In the cemeteries in Oak Bluffs, Oak Grove and Sacred Heart, stars and stripes mark the graves of veterans, men and women who fought and served in wars ranging from the Civil War to the World Wars and up to Afghanistan.
Last Saturday morning, Patryck Nascimento, a Brazilian student at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, volunteered to plant American flags and replace old ones at the two cemeteries.
As often happens with distinct groups, at times one can sense a disconnect between the American and Brazilian communities. This is why a small gesture of solidarity can go a long way.
“I took it upon myself to help,” Mr. Nascimento said. “I think that my community should help more and be more involved with the American community.”
Mr. Nascimento’s volunteering is an example of quiet bravery.
Students of Brazilian heritage on the Vineyard face a sort of double bind. From a young age, they are encouraged to do all they can to learn English and Americanize themselves as much as possible. After all, their success in life — whether in the United States or in Brazil — may depend on their ability to work, utilizing English as much as Portuguese.
Yet high school life is one of cliques. Brazilian students encounter pressure from multiple sides — to not “self-segregate” by hanging out with only Brazilian kids, yet at the same time, strong familial bonds, very much the life force of the Brazilian community, encourage children to maintain a sense of their Brazilian heritage, even American-born students of Brazilian heritage. How can they be wholly Brazilian or American? America encourages minorities to celebrate what makes them unique, yet at the same time, it has trouble understanding people who are different.
It may sound like a cliché, but these Brazilian American students live life in two worlds, one foot firmly planted on the Vineyard, another in Cuparaque or Sao Paulo or wherever their roots may be. Because of this unusual dynamic, Mr. Nascimento’s decision to honor American heroes is something to be admired, even celebrated.
One of the great gifts of Memorial Day, aside from the obvious reverence we show to our veterans, is the hope we can muster by appreciating their past acts of valor. Mr. Nascimento has given us reason to be hopeful for continued cross-cultural exchange. Parabéns.
But let’s not forget the six other students — Julia Neville, Katrina Lakis, Eleah Casseau, Leila Gardner, Kiara Vought and Michaela Rivard — who also took time out of their weekend to lend a hand.
They met at 11 a.m. on Pacific avenue on Saturday. For Tim Deely, a social studies teacher, the event was doubly sweet because of the turnout. Not having done this before, he didn’t know what to expect.
As any high school teacher can attest, it isn’t always easy to get students to volunteer for community service, especially when there are no special rewards waiting for them.
“They didn’t get class credit or points,” said Mr. Deely, who is in his second year of teaching at the high school. “They came out on a Saturday morning in the spring. I’m sure they had other things they could have been doing.”
The students were blessed with great weather. The sun was shining. The temperature hung around 65 degrees.
“It was a perfect day for it,” Mr. Deely said. They visited 302 graves with Jo Ann Murphy, of Dukes County Veterans Services, replacing old flags and planting new ones.