Fresno State institute bridges Portuguese and Central Valley cultures

Diniz Borges, Portuguese Beyond Borders Institute director; Vasco Alves Cordeiro, president of the Government of the Azores; Dr. Joseph I. Castro, president of Fresno State; Dr. Michelle DenBeste, dean of the College of Social Sciences; Dr.Michael Thomas, interim associate dean of theJordan College of Agricultural Sciences & Technology; Dr. Saúl Jiménez-Sandoval, dean of the College of Arts and Humanities.

Photo: Diniz Borges, Portuguese Beyond Borders Institute director; Vasco Alves Cordeiro, president of the Government of the Azores; Dr. Joseph I. Castro, president of Fresno State; Dr. Michelle DenBeste, dean of the College of Social Sciences; Dr.Michael Thomas, interim associate dean of the Jordan College of Agricultural Sciences & Technology; Dr. Saúl Jiménez-Sandoval, dean of the College of Arts and Humanities.


In the short time since its inception, the Portuguese Beyond Borders Institute (PBBI) has sought to retain a memory of homeland, the journey into the unknown, and how a dedication to hard work and family is woven into the fabric of the Portuguese-American experience.

“The Portuguese Beyond Borders Institute is founded on love,” said Dr. Saúl Jiménez-Sandoval, dean of the College of Arts and Humanities. “Love for a language that is unique, a culture that brings people together, and the hope to keep both this language and culture alive in a California that celebrates its diversity and rich Portuguese heritage.”

The San Joaquin Valley is home to the largest Portuguese-American community in California, the majority of whom have roots in the islands of the Azores. The Autonomous Region of the Azores is made up of nine volcanic islands about 1,000 miles west of Portugal in the North Atlantic. While the region maintains a national connection to Portugal, the government operates independently under a few constitutional requirements.

In January, Diniz Borges was named as the first director of the PBBI and just weeks later he announced that Vasco Alves Cordeiro, president of the Government of the Azores would give the inaugural lecture for the newly founded organization at the invitation of Dr. Joseph I. Castro, president of Fresno State.

The lauching of the Portuguese Beyond Borders Institute at Fresno State with administration from the University and special guest Vasco Cordeiro, president of the government of the Azores.

Cordeiro’s talk on his vision for the future on the Azores and its relationship with communities around the world, including the Central Valley was received by a full house in Fresno State’s North Gym. Following the talk, the public had a unique opportunity to ask questions of the president.

Vasco Alves Cordeiro, president of the Government of the Azores, delivers the inaugural lecture for the new Portuguese Beyond Borders Institute.
Vasco Alves Cordeiro, president of the Government of the Azores, delivers the inaugural lecture for the new Portuguese Beyond Borders Institute.

“The presence of President Cordeiro for the inaugural lecture and the launching of the Portuguese Beyond Borders Institute at Fresno State is indicative of the important role the Portuguese-American community plays in the relationship between the Azorean archipelago and California,” said Diniz Borges, PBBI director. “It also shows how the Azores is committed to maintaining the cultural bond between the islands and their communities and signifies how the Portuguese have contributed to the Valley.”

Cordeiro visited with a 12-member delegation that included Rui Bettencourt, deputy regional secretary of the presidency for external relations; José San-Bento, member of Parliament; and Jorge Jorge, member of Parliament.

Vasco Alves Cordeiro, president of the Government of the Azores and Fresno State President Joseph I. Castro.
Vasco Alves Cordeiro, president of the Government of the Azores and Fresno State President Joseph I. Castro.

Since the inaugural event, the PBBI has gone on to host several public events which furthered the cultural relationship with the community.

During Portuguese Immigrant Week in March, the lecture and panel  “Portuguese-Americans in Valley Agriculture: Family, Heritage, Community and Commitment” highlighted PBBI’s dedication to the Portuguese-American legacy in the Valley. The panel included Fred Fagundes, owner/partner of Fagundes Farms and Dairies; Richard Machado, president of Agrian; Antonio Nunes, dairyman; Kristine Nunes, underwriter, Zenith Insurance Company and Maria Silveira, vice president of Labor Relations at Foster Farms.

Just days later “Portuguese Language Students Youth Day” hosted over 300 students studying Portuguese from five high schools. The event included a Fresno State Student Panel, a campus tour and a folklore dancing celebration with lunch at O’Neill Park.

On April 25 guest speaker Álamo Oliveira, Portuguese poet, and writer from the Azores spoke about the Carnation Revolution that changed Portugal and the Azores from an artistic perspective. The presentation was in Portuguese with English translation via slides. Local Portuguese-American artists provided musical entertainment.

Azorean chef Paulo Rocha, two sous-chefs from the island of Terceira, and the Culinology® students from the Jordan College of Agricultural Sciences and Technology will prepare a gourmet dinner experience on May 1, at the Fresno State Winery. The evening will consist of an array of appetizers, Portuguese leek soup, marinated pork ribs in a port wine sauce, local vegetables with a Portuguese flavor, desserts and Fresno State wines.

Traditional Portuguese dancing during Tulare Union High School visit in 2017
Folklore Dancing at O’Neill Park

Borges said he is excited about the future of the PBBI including four lectures planned for the Fall 2019 semester which will include perspectives on the Portuguese diaspora and the explore the works of Portuguese-American creative writers. He is also working to make the institute a hub for Portuguese language teacher preparation to serve schools and universities throughout California.

This summer, Borges said the institute will launch the oral history project which will preserve the memory of the community and be a value to students.

“The possibilities of students being able to research the presence of the Portuguese-American community through the oral history project will certainly be important for our students and for the multicultural aspect of the university and our valley,” said Borges.

Coordinated by Fresno State’s College of Arts and Humanities Department of Modern and Classical Languages and Literatures, Jordan College of Agricultural Sciences and Technology and College of Social Sciences, the PBBI is designed to be a center of interaction for the benefit of students at Fresno State and for the Portuguese-American community.

In November 2018, the Luso-American Development Foundation (FLAD) based in Lisbon, Portugal, announced a $130,000 gift to launch two initiatives in the newly created PBBI. The grant was split two ways, with $100,000 funding the Portuguese-American Oral History Project and $30,000 to fund a speaker series.

The institute functions as a hub of cultural, literary, pedagogical and research resources for the Portuguese-American experience and promotes the connections with the Portuguese-speaking world, focusing on the archipelago of the Azores, with a strong emphasis on the Azorean diaspora in California. It aims to be Central California’s nucleus for cultural events, teacher conferences, colloquia, literary resources, publications, academic research, artistic exhibitions and performing arts productions, not only for the matriculated students at Fresno State but also for the enrichment of the Portuguese-American community and society at large.

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Fresno State College of Arts and Humanities Communication Specialist

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