We Came to Fish
We Came to Work
Stories of Immigration
By New Bedford Fishing Heritage Center
As a nonprofit, nonpartisan community news outlet dedicated to representing the diverse voices and images of our place, The New Bedford Light is pleased to share this remarkable series produced by New Bedford Fishing Heritage Center.
The Port of New Bedford has long drawn immigrants from around the world. Despite differences in language and culture, a highly-valued fishing industry developed, drawing on the strengths of immigrants from all over the world including Cape Verde, Guatemala, Norway, Nova Scotia, Vietnam, and Portugal. This exhibit explores why and how people came to New Bedford and how they became involved in the working waterfront.
The people and stories profiled in this exhibit are a small representation of the many different communities that make up New Bedford’s working waterfront.
“Here it doesn’t matter your age, nor the color of your skin, nor your race, basically if the person works and is a good worker, they are able to get ahead.”
San Andrés Sajcabajá
El Quiché, Guatemala
Marianna Moreno grew up on her parents farm in western Guatemala, helping her parents harvest maize and other food crops on the family’s farm. She came to America in 2009, settling in New Bedford, where she now works as a fresh seafood sales associate at Bergie’s Seafood.
“Used to be, the first Vietnamese fisherman in New Bedford, was me!”
Lo Van Nguyen
Phu Quy, Vietnam
Lo Van Nguyen had worked as a fisherman on a small island in southern Vietnam since he was 6 or 7 years old. In 1979, fleeing persecution in the aftermath of the civil war in Vietnam, he journeyed by boat to Malaysia, eventually arriving in New Bedford as a refugee. Lo now works as a scalloper on the F/V Hunter and the F/V Kathryn Marie.
“All of my family was fishermen. I am proud to be the last fisherman of the family.”
Figueira Da Foz, Portugal
After growing up in near the mouth of the Mondego River in western Portugal, Manny Vinagre and his family came to America in 1973. Manny first settled in Gloucester, and then left for New Bedford, where there were more people who spoke his native language. He fished out of New Bedford, becoming owner/operator of the F/V Sea Siren, until his retirement.
“New Bedford was, well it was nice. It was adventurous, but it wasn’t scary. There was so many people that you recognized.”
Gabe and Ellen Skaar
Gabe and Ellen Skaar left their home in western Norway after the herring disappeared, and they came to America, where there was more opportunity for work. Gabe arrived in 1960, and Ellen in 1963, settling in New Bedford, where they found work in the fishing industry, along with the company of other Norwegians. Today, the couple’s son, Jeff, captains the F/V Thor.
“If you were a young man in the Cape Verdean community down the South End, sometime in your life you worked down the waterfront, or somebody in your family worked down the waterfront.”
Santo Antao, Sao Vicente and Sao Nicolau, Cape Verde
Ray’s grandmother said, “it was time to move on.” So, the family set out for a better life in America. It wasn’t easy for Cape Verdeans to find work in the early 20th century with rampant discrimination. But in 1934, workers formed the local Longshoremen’s Union. Today, Ray continues to work part time as a longshoreman. And his cousin, Ronald Raymond, currently serves as president of the Longshoremen’s Union.
“My grandmother and grandfather liked Woodrow Wilson, that’s why he got the middle name.”
— Bob Bowers
Nova Scotia, Canada
Arnold Woodrow “Woody” Bowers saved the money he had salted away from his work in the Merchant Marine and came to America in 1947. He asked a railroad station clerk in Boston if there were any other fishing ports nearby. The clerk said New Bedford, and Woody took a train, then a cab, ending up at the old Harvey Hotel, where he joined a poker game in the hotel restaurant and “made forty or fifty bucks.” With the exception of a few short vacations back to Nova Scotia, he fished out of New Bedford his entire life. Today, Woody’s son, Bob Bowers, runs a fuel barge on the New Bedford waterfront.
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