Indentured Immigrants

Indentured Immigrants traces the Jewish Pereira da Silva-de Freitas family from their early beginnings in the Holy Land through their arrival in California at the close of the nineteenth century. Along the way the family is forced by the Spanish Inquisition to leave Spain for Portugal in 1492. While seeking refuge in Portugal they become victims of the Portuguese Inquisition in 1497 and have their religion forcibly changed. Seeking freedom from religious and social persecution, the family arrives in Madeira where they hope the future will be better. But by 1885 the social and economic conditions on the island, coupled with a war in Portuguese Angola, conspired to rob the family of any meaningful future for them and their children. The decision was then reached by the family to seek a better future elsewhere. The Sandwich Islands seemed to be that better place.

Signing on as indentured workers the family entered into a contract to work 26 days per month for 10 hours per day for 3 years to pay for their $75 passage to Terra Nova, where it was hoped that a better future could Þnally be realized. Little did they know that the situation faced by indentured workers in Hawaii’s sugar industry amounted to something slightly less than slavery. Arriving in the Sandwich Islands, the family found itself in unfamiliar surroundings, exposed to strange people and new languages, subjected to poor working conditions, coupled with abuse by the overseers of the Þeld hands and a standard of living parallel to that which they had left behind in Madeira. They now began living a regimented lifestyle of reacting to camp whistles that divided the workday into deÞned units. Once their contract was completed, they continued on for another three years to save money and once again to seek a better future elsewhere. This time they set their sights on California as the answer to the freedom and future that they had for so long sought and which had for so long evaded them.

The book concludes with a look at the descendants of the family and their lives in California from the beginning of the twentieth century to its close. Like so many other millions of Americans who had their futures paid for by their ancestors, the Pereira da Silva-de Freitas family has in the end overcome the obstacles that for far too long controlled their collective destiny.

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