João Laureano Lainhas & Maria Lemos Cordeiro
Maria Lemos Cordeiro, my maternal grandmother from Biscoitos, Terceria Island, the daughter of Francisca de Jesus Lemos of São Mateus, played a key role in my introduction into Azorean Letters. In 1981 João Afonso read a volume of my farm poetry called Evening Comes Slow to a Fieldhand. He took the book off the Freitas Library bookshelf at the União Portuguesa do Estado da Califórnia. The name of the poem João Afonso liked, Grandma Laureano, was from my Selected Valley Poems of the San Joaquin. Maria’s married name was Laureano because when my maternal grandfather João Laureano Lainhas immigrated to Tulare, California he dropped his last name of Lainhas and took his mother’s surname. It is interesting to note that I didn’t know that the U.P.E.C. Portuguese organization existed until I was thirty-five years old. I had found it by accident when I was researching a way to market books from my Seven Buffaloes Rural and Working Class press. Also, Carlos Almeida, was the first Portuguese-American I knew involved in Azorean culture.
João Afonso in 1982 translated my first poem into the Portuguese language: Vóvózinha Laureano. This same year it appeared in the Angra newspaper A União. Shortly afterwards this very limited edition of just one poem was released by A União: Vóvózinha Laureano, Primeira Versão Em Português de POEMA, De Autor Americano De Origem Insular.
The acceptance of Vóvózinha Laureano led to João Afonso sending me several colorful tabletop photography books with images from the nine islands of the archipelago. I began using some of these pictures as models for the first canvases I did of The Azores. But the most important shipment to me when I was literally starving for Azorean culture came in the form of seventeen books being flown in a crate to the biggest city in Montana. I drove 81 miles across the prairie one-way to pick them up at the Billings Airport. One of the volumes was a very classy 1981 edition: Mobiliário Açoriano, Elementos Para O Seu Estudo by Francisco Ernesto de Oliveira Martins. I treasure this book to this day and when my son Ira became an iron sculptor he also looked at the hand-carved design work of wood many years later. He was very fascinated with the beauty and the form and the grace of the many styles the craftsmen used to create their masterpieces. I began to feel early on that my connection and my future with this almost forgotten faraway other homeland of my grandparents would become invaluable to me. And I know at that moment I had my first sense of being some kind of hybrid native son.
Along in this same timeframe I began to self-instruct myself in the study of the Portuguese language. The only time our first-generation born parents ever spoke their native tongue in front of us is when they didn’t want us to eavesdrop what they were talking about. So later on I realized I missed a lot of my culture not only because our parents kept their gossip in the closet, but more importantly it left me high and dry when I could never talk to any of my grandparents one on one, which is another way of saying I never got any information on what my grandparents felt about being raised in The Azores because of this language barrier. My father didn’t even know the name of his father’s village on Pico Island and had no desire to visit there. So, except for the Espírito Santos festas I grew up with in my hometown of Riverdale, my unique Portuguese culture was almost totally blind sighted by a monstrous cultural gap.
The actual announcement that I was going to be soon stepping foot on Terceira Island in the autumn of 1986 came quite unexpectedly. It was my habit then to put up ten cords of wood a year and I was out in the country around Big Timber blocking-up fallen fir trees to be hauled to my house and then split and stacked. I was told over the phone by João Afonso that an airline ticket was being sent for me to attend the II Congresso de Comunidades Açoreanas, Angra do Heroísmo 27 a 30 Novembro 1986. After that, I was always fond of saying: I was sent halfway around the world via Lisbon twice(12,000 miles)on the strength of that one Grandma Laureano poem of mine.
The most important person I met in 1986, who would also play a major role in my artistic life by inviting me to other cultural events in the Azores, was Álamo Oliveira, who happened to be sitting very unassumingly in front of his office desk at Angra’s Direcção Regional das Comunidades. Álamo ended up translating the only poem, A Beak Full of Clay, that my brother Badger Stone(alias Michael Lynn Coelho)ever got translated into
the Portuguese language.