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'I Cried When I Went In': Cape Verdean Museum and Cultural Center Opens with Celebration

Jennette Barnes
New Bedford-born Cape Verdean vocalist Candida Rose entertains at the grand opening of the Cape Cod Cape Verdean Museum and Cultural Center in East Falmouth on June 25.

After years of planning, it’s celebration time at the Emerald House in East Falmouth.

Local groups with a connection to the Portuguese-speaking world are here, along with members of the wider community.

Behind the house, visitors clap to lively music as capoeira dancers demonstrate their Afro-Brazilian art form — part martial arts, part dance, and believed to have developed among enslaved Africans brought to Brazil by the Portuguese.

They’ve gathered to mark the June 25 grand opening of two new uses of the historic property: the Cape Cod Cape Verdean Museum and Cultural Center, and the Emerald House Community Garden.

Wielding the big scissors for the ribbon cutting is museum co-founder and president Wesley Leite.

“Oh, this is a very important day,” he said. “We've been working at this for two and a half years.”

The museum is leasing the house, and the community garden is leasing the planting space — both from the town of Falmouth, which owns the former strawberry farm.

Jennette Barnes
Museum curator and co-founder Barbara Burgo talks about the exhibits during the grand opening of the Cape Cod Cape Verdean Museum and Cultural Center.

Inside, exhibits show local Cape Verdean history. Leite says there’s also a military room and a room dedicated to the schooner Ernestina, a packet ship known for bringing Cape Verdean immigrants to these shores.

And, he says, there’s Nana’s kitchen, designed to look like a Cape Verdean kitchen from his grandmother’s day.

“I cried when I went in,” he said. “It brings you back. ... If you remember how much you loved your grandmother, that's why.”

Co-founder and curator Barbara Burgo is giving a tour of the museum.

She talks about Cape Verde gaining its independence from Portugal, and about important figures in the local Cape Verdean community.

Burgo tells the story of how the Ernestina came to the South Coast, when a Cape Verdean immigrant, Captain Henrique Mendes, bought the ship after it suffered a fire.

“And I like to just add this in: He borrowed $8,000 from his sister — always the woman behind the man!” she said with a hearty laugh.

“They refitted her enough to get her to New Bedford. She became the packet trade ship back and forth from here to Cape Verde,” Burgo said.

Jennette Barnes
Dancers demonstrate capoeira, a mix of martial arts and dance developed in Brazil.

Outside, visitors are swaying to the sounds of New Bedford-born Cape Verdean vocalist Candida Rose.

They sample food, like Portuguese sweet bread courtesy of the Holy Ghost Feast in Falmouth.

Ana Dapaixao offers visitors cheese bread from Brazil.

“I have here a Brazilian pão de queijo, which is delicious,” she said. “And I would like to invite you to try. ... It has yucca flour, eggs, cheese, butter.”

A visitor takes a bite and proclaims they are indeed delicious.

In addition to the exhibits, the museum plans to offer cultural heritage classes in things like cooking, language, and quilt-making.

Aminah Fernandes Pilgrim, a historian who teaches at UMass Boston, says she came with her family, including two young nieces, to see history being made — and preserved.

“I am a part of the Cape Verdean diaspora here on the Cape,” she said. “I've studied the history of our community for my whole career … So I'm very excited, very proud of the founders for this gift that they've created for all of us.”

She says it’s powerful for young people to see the history they’ve inherited and the legacy they have the opportunity to carry forward.

“It’s just a very important day for our community,” she said.