‘Natural nurturers’: Cape Verdean women to be hailed for their service

A roster of 50 distinguished women of Cape Verdean descent compiled by the Cape Verdean Association of Boston (CVA) was unveiled and hailed at a special event held at Estella Restaurant in Boston on Wed., March 27.

The annual event is intended to highlight Women’s History Month and the Cape Verdean Women’s Day, according to Paulo Debarros, director of the CVA, who said women have been at the forefront of the Cape Verdean community, whether during historic seafaring days or the 1975 liberation movement – and now in Boston’s neighborhoods.

“I was raised by a single woman, and I was one of seven kids,” Debarros said. “My mother was mom and dad to us. My wife is my rock and my best friend. To me, it’s important to showcase the female talent in the Cape Verdean diaspora, especially in Boston…It needs to be known.”
The list includes women from every walk of life, including politicians like state Sen. Liz Miranda and City Councillor Tania Fernandes Anderson, and long-time advocates like Isaura Mendes, among others.

Romilda ‘Ro’ Pereira, 42, said it was a “great honor” to be included on the list and will inspire her work at Project Turnaround – an organization focusing on young people facing or returning from incarceration. Coming from Cape Verde at the age of 2, she said, she had a long and difficult journey and was “stuck” in street life and faced incarceration. Having switched changed her life to a different path, she said she’s all about “giving back.”

“We are in a community where we’re told things can’t be done, what you need, it can’t be done,” she said. “I’m a big advocate, a big mouth, and I won’t back down. Due to that, I’ve gained support from politicians and leaders, and I’ve leveraged that to help my community.

She continued: “So many times I would sit in my [jail] cell and fight with my higher power and ask, ‘Why me?. I now see, ‘Why me?’ I wouldn’t be able to do this without that life experience.”

In a community where so many advise, “Go to Ro” when help is needed, she said she was encouraged to see a list of 50 women role models.
“I have two daughters and knowing there are 50 women out there doing this kind of work for our community – that’s 50 Cape Verdean women they can look up to,” she said. “Cape Verdean women are naturally nurturers, and they don’t get enough credit.”

Djofa Tavares, 50, was included for her role as a science educator at the Russell Elementary School, but more importantly for her efforts to preserve and teach the Cape Verdean ‘Kriolu’ language. She authored the first English-Kriolu children’s book and helped to produce the first dictionary. On March 11, after four years of work, she released the first Kriolu app to promote, teach, and preserve the language.

“It allows people to be more involved and puts the education directly in their hands,” she said of the app. “They want to get their kids involved and it becomes an activity for the whole family, like a game, and they learn the language and preserve the language together as a family.”

“Women are doing these things in the community individually but to bring all of us and our work together creates this energy,” she said.
“Bringing everyone together at once shows the power we have together.”

Boston School Committeewoman Chantal Lima-Barbosa, 29, also made the list, and commended the CVA for taking the initiative to produce such an event.

Arriving in Dorchester at the age of 16, she attended the Jeremiah Burke High School, and then went on to college at UMass Amherst. She started in City Hall serving as the Mid-Dorchester mayoral liaison under Mayor Marty Walsh, and then as the City Council liaison under Mayors Kim Janey and Michelle Wu.

In July, she left to become the Director of Recruitment for the Duet program – an online college program associated with Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU). Nine months ago, she was sworn in as a member of the School Committee.

“I graduated in 2012, and that’s a long time ago, but not really a long time ago,” she said. “It was really about coming back to the system that shaped the person and professional I am…I think it’s important to have a Cape Verdean voice on the School Committee. We are big in Boston and are often overlooked, but we continue to see newcomers coming to Boston from Cape Verde.”

She credited her own accomplishments to the strong women in her life, including her mother, Janice Teixeira, and her grandmothers, Noemia and Nayr.

The full list of 50 women was to be unveiled at the event on March 27. Debarros said all proceeds from the event will go to strengthening the girls’ program at the non-profit Cabral Leadership and Innovation Center (CLIC) on Bowdoin Street.


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