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Allie Mousseau

My great grandmother was named Maria da Costa. She was from the Azores, Portugal. She immigrated and lived in Tiverton, Rhode Island. The family’s heritage and religion were never discussed when I was little (and before my birth my mother became a strict Jehovah’s Witness). I remember my mother saying she had “a Jewish nose and wished she had Jewish money.” I had never understood that. When I became an adult I ran from her religion and beliefs, and myself became a devout Christian, but felt continually pulled to Judaism even though I was sternly warned against that kind of thinking by my pastor. For a while I mixed the two in an attempt to find myself and what I believed. I homeschooled my children at the time and we were studying Portuguese genealogy when a children’s book from the public library we were reading stated that “almost all Portuguese people had some amount of Jewish blood.” My entire world transformed as I went on a quest to find the truth of my heritage. I had to, as if it called to me in a way I couldn’t resist. I spoke to relatives in Rhode Island that were still alive and came away with the knowledge that on my great grandmother’s death bed she told her survivors to never trust the Catholic priests. She had married a Swedish fisherman and had several daughters, none of which liked claiming their Portuguese lineage because of prejudice – they strove to be known only as Swedish. That’s when I began the in-depth study of Jewish history and Inquisition records where I discovered that da Costa was a Jewish surname, and hundreds if not thousands of da Costas were either brutally tortured and murdered for being Jewish, were forcibly converted, or fled in attempts to escape. As I read each page, I felt connected to each one of them, as if they were my family. I was so angry over what had happened, that the world was like this, that they had to hide what they believed and that I was somehow cheated from my own heritage and who I truly was because of it. I moved (along with my husband and five children) to a Jewish community in Pennsylvania to study. A wonderful Jewish women who worked at the Jewish Genealogical Society in Philadelphia presented me with papers on the da Costa name and I’ll never forget it as she said, “Welcome to the family.” Thank you for reading, Allie Mousseau

Allie Mousseau
ajmmousseau@gmail.com