Our Stories, Our Rhode Island
This exhibit accompanies “Telling Our Story” by Nancy Austin, PhD featured in the Council's 40th Anniversary Report, published in January 2014. View all Our Stories, Our Rhode Island items in library.
Helping all heritage communities collect and share their stories has been a long-standing goal of RICH grant making. To take one notable example, we feature grants that helped transform public understanding of the Cape Verdean community in Rhode Island. In 1973, as part of its first grant making cycle, the RI Council funded the inaugural convention of the Cape Verdean American Federation, helping to build awareness and appreciation of the history and culture of this over 200-year old community.
In 1975, video artist Anthony Ramos was awarded a grant by the Council that encouraged Cape Verdean Americans to remember their African as well as Portuguese heritage in defining their identities in Rhode Island. This documentary not only contributed an important piece of the mosaic of the African diaspora but also captured a key moment in Cape Verde history as well. Filming on the islands off the coast of West Africa, his was the only American camera present to record the secession of Cape Verde from Portuguese control and their Declaration of Independence.
Cultural memory storytelling exemplifies the importance of the public humanities for communicating Rhode Island’s diverse immigrant histories. As immigration laws changed, making it more possible for Portuguese and Cape Verdean people to join their American extended families in Rhode Island, numerous Council grants engaged the Cape Verdean community by combining oral history, traditional and nontraditional historical research, and non-academic story telling.
For example, Sylvia Ann Soares profiled her father, Arthur S. Soares, a longtime president of the longshoremen’s union, and some of the men who worked with him between 1954 and 1974 in the International Longshoremen's Association (ILA) Local #1329. A 2008 RICH grant allowed this work to be done. “By the Sweat of their Brow” contributes an important chapter to the state’s labor history, told through new sources and voices. In another Council-funded project, Wendy Grossman and Catherine Carr-Kelly, members of the parent-teacher organization at the elementary school in the Fox Point neighborhood where many Cape Verdeans lived, used oral history to connect children with earlier generations of Cape Verdeans who had settled and gone to school in this changing neighborhood. In each case, RICH grant making combined oral history, education, and community advocacy.
Other grants used the public humanities as a space for dissent and difficult dialogues about identity and belonging. The impact of gentrification on heritage community neighborhoods was the topic of a 1980 grant on “Fox Point Sees Itself: Cape Verdean Displacement”. The immigrant experience was explored in a 1995 grant on “The Island Connection: Cape Verde/Rhode Island”. In 1998, a production grant enabled historian and film-maker Claire Andrade-Watkins, Ph.D., to make “Some Kind of Funny Porto Rican?: A Cape Verdean American Story”, released in 2006. Through a 2010 major grant Dr. Andrade-Watkins further probed the question of “Whose History is it? Interpreting History, Memory and Culture”. Sustained support by the RI Council has helped artists, scholars, and students from this heritage community to preserve cultural memory, communicate diverse stories on a public platform, and evolve a multi-generational perspective on assimilation and heritage identity.