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An Immigrant Love Story

Updated on January 28, 2012

Anthony DeFrias has a story of American triumph that he happens to remember almost every detail of- a memory most would envy for an 86-year-old man. He was born on January 14th, 1926 in the Azores of Portugal. He currently resides in East Greenbush surrounded by his six children, ten grandchildren and six great grandchildren.

“East Greenbush, USA!” he says jokingly, when declaring his current town. Although, it is evident by his thick Portuguese accent that he hasn’t always lived here. He grew up in West Warwick, Bermuda where he attended school up until 5th grade at the Gilbert Institute in Pachet. There were about 30 kids in his class. He had a female teacher and the boys and girls were separated (he really does remember all of these details).

“I never showed up. My father said ‘forget about school, speak English good enough, go sell vegetables’,” said DeFrias.

After the 5th grade, around the age of eight or nine, he went to “Farm School” as he lightheartedly prefers to call it, and worked feeding pigs, cats and dogs.

At the age of 25, he met the love of his life, Leona Maria DeLima. Leona was “beautiful” DeFrias says, and apparently a high in demand 17 year old from Hamilton, Bermuda. She had many suitors, and Anthony still has no idea why she picked him.

“That’s what happened,” stated DeFrias. It might have something to do with the romantic motorcycle rides he would take her on when they’d go out on the town- seems girls tastes haven’t changed much since the 1940’s. They were married soon after on April 27th, 1950.

Anthony describes the wedding as “the best in the country”. With a guest list of 500 people, too many cakes, sweets, and desserts to count, fresh Lilly’s covering every surface, and a convertible with a driver to whisk them away at the end of the night- it seems as if their wedding would still be considered a wedding to remember.

The DeFrias family, with a new addition named Mary, moved to the USA in 1953.

“I love the USA. I heard so much about it. Better life,” said DeFrias. Although, not everyone was as excited to arrive in Albany, New York as he was. “She cried like a baby. She was homesick,” said DeFrias about his wife, Leona. “Hard for the first couple of years, then she loved it.” Anthony even recalls the exact street address he first lived on. “3 O’Connor Street.”

In June 1954, the next addition to the family came into the world, Michael. He was the last boy they would have, because the next four all turned out to be sweet baby girls.

“I loved it. There was always someone around, always someone to be with. You were never lonely,” said daughter number four, Lisa.

By 1966, Anthony incredibly brought over the rest of his and Leona’s family, about 30 people, into the United States. This made his wife, Leona, truly happy with her new home in the US. In order to do this, DeFrias had to write a letter for each person, saying he was able to give housing and work to each person.

DeFrias worked two jobs Monday through Saturday from 7 am to 10 pm in order to provide for his family of eight. He didn’t retire until age 75, where he worked at Price Chopper.

“I worked very hard with God’s help,” said DeFrias. When asked what his favorite part about being in the USA is he responded, “Freedom! Raise my family, give kids an education, safer here and better jobs.”

A moment in history he remembers clearly: the day Kennedy was killed. He was working when it came on the news.

“Everyone was crying, especially Leona. Very upset, liked him a lot. He opened immigration to the Azores- made it possible for me to come to this country. Mary wrote a letter to him and he responded with a picture and his autograph,” recalls Anthony.

However, remembering his driver’s test is what really puts Anthony on edge. He failed three times.

“That was stupid!” he said. After many attempts to earn his license, he recalls the day he finally got lucky. “One day a guy got hot, I parked beautifully and he said go get your license!”

Quite possibly one of the biggest difficulties Anthony had to overcome was becoming a citizen, and having to be proficient in English.

“I still can’t speak English!” he laughs. “Not hard but not easy. I learned in Bermuda. When I became a citizen, a woman told me to write in English ‘I was born in Portugal’,” said DeFrias, which he went on to say he wrote with ease. However, Leona didn’t make out as well. “Leona didn’t make it because she couldn’t write ‘Today’s a rainy day’.”

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