Lerpa and the thrill of the impending devastation was too large to contain. An empty bottle shattered to my left. I approached the table, cleared my throat, and politely asked if I might photograph the game.





The game started at 3:15 p.m. sharp and the bar room was packed to capacity. As the referee blew his whistle, a light drizzle began to fall on the players, and make the sweaters cling to their bodies and glisten, as the moon's fullest night drew its arc over the stadium in Madeira. In Warren Avenue, the sun shone sharply, unapologetic for the bitterly cold December afternoon. Sitting outside, around the back of the club, Artur Ferreira kept his cigar alight and fondly eyed the brand new Mercedes SUV his four Dunkin' Donuts franchises had paid for. "This is a country where, if you are ready to work, you can have everything," he told me, turning away to face the laborious demands of his dwindling smoke.





During a break in the rehearsal of the Folklore Dance group at the Portuguese Social Club, and defying unreasonable odds, an official shirt of the Benfica football team centered my attention. A long-standing club member with season tickets and reserved seating, I gave up my position following a season when 38 players were bought and sold and decided to withdraw from what I saw as a lame excuse for generalized corruption. Still, the red is a full one and I cannot deny it has stopped running in my veins.





Standing above the stainless steel counter, I listened as stories of wedding days were exchanged between the women preparing the sausages. Their words belonged to another time and place but in the Portuguese Social Club's kitchen, they rang with the freshness of morning news. Looking down at the counter, São gave her own account, "I had 230 guests at the ceremony and the dinner lasted into the early hours, and as they left, everyone's eyes seemed to say that the best part was still to come. Well, I don't know about that but three years later I had a daughter and my husband decided he wasn't ready for married life and went to work on a ship. I haven't heard from him since.





Almost under the shadow of the neighboring church of Our Lady of the Rosary, Mariano Rebello started a funeral home that carried his name in 1924. In the beginning, their services were only advertized in the window of a local Portuguese grocery store, and rendered in a rented storefront off Hope Street. Jackie tells me his son Johnny succeeded him in 1927 and rapidly became the Portuguese community's natural leader. As I listen, I imagine the figure's stately entrance and think of how respect is a solemn sentiment, which, when worn correctly, must be as hard to dispel as the odor of decay and formaldehyde.





Aisle after aisle, pew after pew, the stations are clearly marked. Their story is ours, so they have us believe. Each moment, shelf, enunciated and repeated; committed to habit and memory. And yet, it is left to us to justify their differences and make peace with their mysteries. To suggest that the burning spiciness between red and green peppers is analogous to the suffering undergone by the One described, is as outrageous as hinting that as heaven above, so hell below.





I am confused as I rummage through the memory drawers, brimming with superheroes and broken light sabers, and fail to come up with the name of one so imbued with the national colors as was embodied in this costume at the Portuguese Social Club's Halloween party. The masked wonder seems to share the perplexity and although her question might beckon a reason for being the subject of the camera's eye, she feels sufficiently anonymous not to give it too much thought and enjoy the attention.





The Amigos da Terceira Social Club, an Azorean association in Pawtucket, was founded 23 years ago and given a home in a previously Italian-owned space on Pawtucket Avenue. Today, little is where the Giardino family left it when the court took possession of the establishment and auctioned the estate following their conviction for large-scale narcotics trafficking. According to Francisco Santos, the incumbent Portuguese Club General Assembly President, a few neoclassical pieces were allowed to stand in the current decoration as a reminder of the blindness of greed and the downfall of empires.





Hindsight is a wonderful thing Jackie tells me. "A client came in crying one day, telling me how he should have come to us before. Can you imagine? His mother had been cremated and the urn with her remains was on the mantelpiece, in their home off Taunton Avenue, and people were telling stories and remembering, and as he was refilling their glasses, he saw, horrified I imagine, a guest he couldn't remember the name of, put out his cigarette right in his mother's ashes."





As a reward for completing their civic duty and voting the incumbent board back into office, the members were offered lunch. Downstairs, a queue quickly formed outside the kitchen as men and women helped themselves to the steaming main course. "Do you see any young people coming to the club? In a few years, we'll be too old and there will be nobody to take care of things." I nodded and looked at those waiting for food and watched how they took up the slack in the line with small, shuffling steps, and tried to imagine the humbling resignation with which a rationing card is taken in hand.





To make time stand still. To remember the perfect arc described by the ball as it entered the upper righthand corner of the goal posts, the crowd's roar suspended by a single, dangling syllable, in unison. To never forgo the paltry affirmation of place and faith. To not forget the crushing onslaught of nationhood. To show and sell.





If New York is spelled with a knife, a fork, a bottle and a cork, then these hanging artifacts at Dinis's restaurant on Warren Avenue, in East Providence, must suggest another sort of city, or even the lack of one. Raised high on the roof beam, the speckled enamel describes its own constellations. Azoreans are proud of their ability to read the elements and harness the ocean, and Genuine Madruga is one of only 10 people who have single handedly circumnavigated the globe past Cape Horn. Watching him autograph the book he authored narrating his feats, I cannot help but think that for a forensic graphologist, his handwriting would determine, beyond a reasonable doubt, both his claims as a sailor as well the conundrum suggested by his own name.





Frank stood at one end of the bar and held court. His eyes held mine as he told me my reason for making pictures was bullshit but that he did not care. "Everything that takes place inside here is legitimate and the Portuguese American Athletic Club is a members only club," he added. Behind me, yellow boxes of Lofa footwear were being passed around and making the delights of men. Almost instantly, the same boxes were taken to their new owner's car trunks and the bottles of Bud Light that had been left on the counter returned to thirsty, happy mouths. The next day, Sunday, Frank was elected president at the club's yearly ballot.





Every artist wishes for their work to be taken to heart by their audience and feel the words echoed by every parted mouth. The microphone listens and the speakers return the sound of their voices as the chorus announces the flight of a beleaguered seagull. At that moment, the dining room at Dinis was a place of oneness, differences were forgotten, and all the forsaken goodness was shared. Manuel Baptista, a one-time cruise ship crooner, wished his performance had been recorded. He told himself he was good, really good, much better than the $400 he was paid after dinner.





Crushingly ensconcing the instrument against his generous presence, Tony C. managed to pay attention to the scales, not lose touch with the baton, and joke to his brothers-in-arms that his ugliness had broken the camera, my camera, when this picture was taken. As unappealing as he imagines himself, he repeated his achievement loud and long enough for the conductor to have to stop the rehearsal and ask him if he wanted to step outside to put on some hair gel for the pictures.





The President of the Amigos da Terceira Club poses with Genuine Madruga, the legendary solitary seafarer at the club's 23rd anniversary in Pawtucket. Much could be said about the power relation between the two subjects in this picture, and yet none would account for the expression of humility and thankfulness that the man sincerely offered to the event's photographer. Like me, this photograph was uninvited.





Getting up at 3 a.m. to journey to Boston to buy seafood for his fish market on Waterman Avenue, in East Providence, is part of the harshness of Inácio B.'s life for the past 11 years. His wife sat behind the counter, next to the cash register, and looked on, juggling her reticence towards her husband's labored lament with the silent inevitability that has marked her own existence ever since she can remember.





They all agree that, if they could, they would never step out of character. "It's too good, too intense," says Rogério Carreira, the troupe's actor, producer and director. Formerly Portugal's Vice-Consul in Providence, Mr. Medina left the Foreign Affairs Ministry, and the security it afforded, and founded the company in 1976. "I actually see myself when I am performing, like having an out-of-body-experience, and all the little problems, and the big ones too, become smaller, easier to manage." An Evangelical Christian, Mr. Medina grew tired of the discrimination in 60s Portugal's stifling Catholicism and joined the diplomatic service at an early age. "I just had to find a way to leave. My first post was Toronto, and I fell in love with the northern winter."





Answering Robert Richards of the Copley Press, on April 7 1954, President Eisenhower coined the concept "Domino Theory," referring to the perceived threat that Southeast Asian nations might succumb, consecutively, to Communist influence. After a full day of drinking and bantering, the air inside the Portuguese Athletic Club was in dire demand of being relieved and renewed. The floor was moist with so much breathing and the odor of sodden beer mats clung like small hands to my clothes. Like Napalm, actually, I remembered.





Luís Neves is an engaging man and a singer capable of a real high C. For the last three years, his band, Centerfold, has performed every weekend at Portuguese social venues across the East Coast and that is no mean feat. His booming voice filled the hall at the Amigos da Terceira Club for its 23rd anniversary. As the lyrics became more daring and the tempo slowed, couples swarmed the dance floor and their bodies inched closer. "I know what they want" Luís told me afterwords. "You just have to make them wait for it."





In 1997, the club's newly appointed President met with the City of Pawtucket's Mayor, and in a ten-minute meeting, was granted permission to paint School Street's roadway marking with Portugal's red, green and yellow. He felt proud of his negotiating skills, and on his way out of City Hall, remarked to his aide, Mr. Aires, that the bargaining had been a piece-of-cake given that, in return for the patriotic tarmac display, all the Mayor had asked for in return was that the bus stop outside the club be removed.





Nothing short of a miracle, the slow but steady trickle descended from the pig's nostrils and collected itself beneath the hanging carcass. In the still, emptied hall, the sweet liquid's rhythmic flight and landing into the awaiting tray punctuated the air-conditioner's droning hum. The same evening, oblivious to the raucous crowd in the Portuguese Social Club, the dripping continued, incessant, driven by the desire to leave, once and for all, a world of abuse and self hate, until, overflowing with redness, its stain spread on to the vacuumed carpet and there, finally, found its place for all eternity.





At the church of Saint Francis Xavier in East Providence, the image of the missionary stands modestly to the right of the altar. Upon his departure to Portuguese India in 1541, his mission, as defined by King João III, was to restore Christianity to Portuguese settlers who had strayed from the flock after years of miscegenation. A witness to the religious fervor during Mass, I pondered the pervasiveness of the American melting pot and the intransigence of each individual to simply let go.





At one point, even angels ceased to rely on wings for transportation, and in their newfound disposition, realized these could fully realize their potential in other flights of fantasy. At the School's Christmas rehearsal, pride is manifestly displayed and voiced as the results of ingenious labor are shared and outfitted. Habitually found on backs, these wings stand frontally and make known their affection for the hearts of children.





Admission into the Christian church is done in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, and at the Church of Saint Francis Xavier, it is a swift affair. Father Richard is careful to both inform and command, using the opportunity to remind those present of their obligation to live virtuous lives and respect the vows that were once taken for them at a similar ceremony. The occasion was a solemn one and yet, with the exception of the bristling clothes, the air was light and the mood quietly festive. Outside, a jet plane, flying too high to make itself heard, drew its white trail, leaving it to slowly evaporate into the sharp blue sky.
"I was doing fine back home but the kids really insisted that we come and join their mother's family. It was a dream for them to come and live in this country and Madalena, my wife, was dying to have the life that her family always told us about when they went back every summer. I put in the papers and I thought they would take at least six months to come through, but after a month, I got a call from the consulate saying everything was ready and I was in a mess and didn't have time to prepare myself. I sold off everything I owned — the house, the land and the animals for half what they were worth, and got on a plane and my brother-in-law was waiting for us at the airport and drove us to an apartment in upstate New York. One day, my wife was coming in with the baby and there was a man inside the house holding a gun and he took all the money we owned and then, a couple of weeks later, in the middle of the night, a fire started in another apartment and we were rushed out by the firemen — all I had on were my pyjamas and a raincoat. The building burned down in the fire and we lost everything else. We were out in the street with whatever we had on our backs, and I just couldn't believe that I had left a good life and come to America to work eighty hours a week in a factory and was now left out in the street with nothing. The children were crying and scared and we had to move in with my wife's family and the house was too small. But it was too late to return to Portugal, and I had nothing to go back to anyway. When I think of this today, I get angry and sad, but I've tried to make the most of it and unlike these other guys here, I put every dollar I made into the kids' education. I told them that there would be nothing left for them to inherit, that they had to make the most of college. They have a good life now but I just wish they would come visit us once in a while." César looked at me silently and his eyes were red and moist. Around us, families were eagerly checking the raffle ticket numbers, and from a table in the back of the hall, someone yelled that the strung up and eviscerated pig on the stage was his. Staring intently at me, César quietly offered that "If there is anything I can help you with, anything, let me know," and I knew I had made a friend for life.