The Bilingual U.S. – Portuguese Cambridge, MA

Just across the river from Boston, the City of Cambridge boasts 100,000 inhabitants, two of the most important universities in the world (Harvard and MIT), and a plethora of high-tech companies in a quickly growing modern industrial zone. The neighborhoods behind the evolving face of the industrial quarter and far from the beautiful views of the Boston skyline seem far removed from the world-wide academic and technological fame of the city, and yet these neighborhoods have an international character of their own. A stroll down Cambridge Street, which runs along the backside of the city from Lechmere by the locks of the Charles River to the heart of the city’s pomp in Harvard Square, passes through a living piece of Portuguese-American history.

At the beginning of its journey, Cambridge Street climbs up a small knoll which was originally an island and is the heart of the old neighborhood with enumerated streets known as East Cambridge.  At number 292 Cambridge Street on the top of the hill, sits the headquarters of the East Cambridge Savings Bank, headed by Gilda Nogueira, native of the Portuguese Azore Islands and client of the bank since the days that she grew up here.  The bank provides complete services in Portuguese to its clientele.

Further down the street at number 575, the Filarmonica Santo Antonio has been promoting Portuguese music for 35 years. Members of the Filarmonica are prominent participants in the Day of Portugal Parade which starts in Portuguese Square in neighboring Somerville before running down Cambridge Street to finish at the corner of Cardinal Medeiros Avenue in East Cambridge at St. Anthony Church. St. Anthony Church offers masses in both English and Portuguese.

The railroad tracks mark the official boundary of the East Cambridge neighborhood but do not however put a boundary on the local Portuguese culture.  Ramos Snack Bar, which sits at number 691 on the edge of the tracks, serves cultural cuisine like their bife a casa with the nonchalance of a diner. Further up at number 1200, the Casa Portugal offers the full restaurant experience with specialties like Bacalhau. In between the restaurant and the diner, the Sunset Cafe at number 891 prides itself on serving up Portuguese-American food and hospitality, and the Portugalia Restaurante at number 723 focuses on specialties from Northern Portugal.

For those who want to cook at home, peixe e mariscos (fish and seafood) in the tradition of the great sea-faring population are on sale at the Fernandes Fish Market at number 1097. The Portuguese love to accompany their fish with vinho verde (literally, “green wine”), to be found in the surrounding liquor stores and in places like Albert’s Market ( number 638) along with a wide variety of other transoceanic products such as delicious salty manteiga (butter) direct from the Azores. If exaggerated enjoyment of these culinary delights leads to a pança (belly) problem, area residents can work it off at the Clube Desportivo Faialense at number 1121.

On the academic side of things, Cambridge Street is also home to centers for the study and diffusion of the Portuguese language such as the Manuel Rogers, Sr. Center for Portuguese Culture and Studies (part of the Cambridge public library system) at number 826 and the Massachusetts Alliance of Portuguese Speakers at number 1046.

In the shadow of the ivory towers and modern high-rises of the city of Cambridge lies a quiet back-street of low, simple buildings which may not be as famous as those to be found in Harvard Square- but by no means are they less interesting!

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