Cape Verdean experience enriched by embrace of larger community

By 
Maria Centeio
Jan. 23, 2007

Living in a neighborhood largely inhabited by first generation Cape Verdeans, life is full of the traditional essence of the country of Cape Verde. The old try desperately to keep custom alive, but the young persist in rebellion as they adapt to the American lifestyle. One among these rebels, I have fought to obtain the privilege that many Cape Verdean females so often dream of, a privilege few are awarded - to be free. After years of unending battle, my boundaries have been stretched so that I am now able to attend community meetings and to participate in school sports, but I have come to believe that only college can release the chains that separate me from freedom in its entirety. From the window of my bedroom, I have become increasingly curious and observant of the fluctuating conditions in my community.

When the climate is warm enough, when violence is at its very minimum, communication is simple and abundant, as neighbors gather to share stories from back home. Relations are strong and the sense of family is evident. But when tension is in the air, the streets are empty, friendships are forgotten and people stop trying to open closed doors. Inside each home, reserved and isolated from the rest of society, television newscasters announce the escalating violence in the minority neighborhoods of Boston. They describe the death of one, caused by the gunshots of another, but fail to speak of the walk for peace attended by hundreds; they generalize the community in a negative manner based on the wrongdoings of two or three, but disregard the sentiments of the remainder. Many try unremittingly to show that there are those who still care, but in the perspective of the media the hard work and perseverance of numerous determined youth is a far less interesting subject to broadcast than guns, death and drugs. So common are their words, telling the world "so troubled are these communities".

The community that I call home seems far from comfortable. But in my case, comfort is more of an internal feeling than a physical reality. I am comforted by not only who I am, but where I am, as if the Cape Verdean girl, gaining profound strength and an immeasurable desire to advocate for peace, would not be the same without Dorchester and its struggles. That is not to say, in any way, that life without violence would not be pleasing, but the reality of violence in my life has shaped my ideas and broadened my capabilities. I am able to look past stereotypes and open arms for all those, friends and strangers alike, who are willing to accept my embrace. Characterized in the likeness of my community, my friends are not chosen for their physical features of perceptible commonality, but rather for the internal spark that connects our spirits. I may be a Cape Verdean girl from Africa, and he, a Caucasian male from Ireland, but why, simply because of race, deny one another of unending opportunities to laugh, bicker and shed tears of joy, all the while knowing that our differences make a friendship evermore rich, interesting, and desirable in all aspects? To do so is the result of fear of overstepping a boundary so thin, its existence has no true meaning. In the 21st century it is not absurd to say that the question of race is one for means of identification, not characterization. Demographics simply catch the eye and the ears, but personality conquers the mind and body. For it is our characteristic traits, not our identity, that determine the quality of the life we lead and, for the sake of necessary change, the goals we seek to achieve.

Discussions in ongoing Dudley Youth Council and Uphams Corner Youth Council meetings, Cape Verdean Community UNIDO board meetings and community meetings have awakened me to the blight of our society, in which the acceptance of violence by community members is more troubling than the actual violence filling our streets. Through these meetings I have learned that the feeling of shock, disgust and motivation to cease the violence must be revived in those who have become numb towards that which should be considered outrageous and unacceptable. Together with youth and adults alike, I continue, wholeheartedly, in my attempt to bring back these emotions.

Optimistic of what lies ahead, I have been consumed by a passion to make changes where I think necessary and my geographical conditions only kindle this passion, to such an extent that its flames cannot be subdued, thus destroying all obstacles keeping me from its grasp. The desire for peace is this passion, ironically yet undeniably incited by violence &endash; the violence that I hope one day will be considered Boston's history. For its future, I await more than just an annual Walk For Peace, but in a greater sense, daily Walks In Peace; where the problems of our society, once created in darkness, will be stimulated by all to be resolved in the light; where neighborhoods are no longer defined by the common struggles of a common ethnicity, but rather where individual successes are recognized and support systems encouraged.

Maria Centeiro, 17, is a Uphams Corner resident and a junior at Boston Latin Academy. She is president of the Uphams Corner Youth Council and a board member at Cape Verdean UNIDO.