Inside Stories

Capturing the Resilience of Lowell’s Portuguese Americans

The heritage and experience of Lowell’s Portuguese Americans will be the focus of a new exhibit of original photography presented by Lowell National Historical Park and UMass Lowell.

“The Portuguese in Lowell: The Familiar and the New,” will showcase the works of Lisbon-based photographer Pedro Letria. The assembled images provide an intimate portrait of people from Madeira and The Azores who call the Mill City home. Text curated by Letria and accompanying the 50 photographs includes the artist’s views about what his lens has captured.

The exhibit grew from Letria’s first visit to UMass Lowell in 2021, where he taught photography in the university’s College of Fine Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences. Over four months, he lived in the city’s Back Central neighborhood, where he immersed himself in the cultural experience of Portuguese American residents.

There, he recognized immigrants’ stories and traditions “thrived in the public square.”

“Individuals told me of Lowell’s embrace of Portuguese immigrant workers and shared their pride in the part they played in forging America’s industrial might. Families opened their doors to me and pored over picture albums, piecing together stories of struggles and successes,” he said.

A video companion piece to the exhibit, “Speak, Memory: Voices of Lowell’s Portuguese,” was produced by Lisbon-based journalist Cláudia Lobo, who interviewed many of the immigrants Letria photographed.

The oral histories of Lobo’s subjects demonstrate how immigrants blended traditions from the “old country” and new experiences in the United States. The video is available at UMass Lowell’s Portuguese American Digital Archive.

The exhibit was produced by Lowell National Historical Park, which promotes cultural heritage and community programming, in collaboration with UMass Lowell’s Saab Center for Portuguese Studies. Letria’s participation in the project was supported by a grant from the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation of Lisbon, Portugal.

The exhibit will be on display beginning at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, June 8, through Monday, Feb. 24, 2025, in the Lowell National Historical Park’s Boott Cotton Mills Museum, 115 John St., Lowell. Free parking with validation by national park staff is available in the nearby Hamilton Canal Innovation District Parking Garage at 350 Dutton St., Lowell. For more information, visit the national park website.

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