These Brazilian newcomers, who are mostly from the city of Governador Valadares, started arriving in Framingham in the 1980s, following an economic downturn back home. They found well-paid work as housekeepers and housepainters for wealthy Bostonians.
By 2010, about 6,500 Brazilians were living in Framingham, according to U.S. Census data. That's just 10 percent of the overall population.
Two former Framingham town-meeting members, Joe and Jim Rizoli, were the town's most vocal critics of Brazilian immigration to Framingham. They organized protests and launched a group called Concerned Friends of Illegal Immigration Law Enforcement. Complaints about the organization's activities reached the Southern Poverty Law Center, which in 2008 labeled it a hate group.
Tension between the newcomers and old-timers had reached a tipping point as Brazilians began opening shops in empty downtown storefronts. The big department stores had moved away after shopping malls started to spring up outside of town and after the General Motors factory in Framingham closed down in 1989.
At first, the Brazilian flags and conversations in Portuguese didn't please everyone.
Brazilians complained that they were harassed and threatened by people and that the city turned a blind eye. It took years for town officials to accept their new residents, they say.
Town Manager Robert Halpin says that people are starting to see how Brazilians have helped revitalize downtown. Since taking over as town manager in 2012, Halpin has hired several Portuguese-speaking staff and police officers.
"I think we've embraced our diversity," said Halpin.
He acknowledges that some people still disagree with the town's policy to issue business licenses and offer English classes to immigrants, regardless of their immigration status.
"If someone gets a flu shot, we don't ask them their status. If someone is in the school-lunch program, we don't ask, either," he said. "It would take us down a very bad road."
Dominican children hit baseballs under nets that dangle from the ceilings of empty brick factories along the Merrimack River. These mills once produced wool and cotton fabric for the entire country and employed thousands of low-wage workers from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.
Lawrence is now the state's first majority-Latino city—and also its poorest. After decades of unrest, Latinos have gained some political power here.
Lawrence was the first U.S. city created to be an industrial factory town. Immigrants from Ireland, Italy, and Portugal moved here to work the mills in the early 1900s. As factories began to relocate south for cheaper labor, the ones that stayed tried to compete by recruiting Puerto Ricans, who were willing to work for less.
Then came the Dominican small-business owners. They opened gyms, stores, and shops in the empty brick mills on the river. In the 1970s, a race riot erupted between White European immigrants and the Latino newcomers.