You Can’t Untangle My Roots: Being an Cabo Verdean Activist in America

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What challenges would you face as an immigrant in the US, learning to function in a new culture and speak a new language? My guest has proven that any challenge can be met head-on when determination and perseverance run in your family. You don’t want to miss her inspiring story!

Terza Lima-Neves is a dedicated wife, mother, educator, scholar, and advocate for the rights of women and girls. She was born and raised in the Cape Verde islands off the coast of West Africa. When she was a young girl, her parents made the huge sacrifice and immigrated to the US in search of better educational opportunities for Terza and her two younger sisters. 

In this episode, Terza shares her journey from immigrant to academia, the importance of work policies that support women and families, and how her African roots have shaped her identity and spirit and created the aspiration of helping others to feel proud of who they are, where they come from, and where they’re going.  

Creating a safe space for women

The Poderoza Conference is the first international conference for Cabo Verdean women to be held in the US. It provides a safe space for women from the West African island nation of Cape Verde, teaching them to handle matters of immigration and mental and physical health in a culturally-safe manner, where their voices matter. The New England region of the US, especially Rhode Island, is home to about 300,000 Cape Verdeans. They were attracted here by the whaling industry as far back as the 1800’s, and then stayed to work and build their lives.

Coming to America

Terza Lima-Neves was brought to the US by her parents when she was a teenager. There were  3 girls to educate, and so they did what they had to do, making sacrifices even though they faced real challenges. Think of the difficulties of coming to a new country, a new culture, and a new language for a teenage girl! Terza explains that the challenges she faces with her own children give her a perspective of gratefulness for what her parents undertook to bring her to the US. They had family members here, so there was a support system, which helped them greatly in the transition.

An elite education and one special teacher

Where does Terza’s passion for education come from? She won a scholarship to an elite, private, all-girls school, thanks to a special teacher named “Miss Pat.” She had faith in Terza and presented the scholarship opportunity and helped push this strong, passionate girl in the right direction to accomplish her dreams, and helped prepare Terza for the micro-aggression and racism she would encounter. This experience helped launch her into advocacy work for girls and women of color. She tells them, “Your mind, your voice, and your experience matters.”

A background of strong women

In Terza’s family, the women were strong and resilient. They were not “victims of colonial occupation.” They had lives and dreams and dealt with stereotypes, and they persisted despite what was happening around them, both in Cape Verde, and later, in America. Terza learned early on that telling our stories is important, and her grandmother, 83, is the prime example, Terza’s life coach, and most trusted advisor.

The path to academia

Terza became a political science professor because she was inspired by great teachers. Her personal development proved how transformative a good teacher can be in a young person’s life. “Miss Pat” intentionally and carefully helped her carry out her life plans. Terza says that through teaching, she has found her “people” and learned to accept the multi-layered versions of herself.

Being a “Mommy Scholar”

Finding a work-life balance in academia is a big challenge. The two identities of mommy and scholar have to learn to co-exist. Terza worked to create a community within her students on her campus, and they even helped with caring for her children so she could teach! She purposefully let her students see that she can make things work as a “Mommy Scholar,” which is very much akin to her native African community, where child-rearing is a community effort. 

Advice for traveling abroad

When you travel abroad, you might be tempted to have the notion of what YOU can do for the locals, like you’re “doing them a favor.” We treat our visit like we are giving the locals something they need and getting nothing in return when in reality, we gain huge rewards when we travel to other countries. The best attitude is to learn from the locals and readily engage with them. Terza Lima-Neves advises that you always support the local economy and use local tour guides to show that you value their time, their culture, and their work. 

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