NEW BEDFORD — The Museum of Madeiran Heritage is celebrating two decades of showcasing the traditions, culture and history of the Portuguese archipelago and exploring the Madeiran immigrant experience.

The milestone was commemorated last Saturday with an open-door celebration held under a giant tent at the museum, which attracted about 100 people.

Joseph Souza, the chairman of the museum committee talked about what makes the museum — a division of the Clube Madeirense S. S. Sacramento — such a unique and wonderful part of the community.

“To some people, this is about the island of Madeira, to some people it’s about our heritage and the past, and to me, we are making history today,” said Souza, who inherited his love of history of anything Madeiran from his late father, Joseph Souza, Sr., who pushed for the museum nearly 60 years earlier.

“It’s about what we are doing every day, so, it’s a wonderful thing that we do and it’s wonderful to be part of all of this,” he added. “We hope that we present ourselves well and send a sample of how important it is to meet our origins.” 

The museum is housed at 50 Madeira Ave. in a white stucco structure with a red-tile roof. Inside visitors will find a fascinating collection of Madeiran art and fine crafts, including, embroidery, lace, linens, pottery and weaving. Traditional costumes of folkloric dancers are on display along with an authentic ‘corça’ or sled used to transport visitors from the village of Monte high atop a hill outside of Funchal, the capital city of Madeira. On the north side of the museum lies a MadeiraGarden, with a fountain, grape arbor and plantings surrounding the lawn reminiscent of the garden isle.

“What’s the museum about? It’s about whatever… that’s kind of what we struggle with,” Souza said. “Whatever it means to whomever… whatever people wish it to be… and that’s the value of having an all-volunteer organization. We have our artifacts, we have photographs… we will accept anything that is related to our Madeiran-American culture, our Feast culture, our local heritage and culture.”

With a museum committee of nearly 40 members, both men and women, Souza said the dedicated group wishes to leave a legacy for many generations to come and bask in the immigrant heritage. 

“That’s what was important to my father — not whether you are Portuguese, not whether you are Madeiran, not whether you are Azorean, not whether you are Irish,” he said with a twinkle in his eye. “It’s important to know where you came from, why you are here and how did you get here, and where are you going.”

Larry Jacques, vice-president of the Clube Madeirense S.S. Sacramento, stressed the importance of the museum. 

“We are keeping the tradition of Madeira alive, and we are passing it on,” said Jacques, who traces his roots to the Pearl of the Atlantic on his mother’s side of the family. “And what better way to do that than to have a museum with artifacts so that people can come and visit and find out how things were back in Madeira and when people came into this country — what they were up against. That’s the whole idea of the museum.”

During the celebration, State Representative António F. D. Cabral presented a citation to Joseph Souza in recognition of the museum’s 20th anniversary. 

“We all know the club and how hard they work, how they prepare such a wonderful feast, and honor the Portuguese culture, and particularly the Madeiran culture, which really enhances all of us as a community and hence as a city,” praised Cabral, adding that in the many circles he travels, people seem to remember that the club is responsible for the biggest Portuguese feast — and it happens in New Bedford. 

“It makes us all look better and we are proud of them because they make us proud of this city as well,” said the legislator, who represents the WhalingCity on Beacon Hill. “To all of you, thank you very much.”

“This is really appreciated,” quickened Souza as he accepted the citation. “It’s a lot of hard work, and after 20 years we are acknowledging the importance of the establishment of the museum.”

Entertainment was provided by the “Os Três Primos” [the three cousins], Steve Duarte, Kenny Duarte and Dave Macedo.

At their first break, Steve Duarte shared a curious fact about the trio.

“We are really cousins and as close as brothers,” he offered smiling. “We have been playing together since I was six years old with my dad and, in his memory, we will continue playing together. When we Madeirans get together, [it’s always] a Portuguese party… It doesn’t get better than this.”