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Call for records for new Rhode Island Portuguese American Archives at Rhode Island College

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Marie Fraley, co-founder and former director of the Institute for Portuguese and Lusophone World Studies at Rhode Island College and former managing director of the Portuguese American Leadership Council of the United States, has donated $25,000 to the college to establish the Joseph George Ray Portuguese American Archives Endowed Fund. 

Administered by the Rhode Island College Foundation and named in honor of Fraley’s father, the fund is designed to support the establishment of the Rhode Island Portuguese American Archives, housed in Special Collections at Adams Library.

Specifically, the endowment will support the cataloging and preservation of the collection, sponsor internship and research opportunities for RIC students and support cultural events related to the collection.

Clark Greene, interim executive director of the RIC Foundation, states, “We are so grateful for Marie’s gift and her continued support of Portuguese studies at Rhode Island College.”

In addition to this generous donation, Fraley was the first to contribute to the archives. Among the items she’s donated are her father’s World War II medals and other insignia and his biography in book form, which embodies a legacy of Portuguese American life.

Titled “My Buffalo Nickel and Other Stories from a Portuguese American Life: The Life and Writings of Joseph George Ray as Told by Marie Ray Fraley” (Jan-Carol Publishing, Inc., 2023), this book is a compilation of Ray’s writings and Fraley’s insights into her father.

It gives readers a window into his life as a Portuguese American growing up in Rhode Island’s Pawtuxet Valley and his experiences during the Great Depression, World War II, the lace-making industry in which he worked and his struggle with Parkinson’s disease.

“My hope is that other members of the Portuguese community will be encouraged to contribute to the archives,” Fraley says. “It helps build and preserve the legacy of our community.”

Initiated by RIC Associate Professor of Portuguese Studies Silvia Oliveira, the Portuguese archives complements the Cape Verdean archives at RIC. She explains that “Cape Verdeans are among the Lusophone [Portuguese-speaking] nations, and the archives at RIC is one of the largest, oldest and most important archives of Cape Verdean American culture.”

“As director of the Institute for Portuguese and Lusophone World Studies, I felt it was important to create an archive that focuses specifically on the Portuguese American heritage in Rhode Island, as well,” says Oliveira.

“It fulfills part of the institute’s mission: to foster connections between the college and Lusophone communities in the region and to pursue scholarly research and cultural projects related to the Portuguese language and Lusophone cultures. Ultimately, by creating this archive, we are fulfilling our mission,” she says.

Contributions of papers, photos and other types of documentation by individuals, families and cultural organizations are welcome for permanent retention in Adams Library’s Special Collections.

Special Collections will digitize a portion of each collection, allowing anyone with Internet access to go online and view the digitized items. Anyone can also come in and view a particular collection, by contacting Digital Archivist and Special Collections Librarian Veronica Denison for an appointment. 

Denison reminds potential contributors that their family papers and personal experiences are important archival material. 

“As an archivist, I’ve found that researchers use collections of ordinary people the most,” she says, “because they tell a story of a community and what life was like for the ordinary person.” This becomes the legacy of a community.

As far as the legacy of the Portuguese, Fraley says, “We have a word in Portuguese – teimoso, which means stubborn. In the positive sense, it means determined. I think one of the legacies of the Portuguese people is their determination. They are some of the hardest working people I know. They have grit. They know how to survive. I see it in the young people, as well, because they were raised that way. The Portuguese also have a sense of pride in being Portuguese. They have social clubs that are over 100 years old that pass on the pride and cultural values to the children.”

“According to the 2020 census, 7.6 percent of Rhode Islanders claim Portuguese ancestry. That’s the highest percentage per capita of any state in the country,” Fraley says. “Portuguese is also the third most spoken language in Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut, after English and Spanish,” adds Oliveira, “ which means there is still a culture, through language, that is very active and alive. This is the time for the community to gather around this project, donate to the endowment and add their memories to our rich History.”

To learn more about what you can submit to the archives, see the acquisitions and donations policy of Special Collections at Rhode Island College or contact Special Collections Librarian Veronica Denison at [email protected] or at 401-456-9653. Submissions and access to the collections are by appointment only. 

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