NAUGATUCK — John Rodrigues came to the United States in 1966 as a teenager with his family looking for a better life. On the morning of Aug. 30, he was honored for making the lives of others better.
Rodrigues, 59, was recognized as Portuguese Mayor of the Day during a ceremony in front of the Town Hall. The ceremony kicked off the annual Sao Paio Festival.
“I think there’s something special about this particular mayor of the day because it’s associated with the festival,” Mayor Robert Mezzo said. “It’s such a joyful weekend in this community.”
The Sao Paio Festival is a three-day long festival put on by the Naugatuck Portuguese Club that celebrates Portuguese culture. The original festival originated in Torreira, Portugal.
Rodrigues was born in Torreira, Portugal. He immigrated to the United States with his parents in 1966 at the age of 13.
“At this time they settled in Naugatuck and that’s where I lived for the past 46 years along with my family,” Rodriguez said.
Rodrigues has been involved with the Portuguese Club for over 40 years, with 23 of those years spent as the financial secretary for the club. After stepping down from that position, Rodrigues became the owner and manger of Casa Varina, the restaurant at the club.
“He devotes his spare time to making Naugatuck, not just the Portuguese community but our entire community, so special. It may sound ordinary but it’s not. It’s symbolic of the American dream. It’s a very extraordinary life that he’s led here,” Mezzo said.
State Rep. Rosa Rebimbas (R-70) and State Sen. Joseph Crisco, Jr. (D-17) presented Rodriguez with a citation on behalf of the Connecticut General Assembly and thanked him for his service to both the borough and the Portuguese community.
Rebimbas said the members of the Portuguese Club like Rodrigues, take time off from work to volunteer for festivals, such as the Sao Paio Festival, that so many borough residents enjoy.
“We owe a great sense of gratitude to you, John, for all the hard work that you do,” Rebimbas said.
Crisco pointed out that the cultural diversity in the borough is part of what makes America great.
“We are a patchwork quilt throughout the country of different ethnic groups and religious groups, and that makes a very strong country. The Portuguese community has played an important part in enhancing the beauty of that quilt,” Crisco said.
Rodrigues told the audience gathered in front of Town Hall that he was honored to be the mayor of the day and thanked his wife Maria for her support.
Rodrigues talked about how his parents came to this country in search of a new life.
“My father was so proud to be in this country. We came to this country for a better life. We wanted to have more chances, to capture our dreams. [My father] always said you are in the land of opportunities, if you work hard there is nothing you can not achieve in this country, the United States of America,” Rodrigues said.
After spending the majority of his life in his new country, Rodriguez is pleased that the Portuguese community is strong in the borough and he can celebrate his heritage.
“The reason why Sao Paio is so special to me, in the Portuguese community it is the feast that allows us to share and celebrate our cultural heritage with family and friends from all over the country and sometimes as far as Portugal. I will never forget my heritage and the place where I grew up, Torreira, Portugal,” Rodriguez said.