Connecting to Cabo Verde: A Q&A with WWU's Karen McLean Dade 

by Kaleigh Carroll
Office of University Communications intern

As travel restrictions ease and vaccines become increasingly available, Western professors are venturing out into the world to conduct research and engage with the global community. Professor of Secondary Education Karen McLean Dade recently visited the University of Cape Verde to present at a 21-day conference as the featured scholar-in-residence, with a focus on her 2020 article “A Dream of Dual Citizenship.” 

Western Today sat down with Dade to discuss her personal and professional connections to Cabo Verde and what she hopes the future holds for her research.  

Western Today: What first started your interest in nation and culture of Cape Verde? 

KD: "I have both a personal and professional story. This work and research for me has been going on officially since 2015, and it really came from a request from my mom. Who said, “Karen you go to all these countries, you do all this different research on cross cultural studies. But you have yet to do that for our family.” 

My mother was first generation Cabo Verdean American, and the reason why she prompted me to begin to do family research was because she was torn away from her Cabo Verdean culture at a young age.  

As wards of the state, my mother and youngest aunt was separated from their parents and siblings and brought to Boston. My mother was about 10 years of age when forced not to speak her native Kriolu (Creole) language. Since my mother’s prompting, I have been to Cabo Verde more than a dozen times doing dual citizenship work and learning the island nation’s culture.

Cabo Verde is considered to be very poor islands, from a financial perspective, but they are much richer I feel than the United States in terms of hospitality.  

There’s a term that we say in Kriolu called “morabeza” and it stands for kindness, joy and a peaceful lifestyle. It also connects very strongly with arts and culture. That's why so many people, once they go to Cabo Verde, they continue to go back because we say ‘no stress on those islands’. 

In my research, I’m not just interested in Cabo Verdean Americans, I’m interested in telling stories of migration that relate to many people in the world. I'm also concerned with the fact that we are still living in an age, especially in the US, where our education is very monolithic and Eurocentric. 

What kind of work were you doing in the early years to bring your mother’s hopes to fruition? 

"I first came to Cabo Verde to look up my family's history. For those first couple of years, I spent lots of time in the national archives, getting to know different communities and people that could help me.  

Being first or second-generation Cabo Verdean makes you eligible for citizenship through descendance, but you have to have concrete documents like your parents’ or your grandparents birth certificate. 

Now, my issue was that they could not find my grandfather's birth certificate from Fogo, which is not unusual because so many Cabo Verdeans had to change their names when they came to the United States. My matriarchal last name is Cardoza, but in Cabo Verde it is believed to be Cardoso. Because the name doesn't match, I've had this very difficult time getting my citizenship approved.  

At this point, all I can do is continue to hope that other required documents presented will be enough. In addition, I’m appealing to the government to better understand forced immigrant name changes, and so forth. It’s not really just for me, there are so many Cabo Verdean Americans that are in the similar situations. 

The important piece for my mom was to be able to get our rightful family citizenship. So, I’m still fighting that battle."

How did that personal interest transform into your professional work? 

"The more I traveled to the islands and interacted with the people there, the more my social circles naturally grew. It's through those circles that I received an invitation from the University of Cape Verde in 2019, to come and be a guest lecturer. Each year, they try to invite an international scholar who speaks to the entirety of the school, the community and the faculty.  

I enjoy Cabo Verde for so many reasons. To be in a country where everybody looks like you and know that I don't have to deal with questions like “What is your background?” or “Are you biracial?”  As a Cabo Verdean American, I’m accustomed to the foods, dances, cultural history, and 'morabeza' of Cabo Verde. 

These are some of the things that I love about going to Cape Verde; I feel at home. 

As to how this all started, I have to give some credit to Western. I was visited in my office by Karen Stout, director of the Morse Leadership Institute, who asked if I would create a course in the areas of my expertise. I chose to create a course with an African-centered influence, so I sat with her and said, “I'd love to do the course, but I'd also like to have the course be part of a study abroad program.”  

I especially wanted to connect it with our Black Student Union and our African Caribbean Club student members, because they have often expressed a strong desire to celebrate and see their culture within their classrooms. So, we got together with a study abroad program and planned this course that would be on campus and would continue into a study abroad program to Cabo Verde, but then COVID happened." 

The fight for dual citizenship has been at the center of both your personal and professional work in Cape Verde. How would you explain the importance of obtaining dual citizenship to the average person? 

"I think the strongest point is recognition. This article, it's actually the story of so many, not just Cabo Verdeans. I can’t tell you the number of people from all different cultures that have contacted me about the “A Dream of Dual Citizenship” article. 

Cultural heritage is just so important to so many of us, especially those who have been oppressed within society on the basis of their heritage."  

What do you hope the future brings as it relates to your work in Cape Verde? 

"What I want now is to bring my work back to Western. One of the things that our students have been asking for is more anti-racist education along the lines of awareness and teaching methods. 

I’d love to see more courses that would have African-centered education that aren’t just looking at topics from the Eurocentric point of view. I want to work toward a multicultural curriculum where we’re seeing and experiencing the curriculum through different cultural perspectives.  

One of the lessons that I’ve done at Western and in Cabo Verde is called 'From Africa to America.' It’s so effective, because we use drama and music, to enact a story of the Middle Passage, also known as the trans-Atlantic slave trade. We start off in a West African village, and before you know it, people are being chained and sold into a holocaust system of slavery.  

It's a participatory lesson. So, you can sit, and you can watch it, but it's better to participate because we're really drawing out the empathy of our students to understand what happened.  

My background as an undergraduate was fine arts education, and I apply that to my teaching. I’ve found that when you can incorporate multiple learning styles and social justice in whatever you're teaching, you're going to keep students engaged. So, I and I think students, would love to see more of those types of courses.  

And as we’ve seen during the pandemic, the world is a small place through technology. So. I can see in the future, both universities [Western and the University of Cape Verde] taking classes together."  

Karen McLean Dade is a professor of Secondary Education at Western Washington University. She focuses on engaging students across all disciplines on topics of cross-cultural studies and anti-racism education. Her written works include “A Dream of Dual Citizenship,” “Creating antiracist education international partnerships,” including a few books, numerous articles and chapters on similar subjects, as well as several pieces published in The Bellingham Herald. 



Monday, July 19, 2021
Karen Dade teaching a class to rows of students in a well-lighted room

Karen Dade presents “Introduction to Multicultural Education Theory & Practice” at the University of Cape Verde in Praia, Cabo Verde. // Photo courtesy of professor Karen Dade.