Immigrants and the power of adaptation
I have always felt special being the daughter of an immigrant. Because of it, I feel like I have a super power running through my blood: the power to adapt, to endure and to push through. Recently, I’ve been thinking about how important is it to understand the experience of an immigrant from another culture, or the experience of someone who is also the daughter of an immigrant.
Something about the Portuguese culture has always intrigued me. “If you know Spanish then you will be able to catch on to Portuguese quickly,” Andrea de Francisco tells me. Andrea is the owner and founder of a Portuguese-inspired cafe in the Outer Mission called Cafe St. Jorge.
I first became aware of Andrea when on Facebook one day she posted: “My cafe would not be here if it weren’t for immigrants, my parents fled civil war for a better life.” That post was in response to Donald Trump’s recent travel ban, which barred travelers from seven majority Muslim countries (The ban was blocked by the courts, but has since been updated and reissued to include immigrants from six of the original seven countries.)
Andrea’s family history is rooted in immigration; her family was among a huge wave of Portuguese who relocated to Angola, Africa from the Azores islands in the ‘60s. During that time, Angola was a Portuguese colony and offered more opportunity than the islands. But after the formation of the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), MPLA forces clashed frequently with the Portuguese army. The fight for Angola’s independence forced many to flee.
“My mother came to the United States in 1975, with my father following in 1979,” Andrea said, describing with admiration the entrepreneurial spirit of her family. “When my mom came to the United States, she found work right away and has held several jobs throughout the years to support the family. She is like a chameleon: always adapting and making it work.”
Andrea’s father had a fascination with diamonds, eventually starting the Francisco Diamond Imports Store in California with her mother.
“My parents are no longer together but I have always had examples of what it means to have good work ethic,” Andrea said. “That’s why when I was opening my cafe, I didn’t have time to be scared. I just worked.”
This fearless energy is what motivated her to open Cafe St. Jorge in 2013 and create a piece of Portugal in San Francisco. Although she’s a San Francisco native, she’s traveled back and forth to the Island of São Jorge her whole life. When I ask her what she loves so much about Portugal, she describes the calm lifestyle, the beaches and of course, the bread.
“Going to get fresh “papo secos” (dried bread) every morning for 10 cents,” she said. “There is something really special about the bread in Portugal.”
And making people happy through food and drink is a passion of Andrea’s, and her culture has influenced that passion. “The Portuguese love caring for people through food and drink. We are the type of people who will constantly want to feed you.”
While at Cafe St. Jorge, I try the tosta de queijo (a Portuguese spin on grilled cheese) and I fall in love with it’s signature topo cheese.
I also have a slice of strawberry jam cake, which is an original recipe from Andrea’s 93-year-old grandmother. Her recipes for baked goods are all original and made from scratch. She tells me that another dream of hers is to create a cookbook with her family history and recipes. Andrea is now a mother herself and wants her nine-month-old daughter, Ana Maria, to have something that can be passed down to her.
This is what you get when you talk to Andrea. She is incredibly strong and passionate about what she does. And she believes in herself.
It’s refreshing to talk to another woman who has such a deep desire to connect with her culture. I learned what I thought might be true: Whether you are Latina or Portuguese, those of us in the second generation of our cultures do have something extra special. Our families’ histories have influenced the way we approach the world, and in Andrea’s case, that is to grab the bull by the horns. I’m pretty sure she has a super power running through her blood as well.
“I think it’s really important that we learn about other cultures and try to connect in the ways that we can,” Andrea said.
I couldn’t agree more.