Letter from Santa Clara
Into a Luso Zone
By Bill Costley
We've moved to Santa Clara, California three times now, twice into
apartments, but this time, we've bought a house in what we now realize was
once (and still is) a Luso/Portuguese Zone: it's been lived in by Luso-Americans
for decades; the families on either side of us still are.
On our right, a row of molar-shaped, striding, espaliered shrubs form a
startling hedge. Seeing them, a Czech emigrant who came from nearby Los
Gatos to buy our 2nd-hand hand-mower immediately asked me if I were
Portuguese. Those shrubs were apparently the give-away.
Rosalie Wilson, widow of William Wilson, a former mayor of Santa Clara,
confirms that as far back as she knows it (in the last century), Santa
Clara was Portuguese. Actually, Santa Clara's Portuguese community goes
back at least to the late 19th century. Their S.E.S. (Santo Espiritu)
Church, not far from here, is dated 1896.
Click on the Comcast cable-TV here, in Santa Clara, and among multiple
Spanish-language networks, you'll find a lone, part-time
Portuguese-language channel — RPT, Radio-TV Portugal — reporting directly
from there daily. So far, I've quickly learned to pronounce Algarve
without a terminal e-acute by listening to the daily report from that
What do our other friends around San Francisco Bay think of Luso/Portugueseness?
Julia Ball, a play&musical director up the peninsula in Palo Alto, who had
lived for years in Spain, recalls that Spain was slatternly, but
neighboring Portugal pin-neat. Roberta Loach, a painter&printmaker in
Kensington, bordering Berkeley, fondly recalls a Luso-American she dated in school who went on to become a very successful
housing developer in the upscale community of Saratoga, bordering
similarly upscale Los Gatos.
Some Luso-Americans, however, still struggle with a negative self-image.
Take the sunburnt rummy I met outside a local supermarket here who stemmed
me for a quarter "to make a phone-call" (I gave him the 22 cents I had in
my pocket) telling me he was “full-blooded” Portuguese, but that
“Portuguese weren't stupid.” I answered that I'd never thought they were,
and in fact, I'd once worked with Ed Pacheco Sr., a Portuguese-American
press-photographer in Cambridge, Massachusetts who was in occupied Vienna
during and after WW2, and who told me personal stories about it even more
cinematic than Orson Welles' film The Third Man, set there.
I then told the rummy that Massachusetts (where I'm from) has large
Portuguese communities in Cambridge, Fall River, and New Bedford — to
which he'd once been as a child. We were soon in a Portuguese zone of good
will, but I still couldn't bring myself to tell him that my best-friend in
R.C. prep-school, Joao Cabral, was later accidentally driven straight off
the edge of a carrier in his navy fighter into the South China sea in an
unusual Portuguese navigator's wasteful instant death.
is a greater-Boston poet who
recently moved to Santa Clara for the 3rd-time.