'My life's passion to record these stories': New book explores author's Cape Verdean roots

NEW BEDFORD — Seated in a large armchair at her home just off Kempton Street, Dawn Blake Souza recalled what she was hoping people would get out of her new book: "From the Island They Came: The Story of a Cape Verdean Family in America."

"One of the things I am hoping to encourage people to do is write their own family stories," she said. "You don't have to be a professional writer to do it."

The story focuses on the 78-year-old New Bedford social justice activists' Cape Verdean family roots and their journey from the islands to the Whaling City.

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Why she wrote the book

The story goes back several generations before Souza's maternal great-grandparents emigrated from the island's to New Bedford.

"It was my life's passion to record these stories so they wouldn't be lost to future generations," Souza said in the book. "My mother was my greatest role model, and I owe all that I am to her."

Souza's son, Isidro Thomas Junior, said that growing up in Arizona, he could appreciate the power of that.

"In Arizona, we'd tell people we were from Cape Verde and they'd say, 'We were just there last week,'" he said, referring to a town in Yavapai County. "They thought we said we were Camp Verdeans."

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Facing discrimination

She said that growing up Cape Verdean in the U.S. led her to feel that she lived with "neither fish nor fowl syndrome," and used an anecdote to demonstrate what she meant.

"Two of my older brothers were in World War II," she said, referencing Alden Windsong Blake, longtime chief of the Assonet Wampanoag, and Joe Blake. "I knew the military was segregated but I never thought of how it affected my brothers."

She said that as they were approaching their death, they revealed stories she was unaware of, such as how Windsong was placed in a Black boot camp during the war and Joe was sent to a white one.

"They were discriminated against" from both directions, she said.

'I fell through the cracks'

Souza also used the book to discuss New Bedford's history and sociology.

She said that when she was in high school in the 1950s, schooling in the city was segregated, with students of color being directed to blue-collar careers at Greater New Bedford Regional Vocational Technical High School.

Fewer were sent to New Bedford High School, viewed as more academically inclined at the time, though among them was Souza.

"I always tell people I fell through the cracks," she said. "You could see the difference [of treatment] with me being fair. "

Over the decades, Souza became well-known in local social justice circles.

She said she has slowed down with age, but still can get up the energy for a fight, like in March when she spoke against the Dartmouth High School Indian mascot.

She said that would not have have happened if not for her parents.

"That is at the heart of it," he said.

Book signing

Dawn Blake Souza will be at the main New Bedford Public Library on the third floor to sign copies of her book at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 29.

Though attendance is free, copies of the book cost $15. They can be purchased at the book signing, or through lulu.com, Amazon, Barnes&Noble.com, and WalMart.com.

The book will soon be translated into Portuguese as well.

This article originally appeared on Standard-Times: New Bedford activist Dawn Blake Souza's book about Cape Verdean roots