From NBC's Today Show, here's the video of Meredith's segment on her roots in the Azores:
This Providence Journal photo, dated Feb. 25, 1985, accompanied a story headlined "Portuguese honor Meredith Vieira" that began,
Nearly 700 people gathered last night at the Venus de Milo Restaurant for a "Night of Portuguese Pride" honoring CBS news correspondent Meredith Vieira and others "from various professions who bring pride to the Portuguese community."
"My name is Meredith Vieira, and I'm very proud of that," she said in accepting her award as Portuguese American of the year for 1984. She told the crowd how she had divorced herself from her Portuguese heritage as a child but found its true meaning while she was a television newscaster at WJAR in Providence.
She remembered covering stories about Portuguese fishermen, "strong people" going off in rough weather, and spoke of her great-grandfather, who left Portugal to become a journalist in New Bedford 100 years ago. Tears welled in her eyes as she spoke of her father, who spent his life as a doctor treating Portuguese immigrants on Warren Avenue in East Providence.
She said she has only recently realized the place her heritage has in her life and that she now is proud when she hears Portuguese music or watches the folk dances of the islands. "Maybe that little kid from Rhode island has grown up," she finished.
Vieira commented numerous times that she felt "humbled" by the award and that she was "uncomfortable " on the other side of the microphone. She was kept humble by some of the barbs other speakers and associates aimed her way.
U.S. Rep. Barney Frank joked that he had to be nice to her because she was a reporter and people in "her business" might remember. And Fall River Mayor Carltion Viveiros remembered her hounding him every day when he first ran for mayor in 1977. But they also praised her for her professionalism, dedication and her "healthy view of herself".
There was plenty of the music and dancing Vieira referred to as colorful costumed performers sang folk songs in their native language and performed dances from the island of Madeira. Hands clapped as the dancers strolled and whirled, accompanied by accordions, violins, guitars and bells...
Before achieving fame and fortune on national TV, East Providence native Meredith Vieira was familiar to Rhode Islanders as a reporter at NBC Channel 10.
Monday, NBC's Today show, which Meredith co-hosts with Matt Lauer (who hosted PM Magazine on Channel 10), follows her to the Azores in search of her roots.
The press release is unusually informative:
Discover Meredith Vieira's Azores
New York, NY --On August 25, 2008 the NBC Today Show will take you on a journey of discovery as host Meredith Vieira explores her family roots in the Azores Islands, Portugal. All four of Vieira's grandparents came from the Azores - three from Faial, one of the nine islands in the archipelago. They all left for a better life in New England in the late 19th and early 20th centuries - settling around Providence, R.I. Until this summer, Meredith Vieira had never been to the islands of her ancestors.
The Azores are midway between the eastern coast of the United States and mainland Portugal - scattered over several hundred nautical miles of Atlantic Ocean. The closest point to Europe from the United States, just four hours away, the Azores are an autonomous region of Portugal.
Because these once uninhabited, remote islands were settled sporadically over a span of two centuries, their culture, dialect, cuisine and traditions vary considerably from island to island. Farming and fishing are key industries that support the Azorean economy. These traditional trades give the Azores an unspoiled, historic and authentically European feel that is becoming harder to find in other nearby locations. Visitors find plenty to see and do here, with upscale lodging and restaurants integrating with both the tiny, rural towns and the sometimes wild and lush landscapes that make up the islands
The Azores are considered to be some of the most beautiful islands in the world... yet they remain a closely guarded secret by tourists in the know. The National Geographic Center for Sustainable Destinations recently named the Azores as the world's second most appealing islands destination.
The Meredith Vieira Connection
The ties that bind the Azores to United States go back 300 years, when many English ships carrying what would become American colonists to the New World stopped in the Azores to rest and replenish supplies. Azoreans were among the first to fish the waters of North America. Many Portuguese historians believe that sailors from the Azores sighted North America years before Columbus.
Sailors stopped in the Azores for centuries to load up on oranges, which was the only way to ward off scurvy on board. Every major whaling expedition sailing from New England -- from ports such as Nantucket Island, New Bedford and Edgartown -- sailed to the Azores for supplies, dories and sailors before starting their voyage. In fact, it was New Englanders who taught the Azoreans the value of whaling. The Azoreans became so good at landing whales that American sea captains came to the Azores just to get crews. This built the foundation of a strong commercial bond between the sailing ships of New England and the Azores.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, the Azores became the main port of call for trans-Atlantic clippers. Leading Boston merchants felt at home in the islands. In 1944, an American airbase was set up on Santa Maria and was later transferred to the NATO airbase at Lajes on Terceira.
As the whaling industry declined following the introduction of crude oil in the 1870s, many Azoreans - like Meredith Vieira's family- began to immigrate to New England. They brought their strong work ethic to the then-thriving mills in southeastern New England and the fishing industries around Providence, R.I, New Bedford and Gloucester, Massachusetts. But they also made a significant cultural impact on New England. Popular summer feasts and festivals in Portuguese communities in New England all trace their roots to the traditional Holy Ghost festivals of the Azores.
Meredith's paternal grandfather António Cláudio Vieira was born in the city of Horta, on Faial, on November 1, 1864. He was baptized in the church of Matriz do Santíssimo Salvador on November 10, 1864. Son of Maria José Vieira and Manuel José Vieira, a farmer who was in the U.S., where he had emigrated in June of 1864 aboard the ship Fredónia. In 1876, at age 12, António Cláudio Vieira went to the local high school with 28 other boys. He then went to seminary in Angra on Terceira and studied there until April of 1887, when the adjunct bishop, D. Francisco Maria do Prado Lacerda, made him a priest. On June 27,1887 he became the parish priest (Cura) in the parish of Angústias, in Horta.
Soon after, António Cláudio Vieira was transferred to the island of Flores, west of Faial, to the parish of Caveira and then to Mosteiros. In 1893, he was given leave to emigrate to the United States.
Foods that are commonplace in New England kitchens are also uniquely Azorean - Portuguese sweet bread, Portuguese muffins, red pepper paste and linguiça sausage all hail from the islands. Even the way New Englanders often pronounce Portuguese foods - "shurrice" for chouriço sausage - shows an Azorean influence. By 1998, immigration from the Azores to New England had ended, but today there are twice as many people of Azorean descent living outside of the Azores than on the islands or mainland Portugal.
In the middle of the Azores, Faial Island encompasses some 67 square miles, but back in 1957 it was a mile less. The lava from volcanic eruption that year eventually added to the land mass and made the island's western end look a lot like the surface of the moon. Now a regional park, the landscape is one of reddish and black dust rock and the charred remains of a lighthouse. Meredith's physician father in Providence worked with other community leaders to help the many people who left Faial in the eruption's aftermath.
Ships have stopped in Horta - the main port of Faial - on their way between the New and Old Worlds for centuries. The seafarers left their mark by creating a giant collage of inscriptions and colorful paintings on the walls and sidewalks of the marina's jetty. Legend has it that bad luck will follow any sailor who doesn't leave a painting or inscription behind.
Yachts still regularly pull into Faial. More than 1,000 yachts visit the port with more than 4,400 crewmembers aboard each year, making it the busiest marina in Portugal. The port has about 250 slips.
Horta's internationally flavored waterfront offers shops that specialize in outfitting the ships that pass through. The city is full of modern cafes, bars and a few nightclubs, while the architecture is largely from the 19th century.
While her paternal grandfather hailed from Horta - two of Vieira's other grandparents came from the farming town of Cedros on the north coast, where the islands famous Ilha Azul cheese is made.
The Azores Today
The Azores' year-round mild climate gives the islands a fresh, springlike quality no matter when you visit. No matter what the weather back home, it's always between 57 and 71 degrees in the Azores. Summer arrives in July and often stays until December. The lava-rich soils, fed by volcanic eruptions of the past, nurture more than 1,200 species of plants, flowers and trees. The landscape varies from open fields lined with country roads to tiny towns perched on oceanfront cliffs.
The islands were created by volcanic activity millions of years ago, giving them a landscape that is varied and often dramatic. Rocky cliffs, crater lakes, geysers, waterfalls and lava caves are all remnants of Mother Nature's historical touch, and all make for excellent exploring opportunities for today's visitor.
In the harbor towns, visitors can watch the day's catch hauled in from the fishing boats, count the yachts that have sailed into port for the evening and stay in the manor homes and inns that may have once been the luxurious residences of wealthy sea-faring traders. The cities tell stories about the Azores' prosperous history during the time of Portugal's great explorations. Churches and town halls are built in varied styles including Gothic, Baroque, Manueline and classical architecture, evoking an old-world charm with new world functionality.
Visitors have the opportunity to learn about the 19th century history of whaling in the Azores, when expeditions from the Americas would stop to recruit crew-members and teach the locals the art of scrimshaw and whalebone-carving. While whaling is no longer an industry, whale-watching opportunities are abundant. An adventurous visitor can see these marine giants up close with the help of trained guides piloting fast, inflatable boats.
The Azores sit at the very spot where the tectonic plates for Europe, Africa and North America meet. The nine islands of the archipelago are divided into three groups:
Eastern: São Miguel and Santa Maria
Central: Terceira, Graciosa, São Jorge, Pico and Faial
Western: Corvo and Flores.
...For more information on the Azores, go to http://www.visitportugal.com , or http://www.visitazores.org
Getting to the Azores
Direct flights to the Azores from Boston, Oakland and Providence are available only through Azores Express, a U.S.-based tour operator and member of the SATA Group. For information and reservations, call Azores Express at 800-762-9995, or visit: www.sata.pt. Fall packages with roundtrip air and 6 nights lodging start at $709 per person. TAP Portugal offers one-stop service from Newark's Liberty Airport, with daily flights via Lisbon, http://www.flytap.com/ or 800-221-7370.
Related: Let off some steam in the Azores, a travel story about the islands.