Our Islands, Our Future

As a young girl growing up on Maui, Laura Souza Paresa remembers her grandma reciting the rosary in Portuguese. “I asked her to teach me but she said, ‘You’re American, you speak English.’” Now as an adult, Paresa and 14 other active members of the Maui Portuguese Cultural Club learn everything they can about their language, their culture, and the history of Portugal. “The more I researched the history, the more I was amazed,” said Paresa, a four-year Portuguese Club president. “I feel honored to be a descendant of these people.”

The Maui Portuguese Cultural Club spent this year baking loaves of white bread and cinnamon bread and making pots of Portuguese bean soup as part of two separate fundraisers that garnered some $7,000. Club members invested the money in sprucing up the Portuguese model home and surroundings at Kepaniwai Park, where Maui’s multi-cultural history is showcased. In the Portuguese model home, a colorful exhibit traces the country’s history and outlines pictures of Portuguese exports such as copper, crystal and linen, and practices such as festivals honoring Catholic saints. “Most of our traditions are centered on the church,” Paresa said.

Paresa said about 10 percent of Hawaii’s population has Portuguese ancestry, yet not many are exposed to the rich history of the culture. She said the club awards college scholarships and it does what it can to educate others about the culture and history of the people. Portuguese Cultural Club members have trekked to Portugal and enjoyed hearing stories about a Portuguese family’s daily life. “They were hardworking individuals,” Paresa said. “In these stories, we’ve found they had a very rich culture and they also had a lot of faith.” The Maui Portuguese Cultural Club plans to be more visible at events in the community and accepts new members any time. “You don’t even have to be Portuguese to join the club. If you’re interested in the Portuguese culture, we welcome you,” Paresa said.