“This is a transcription from a major Canadian newspaper,
THE LONDON FREE PRESS,
covering an extensive article dedicated to Euclides Cavaco,
with a front page color picture of Euclides Cavaco.“
EUCLIDES CAVACO The King of little Portugal
London Free Press - May 28, 2000
By Joe Paraskevas—Special Sunday Look Edition
BIG MAN IN LITTLE PORTUGAL...Father, businessperson, poet, radio host and Community activist, Euclides Cavaco is an enthusiastic promoter of his Portuguese roots, but his home is London.
A MAN OF VISION LIVING HIS DREAM...Euclides Cavaco’s reputation as a man who can help fulfill dreams began with his own determination to get an education and forge a better life.
The first thing that’s striking about the man – well before you meet him – is his name. His first name is extraordinary, even within his own community. It is a name of texture and nuance and with it comes a surname punctuated by three emphatic syllables. Euclides Cavaco
Then there is the man’s physical presence. It is energetic and expressive. It makes you notice him, which is a good thing because his height is no help. Cavaco says he stands five-foot-six. Whether that’s true or not doesn’t matter, because the man is a true giant.
Walk up and down a few blocks of Hamilton Road in London, pause in any number of Portuguese homes and businesses, visit gatherings in community clubs and churches, and people from the entire region instantly recognize the name and the man it belongs to.
“It was here in the club,” says Mike Cordeiro, owner of Codeiro’s Auto European Ltd. In Strathroy, remembering the day he met Cavaco 15 years ago. Cordeiro was in a crowd at the Portuguese Club of London and Cavaco came in, not with usual weariness or indifference of others – “a normal hello – as Cordeiro puts it. A normal hello would not do for Cavaco. As he entered the door, he said hi to everyone,” Cordeiro says. “At that time, I noticed I’ve got to discover more about this man.”
Felipe Gomes, newly arrived in Canada 14 years ago, heard Cavaco’s voice before he saw him. " One afternoon, the radio was playing and a Portuguese voice came on,” says Gomes, now the assistant general manager at the Hilton London. “I said, ‘What’s this?" What Gomes heard was the Voice of Friendship, Cavaco’s Sunday show on Radio Western, now on a 20-year run. “It was the first communication between Portuguese Canadian in this area,” Gomes says of the show. “There were no newspapers.
Euclides was the bridge between the Portuguese in this part of Ontario.” Communication, with his voice over the airwaves or with a warm handshake and pat on the back, is what Cavaco is all about.
He relays his love of life and Portuguese culture to anyone willing to indulge in it. Now, with a book of poetry called Living Memories – launched last night at the Portuguese Club – Cavaco has taken on a greater task: trying to figure out who Portuguese Canadians are, by examining the memories that connect his two worlds.
“Memories are like a language,” Cavaco says. “Your language is part of your culture and memories are part of yourself. You can go to China, you can go to Australia, you can go to Portugal and you can never separate your memories from yourself."
Cavaco’s Canadian story begins in London in 1970. Business success as a travel agent and real estate broker would follow.
At home today, surrounded by his wife, Mavilde, and Nancy, the younger of his two daughters, and by the comforts that life in suburban west London brings, Cavaco has an assured look of accomplishment about him.
But his complete story – from a Portuguese boyhood to someone representative of the Portuguese community in London and Southwestern Ontario – describes a life that had little comfort in its early stages and a journey that was as much about learning as professional gain.
He was born on Christmas Day 1942, the eldest of four sons of Manuel and Dulcinia Cavaco in Mira, a small town in central Portugal. Cavaco still grumbles jokingly about being born on the day when many people receive gifts thus taking away some birthday luster, but the truth is there weren’t many presents for anyone to receive during his childhood.
When Euclides was eight years old, his father left to work in a salt mine in Angola, then still a Portuguese colony. They would never meet again. He never took care of us, never sent any money,” Cavaco says now, resting his elbows on his desk and putting his head in his hands. “Life in the ‘50’s was so hard, my friend, very hard,” Cavaco says. “How could my father go to look for a new job, take his wife and four kids? My father’s intentions probably were good. What happened thereafter, I was too young to be informed.”
Manuel Cavaco would live the rest of his life in Africa, dying in an independent Angola in 1978. The turn of events bore an eerie resemblance to the departure a generation earlier of Cavaco’s grandfather, who also left Portugal alone, bound for the colony –Brazil—where he, too, would eventually die in solitude.
At 12, young Euclides went to work in a ceramic factory. “In those days there were no laws to restrict you from working,” he says. But two years later, he departed for Lisbon –forced to continue as a laborer, but not having lost sight of a longer-term goal.
“My primary goal was to study,” he says. “My mother could not afford to pay the high school.” Cavaco figured he could pay for a basic education himself. He found work in a factory but also took a brief accounting course. That led to work in another factory that produced metal parts for plumbing fixtures and air conditioners.
Here, Cavaco was a clerk, a job that suited him better than the others he had held and on that allowed room for promotion.
Most importantly, however, the daytime hours left evening free for taking high school courses. Cavaco began a 10-year march toward a high school diploma, but he also satisfied his thirst for knowledge by learning Italian.
The factory’s owner was an Italian named Ferrucio Gelmetti and he not only inspired Cavaco to learn a new language, he also brought something the ambitious young man had always wanted: paternal guidance.
“He acted almost like my father,” Cavaco says. “I loved him as much as a son can love a father. He had no children of his own. I became very attached to (Gelmetti and his wife).”
Language – something for which Cavaco has shown both love and respect throughout his life – was also the basis for his first meeting with Mavilde, in 1966. He was a tutor in French night classes and she was a student. They were married three years later and a few months after their wedding, spurred on by the visit of some Portuguese friends from Canada, Euclides and Mavilde began to give serious thought to emigrating.
“I was not inspired by my grandfather or my father to do what I did,” Cavaco says. “That was my very own decision.” His father and grandfather hadn’t make such a bid for the betterment of their families, Cavaco believes. He wanted to be a lawyer but schools in Portugal were the domain of the rich. Moving to Canada meant seizing a future for himself and his family that he couldn’t have in his native country, Cavaco says, one of educational, as well as economic prosperity. “Being 26 or 27 years old, I think I still had the chance to do it,” he says. “The opportunities were here. For a young person with the will, the opportunities were here waiting for us. In Portugal, even if you have the will, I’d never be successful the way I was here.”
On Oct. 3, 1970, Cavaco arrived in London, drawn here by a Portuguese community that had begun to develop in the late ‘50s and that would grow to 30,000 people in the following 30 years. Three months later, on Christmas Eve and the day before his 28th birthday, Mavilde joined him. A year and a half later, they moved into a house at 152 Adelaide St. in the heart of London’s Portuguese quarter. “This is Portuguese, this is Portuguese, that is Portuguese,” Cavaco says, steering his Mercedes sedan up Maitland Street. “It’s too bad they’re not at the door. They’d offer us wine.”
Almost three decades have passed and the old neighborhoods, despite this collection of neatly cared for houses, isn’t what it used to be. “Here used to be John Almeida,” Cavaco says, slowing outside a house on Adelaide Street. “I know everybody. I know almost every single person. ”Nearly everybody Cavaco knows, however, is elsewhere.
Of course, when the time came to move, many went to Cavaco Realty to sell their homes. Or when they returned to Portugal on vacation, they made reservations with Mavilde at Acadia Travel and later, at Cavaco Travel Services. Cavaco didn’t become a lawyer but he has no regrets. He found work at CN. In the company’s communications department, thanks to the many languages he spoke. He went to Fanshawe College and graduated with a certificate in Applied Arts and Technology. One of his brothers, John, also came to Canada and has worked at the St. Thomas Ford Assembly Plant for 25 years. His other two brothers live in Lisbon.
Their mother moved to the Portuguese capital, too. And Cavaco marvels how Sandy, his eldest daughter, received her honors Bachelor of Arts from the University of Western Ontario three years ago and last year went to Portugal to teach English. “My daughter went back to Portugal at exactly the same age that I came to Canada”. “When I came I had nothing. If I wanted a job I had to buy the paper, to go around and find a job. My daughter got to Portugal. She had a university degree. She spoke both languages. Whoever speaks English in Portugal is like a king.”
But it’s what Cavaco did away from work that makes him the center of attention among Londoners of Portuguese origin today.
He helped form the Holy Spirit Marching Band, founded a musical group, Saudades de Portugal, whose performances raised money for the Portuguese Club and he even collaborated with Cordeiro on a CD that has the mechanic from Strathroy, who used to sing at small scale community events, crooning to audiences from London to Lisbon under the stage name Miguel.
“He’s the kind of man you go to with a dream,” Cordeiro says. “He’ll look at you. He’ll ask you twice: ‘Are you ready to pay the price and work hard? Then go at it.’”
In the 140 poems of Living Memories, Just as in the music and community news of his radio show, Cavaco has tried to give fellow Portuguese Canadians a little bit of their homeland to think about.
“He has lots of love for what he writes,” says Severiano Da Silva, Cavaco’s publisher at Sino Publishing Inc. in Toronto. There are poems about various aspects of Portugal: a street in a former neighborhoods or a windmill. And Living Memories is populated by mothers, fathers, even Portuguese navigators, Da Silva adds. There is little in it that is political.
“There are three things I never argue about or discuss: politics, religion and sports,” Cavaco says. “They are very subjective. You’re always at the pint of starting. I could be here for three days giving you my ideas. Your team is still the same, your party’ still the same and your religion.”
That probably explains why he hasn’t and won’t run for public office. But his daughter Nancy is already showing signs she will follow and perhaps surpass her father in several ways. A real estate agent, she says she’s thinking about taking over Cavaco Realty from Euclides. Active in the youth of the Portuguese National Congress, she has shown an affinity for political environments he has avoided.
With her degree in comparative literature from UWO, Nancy has also demonstrated the same love of language that brought her parents together. Now, she says, she might translate Living Memories, capturing its sense of “saudade” or nostalgia for an English audience. " It means more that just nostalgia,” Nancy says, correction herself. “It’s a strong emotion that’s felt in the soul. It’s for someone who is not there but has their heart there.”
Such longings for a homeland aren’t meant to divide loyalties, Cavaco says when he speaks of what he writes. They are, rather, that accumulation of all he has done and seen. He isn’t pinning for home, he says, as immigrants do. He has found it in London. “I think most immigrants think about going back one day,” Cavaco says as he walks Hamilton Road, stopping always to talk to friends.
“If this country gave me the start, respects me and gave me everything I have in life, I have some obligations to this country. One is to be part of it. If you don’t contribute to the country at large, I don’t think you’re part of it. I’m not an immigrant. I’m part of this country.”
London Free Press Reporter