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Why Hasn’t Devin Nunes Assimilated Yet?

Unpacking the Republican congressman’s family tree to examine his curious, divided loyalties between Portugal and the U.S.

Megan Smolenyak
Apr 26, 2018 · 8 min read
Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

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How Far Back?

Perhaps due to his communications director incorrectly claiming that all four of Nunes’s grandparents were Portuguese immigrants, many accept this as fact so you’ll find this tidbit sprinkled in many pieces about Nunes. But it’s not true. Let’s start with some basics that are:

  • The remaining 75 percent of his heritage is indeed Azorean, but none of his grandparents were immigrants.
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Over a Century

People have different ways of defining immigrant generations, so depending on your interpretation, Nunes is a combination of either third/fourth generation or fourth/fifth generation American. Now take a look at that last column in the table above. His Azorean ancestors all arrived in the States between 1870 and 1911 — roughly 100–150 years ago — so not exactly yesterday.

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1911 arrival of Henrique Gomes and Antonio Nunes (Ancestry.com)

Sentimental Attachment

I get it. I’ve been fortunate enough to visit the Azores and am well acquainted with the nostalgic attachment many of us have to the countries of our families’ origins. My own family is similar to Nunes’s in the sense that most of my immigrant ancestors arrived between 1880 and 1913, with one pocket landing here earlier — like his Dust Bowl branch — and as a result, I have a soft spot for Ireland and Slovakia.

Why So Slow to Assimilate?

Every time I write an immigration-related article, I get responses from pro-border wall people — yes, Nunes supports the wall) who invariably make the same three claims: My ancestors came here legally, they learned English, and they assimilated. Those familiar with the history of immigration in America know that it was pretty darn hard to come here illegally before the 1920s, so please read this if you’re new to the topic, but let’s consider the latter two claims with regard to Nunes’s family.

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1908 arrival of Silveira family in Boston (Ancestry.com)

The Ties That Bind

It’s easy to understand why these families would stick closely together. They were regarded as outsiders, making existing connections that much more important. The concentration of Portuguese immigrants into the Tulare vicinity was so pronounced that a local accounting of deaths in 1920 specifies those of “American babies” and “Portuguese babies,” but no other ethnicities, even though an examination of the paper trail shows that there were a variety of immigrants in the area ranging from Japanese to Armenian.

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1930 census (FamilySearch.org)

No Rush to Citizenship

It also seems that becoming an American citizen was not a priority for Nunes’s family. Some of the nine immigrant relatives listed in the initial chart never went through the naturalization process, but here’s a summary of those who did. Collectively, they took an average of 30.8 years from their date of arrival to do so.

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Divided Loyalties

Perhaps the self-contained nature of the community in which Nunes was raised helps explain why he displays such strong allegiance to the country that three-quarters of his ancestors arrived from 100–150 years ago, even if it doesn’t entirely excuse it. That Nunes is willing to put the priorities of any other country over those of the United States is worrisome, though it isn’t his divided loyalty with Portugal, specifically, that most alarms patriotic Americans. For those troubled by his baffling behavior during the present administration, I leave you with a promising omen I stumbled across in my research. Lurking among the non-Azorean branches of his family tree is a relative with an unexpected and reassuring name: Robert Mueller.

Megan Smolenyak

Written by

Genealogical adventurer & storyteller who loves solving mysteries! 6 books, 20+ TV shows, former Ancestry.com Chief Family Historian. (MeganSmolenyak.com)

Megan Smolenyak

Written by

Genealogical adventurer & storyteller who loves solving mysteries! 6 books, 20+ TV shows, former Ancestry.com Chief Family Historian. (MeganSmolenyak.com)

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