September 7, 2006 – Vol. 42, No. 4
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Cape Verdeans come together for Patrick

Yawu Miller

Their organization has no name, no charter and no board. But when it came to deciding which gubernatorial candidate to back, the decision was a no-brainer.

Cesar DaSilva, who entered the Democratic convention in May committed to vote for Attorney General Thomas Reilly, was won over to the Deval Patrick camp after hearing the candidate’s speech.

“Deval is clear about where he stands,” DaSilva says. “The other two candidates are pretty blurred. It’s politics as usual with them.”

So DaSilva, an architect who owns a construction company, huddled with other political activists in the Cape Verdean community who for the last three years have been coming together to back candidates. Until the November election, the group is calling itself Cape Verdeans for Deval Patrick.

The ad hoc political organization of about 40 members came into being when Suffolk County Sheriff Andrea Cabral, who was appointed by former Gov. Paul Celucci, was running a hotly contested race for re-election.

“We heard Cabral speak and were impressed,” says Tchintcia Barros, a portfolio manager and the driving force behind the group. “Friends, community members — everyone had been doing things. A little bit of political involvement here and there.”

Isaura Mendes first got involved in 1998 with Chuck Turner’s city council campaign, registering more than 125 voters and helping with a get-out-the-vote effort.

“Voting is very important for our community,” Mendes says. “We have to be more involved.”

Boston’s Cape Verdean community is centered in the area between Upham’s Corner and Bowdoin Street in Dorchester. While the community has grown substantially since the 1970s when former state Rep. Joseph Fortes became the first Cape Verdean elected to office in Boston, no other Cape Verdean had held office in the city until Cabral’s appointment.

While many in the Cape Verdean community look at Cabral’s election with a sense of pride, Cabral points to the hard work that came out of the community.

“They were tremendous,” she says. “And it was exciting because it was part of the political emergence of the Cape Verdean community.”

For Barros, Cabral’s campaign was a crash course in electoral politics. Election Day that year found Barros, her sister and a friend driving the streets of Wards 8 and 15 in a borrowed van, shepherding voters to the polls.

“We were yelling at people, asking them whether they had voted,” she recalls. “We were picking people up and driving them to the polls.”

After that election, Barros and other political activists in the Cape Verdean community agreed to begin regularly supporting candidates, backing Linda Dorcena in the special election for the 12th Suffolk Race and Matt O’Malley in last year’s city council race.

The group has at its disposal a list of more than 4,000 Cape Verdean voters and a cadre of activists fluent in the Cape Verdean Creole language who can reach those voters. The group registers voters and uses the community’s informal network of emails, phone calls and other means to mobilize the votes.

“It’s not like we had to build an infrastructure,” Barros comments.

Boston’s Cape Verdean community has a tight-knit social network that often comes together for community and cultural events. Although there are sometimes deep disagreements around the West African island nation’s politics, those disagreements don’t always keep opposing factions from working with each other.

Barros’ father Jose is a stalwart activist in the MPD (Movement for Democracy) party. Cesar DaSilva is an elected representative of the opposing PAICV (African Party for the Independence of Cape Verde). Both are backing Patrick.

“We don’t always agree,” DaSilva says, “but we all understand and respect each other’s positions.”

A fundraiser for Patrick last week showed the network in action. The event was held at Cesaria, the popular Bowdoin Street restaurant owned by Barros’ first cousin John Barros.

In it was a cross section of the community, including Cabral; Adalberto Teixeira, who serves as an informal liaison between Mayor Thomas Menino and the Cape Verdean community; anti-violence activist Isaura Mendes; political activist Linda Monteiro and African American activists including Department of Neighborhood Development Director Charlotte Golar Richie; community activist Sarah-Ann Shaw; Paul Parks and Ward 15 co-chairwoman Sandy Bagley.

Teixeira and John Barros opened the program, addressing the gathering in English and Creole. Patrick field organizer Ron Bell fired up the crowd with a promise of changes in the corner office.

“We’re going to do it in Boston like we’ve never done it before,” Bell said. “People are going to wake up one day and say, ‘Whoa, we’ve got a black governor.’”

Patrick made his entrance to a standing ovation and delivered his stump speech, connecting with the crowd. While his campaign workers distributed post cards for the attendees to pledge their support, Patrick probably won’t face too much opposition in this section of Dorchester, according to DaSilva.

“Wherever we go in this neighborhood, we have a common ground,” he said. “We’re all backing one leader — Deval Patrick.”

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