The Family Pantry of Cape Cod operates out of a nondescript building in an industrial section of Harwich. It’s open three days a week, and offers a lifeline for many Cape Cod residents and families who come here to stock up on much-needed food items. Recently, frozen bluefish fillets have been added to that list.
New Bedford’s textile mills once churned out fabric 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Some of the old mills have been torn down, but others survive as artist spaces, outlets and apparel manufacturers. About a half dozen of the red brick structures have been restored and turned into high-end apartments. Manomet Place in New Bedford’s North End is one example.
Driving through New Bedford along Route 195, it’s hard not to notice the long red brick buildings on either side of the highway. These are the old textile mills, built mostly in the early 1900’s. They’re a familiar part of the landscape, but many people don’t know the stories these buildings have to tell: of the immigrant workers who came here by the thousands; of the working conditions they faced; of a textile industry that exploded in New Bedford and then faded just as quickly; and of the present-day debate about whether to save these buildings or tear them down.
Friday is payday for many New Bedford businesses. That makes for a bustling Acushnet Avenue with money-sending shops on nearly every block. Transportes Vasquez sends money and other goods from immigrants in New Bedford to their homes in Guatemala. The owner, Luis Vasquez says on average, 500 people come by to send money every weekend.
The Community Economic Development Center in New Bedford helps low income residents -- many of them immigrants in the country illegally -- file their tax returns. Immigrants often file tax returns with the hope that it eventually could help them stay in the country.
February and March is a busy time for the Community Economic Development Center in New Bedford. It’s tax season. For the past eleven years, this community organization has participated in a federal program that helps low income people file their taxes. It offers free tax service to families making less than 52-thousand dollars a year. Williams says she gets all kinds of people coming in who fit the bill. And many of them are immigrants who are here illegally, like Luis Farfan. He stops by every year to file his tax return.
Mara, of Falmouth, first came to Cape Cod with her parents when she was ten. These first generation immigrants who arrive when they’re young often are the ones who struggle most, as they have feet in two worlds. But two years ago, things got a little easier for some of them. A new presidential directive called DACA – Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals – allows children who were in the U.S. before their 16th birthday to get work authorization and to defer deportation. Some opponents say the program amounts to temporary legalization, and they want it repealed.
In a grey duplex on a narrow street in New Bedford, Margarida Xavier fixes a pillow on her living room couch and sits down. She’s 86 years old. She moved to New Bedford from the Azores in Portugal more than 50 years ago, but she still doesn’t speak much English. She’s lived alone since her husband died ten years ago. And it’s been lonely.
But every few weeks she gets a visitor – Lucy Oliveira, the Senior Services Coordinator with the Immigrants’ Assistance Center in New Bedford. Oliveira comes by once or twice a month to visit and to help Xavier read her mail.
About 200 people, mostly immigrants, show up every Sunday night at St. Mary, Our Lady of The Isle Catholic Church on Nantucket. The church has seen such an increase that the Catholic Diocese of Fall River sent a Spanish-speaking priest for the community.
Young immigrants have been crossing the border into the U.S. in record numbers over the past few years. This summer, Governor Patrick offered Camp Edwards as a temporary place to house the youngest of them. People held rallies around the Cape in response – some opposing the plan and some showing support. The Governor’s plan may have struck a chord with Cape Codders since demographics are in flux here, too.