A tireless leader in New Bedford’s Cape Verdean community, Archangela “Canja” Fortes (1919- 2009) initiated numerous events that celebrated Cape Verdean women. As president of the Cape Verdean Women’s Social Club from 1957 to 1962, she launched its annual Tea, as well as its annual Mother’s Day Procession. She was active in other local organizations and chaired the Cape Verdean Debutante Ball for nine years.
A tireless leader in the Cape Verdean community, Archangela “Canja” Fortes (1919- 2009) initiated numerous events that celebrated Cape Verdean women and their culture. Born in Providence, Rhode Island on May 25, 1919, to Rafael and Mary (Ramos) Santos, Canja lived in New Bedford most of her life. She worked for the Aerovox Corporation, Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, and the City of New Bedford at City Hall for over 25 years, retiring in 1979. Canja married Theophilo M. Fortes and had six children – Theophilo, Antone, Jacqueline Fortes- Pina, Maria Rosario, Joseph, and the late Jerardo.
In 1954, Canja joined the Cape Verdean Women’s Social Club and began her organizational work for the Cape Verdean community of New Bedford. As president of the Cape Verdean Women’s Social Club from 1957 to 1962, she launched the annual Cape Verdean Women’s Social Club Tea, as well as the annual Mother’s Day Procession. This celebration included Mass at Our Lady of Assumption Church, the Crowning of Mary by a young girl, a procession to one of the Cape Verdean clubs for a full breakfast, and the naming and honoring of one of the Cape Verdean Women’s Social Club members as Mother of the Year. The first girl to crown Mary with flowers was Jacqueline Fortes-Pina, Canja’s daughter, while Canja herself was honored as Mother of the Year in 1973. As the outgoing president in 1962, Canja honored the 1937 founding members of the club at its 25th Anniversary Dinner Dance, attended by the Prime Minister of Cabo Verde, Pedro Pires. After her presidency, Canja remained an active member of the club. She served as its vice president, treasurer and board member.
Canja continued to chair community events and was an active member and leader in various other organizations, including the Cape Verdean American Veterans Ladies Auxiliary. In 1983, Canja honored the first Cape Verdean president, Aristides Maria Pereira, on his first trip to New Bedford by singing in Crioulo a traditional Cape Verdean song to him at the Zeiterion Theatre. In 1984, Canja once again honored Aristides Maria Pereira by forming a group of women who performed Cape Verdean dances in traditional dress. She chaired the Cape Verdean Debutante Ball for nine years, beginning in 1984. A resident of Bay Village through 1964, two of Canja’s many beloved recipes are included in the 2011 Bay Village cookbook, Bay Village Memories: Recipes of the Cape Verdean Community by Colleen Pina-Garron.
During her lifetime, Canja was recognized for her many contributions to New Bedford’s Cape Verdean community. In 1993, she was the honored guest at the Gala Cape Verdean American Reunion Scholarship Dance, for which her daughter Jacqueline designed and created two dolls that were replicas of Canja. She was also honored in 1999 by the Heritage Award Committee for being a Humanitarian Community Role Model.
On May 25, 2009, Canja passed away at her 90th birthday party, surrounded by 200 beloved family members and friends. Remaining true to Canja’s love of people and celebration, the party continued on – including the dancing.
Ann O’Leary, Emily Bourne Research Fellow
Fortes-Pina, Jacqueline, daughter of Archangela Fortes. Personal interview. 26 July 2017.