Immigration Story: ‘The United States is My Home, and Portugal is My Heart’


October 17, 2022




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(PHILADELPHIA, P.A.) — From cleaning houses, to building her own business, to becoming the president of the Portuguese Heritage Commission in Philadelphia,  Ana Paula Vilares’ journey to the United States 38 years ago is an inspiration.

“The United States is my home, and Portugal is my heart,” Vilares said.

The Click sat down with Vilares to learn about her journey from Lisbon to Philadelphia. This interview was edited for clarity and length.

The Click: What brought you to Philadelphia?

Vilares: I first settled in Connecticut, where my daughter was born. I moved to Philadelphia because a couple agreed to help me and my husband get a green card. I had a good life in Portugal. After I married, my mother passed her hair salon business to me. But my husband could not get a stable job. A friend in New Jersey encouraged him to take a chance in America, and I loved my husband too much, so I came with him.

The Click: When you look back to when you came to the U.S., what do you remember the most?

Vilares: I loved my family and friends, so life here was hard. I cried a lot for a long time. In Portugal, we go window shopping or sit in a café with our friends after work. That’s not what people do in America. They come to work and then go home. Americans live to work while we work to live.  It was also harder for women to adapt. Men went out and made friends.

The Click: How did you get involved with the Portuguese community in Philly?

Vilares: We have The Portuguese American Club, restaurants, stores, and soccer clubs. I got more involved because my husband and I opened a travel agency, and we needed to make contacts. It soon became a challenge to keep everyone happy. I had to go to one club for lunch, another for a drink, and another for dinner. It was exhausting. But then I started doing radio, which I loved, so I continue to be involved, and in 2011, I became the President of the  Portuguese Heritage Commission, which organizes Portugal Day. Life was hectic, but exciting.  I finally had found my way in America.

The Click: How did you raise your daughter in America?

Vilares: We believed that our daughter needed to have the full experience of what it meant to be Portuguese. She needed to live our culture and traditions firsthand. My in-laws came every year to stay with us. She also spent the summers in Portugal so she could be fully immersed and experience the Portuguese way of living. My daughter also attended the Portuguese school.

The Click: What do you see yourself doing over the next few years?

Vilares: I want to spend time with my grandchildren. If I had a choice, I would love to go back to be a radio broadcaster. Of all the things I have done, doing live radio is what I miss the most. Radio is exciting. After almost 40 years after I left my home, and through the ups and downs of life, I feel peaceful and fulfilled.


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