It’s agreed – ‘Portagee Joe’ stays

By Deb Murphy

Political correctness met Inyo County Wednesday evening at Supervisor Matt Kingsley’s town hall meeting in Lone Pine. Both appeared to come out the winner.

The initial topic was Inyo County’s Portagee Joe Campground off Tuttle Creek Road in Lone Pine. Not so much the camp itself, but the name.

Allen Berry had e-mailed the Supervisors his concern that Portagee was a pejorative term–as bad as spick or mick or kraut or the one word that need not be spoken–not appropriate for a campground operated by tax-payer dollars. Berry had lived in Modesto with a large Portuguese population. Portagee was something they could call each other, but offensive out of the mouth of a non-Portuguese person.

The e-mail sent Kingsley on a search for Joe’s and the campground’s history. He didn’t have to look far.

Chief Administrative Officer Kevin Carunchio, also at the meeting, went to his father, a former parks guy for the county and then to his uncle who was present for the official christening. His uncle was part of a crew sent to bulldoze an old facility in the area in the 1960s.

Joe’s campsite, or shack, that part wasn’t entirely clear, was just above the site. The guys decided to name the campground after Joe, AKA Portagee Joe.

“It was a bunch of blue-collar guys naming something after another working stiff,” said Carunchio.

Another long-time resident added to the story. “The man had a long history here,” he said “If you were in the cattle business, you knew all about him.” Apparently there are other Portagee things named after Joe.

Earl Wilson brought up Skinny Gates and Hard Rock Jim, two more unique Lone-Pinesque residents.

But there were folks disturbed by the potential offensiveness of an ethnic slur attached to a campground.

Carunchio came up with a compromise that seemed to settle the question: keep the name Portagee Joe, “out of respect to the man,” said Kingsley, but add information at the site to explain Joe’s history and how his name became attached to the campground.

Everyone seemed happy with the solution, hopefully Joe would be as well.

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7 Responses to It’s agreed – ‘Portagee Joe’ stays

  1. Tina November 19, 2020 at 12:31 am #

    I found this article looking for information on Hawaiian racism against Portuguese people. I searched it after seeing a video on a Hawaiian friend’s Facebook timeline. He and his son and nephew were drinking a few beers and the nephew begins to wax philosophic, saying “don’t be a loser, don’t be a punchline, don’t be a Portagee Joe.” It got worse from there and they all laughed hysterically.

    It was clear to me that it was an ethnic slur. I’m Portuguese and I was called a Portagee and a Pork n Cheese and a Greenhorn as a kid by the Dutch in my community. I never let it get to me but I also had never watched a video of another ethnic group who I know is racist against “Haoles” denigrate us or refer to being a “Portagee” as synonymous with a loser. I’m sure glad I’ve never called anyone any of the ethnic slurs people use, because it really does make a person feel “less-than.”

    That said, I think context really matters. In the contact of the name of a campground, it’s harmless. It’s not the same as what I heard in the 70’s or what I heard in that video. I’ve long since figured out that it’s the racists mind who pretends to be a victim of racism. People of color are far more racist than the “melanin-challenged.” I know many other immigrant populations have been through the same thing. Most of those notions are dead and gone and they’d all be dead if people would let them die. I suspect that’s what the Portuguese did. There’s only one group that’s looking for racism revenge even while they are, themselves, racists and won’t let it die and we see what that’s causing in America.

    While I appreciate the concern for my people, I can assure you, we are not the victim type and nobody is going to be hurt over the name of the campground. I think it’s the same as having a restaurant called El Gringo’s. We aren’t quiet or shy so if we were offended, you’d have heard from us. ? I’ve always known the Portuguese to be hard working, proud people who give far more than they take from the country they’ve settled into away from home. There was just no opportunity there on the Azores Islands. We’re proud Americans, we serve our country and we aren’t victims. We are too busy to worry about unintentional racism, here and there. It’s not hurtful or overt like it was in the video that brought me to this article and thread.

    • Allen Berrey November 19, 2020 at 1:16 pm #

      Thank you Tina for your thoughts, I enjoyed reading them.

      You are correct, context matters.

      And the context that mattered to me was this:

      By using the word “portagee” in the name of a public campground, the County of Inyo – a political subdivision of the State of California – was giving official government sanction to a word that, as you state, is a derogatory term for a person of Portuguese descent or ancestry.

      And official government use of a derogatory, national-origin based slur in the name of a public facility is a per se violation of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

      And that – and that alone – is why I threatened Inyo County and the City of Los Angeles with lawsuits if the name wasn’t changed – I am big into the 14th Amendment.

      And that is why the Board of Supervisors ultimately voted 5-0 to change the campground’s name to the respectful Portuguese Joe Campground – the Board knew the name Portagee Joe Campground violated the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment.

      And since NO ONE from the public went to the Board meeting to object to the proposed name change, I can only assume the public supported the change to Portuguese Joe Campground.

      By the way, I have received support and thanks from other Portuguese-American people who found the name Portagee Joe Campground offensive.


  2. Paul Gomez February 14, 2017 at 6:15 am #

    No where have I read what Portagee Joe’s full name was. Does anyone know? Thank you.

  3. Steve Reese February 10, 2017 at 7:57 am #

    I am okay keeping the name. I do not think we should re-wright history to be politically correct.
    It is what it is. I have lived in the area for over 40 years and not once did I hear anyone complain about Portagee Joe’s name.

    • Charles O. Jones February 10, 2017 at 9:20 am #

      I’ve never heard concerns from the locals regarding the name either. That said, I’m not aware of a significant Portuguese-American population in the area. I don’t see a problem with changing the name to Portuguese Joe’s if the current name is truly considered offensive to Americans citizens of Portuguese decent.

      It’s not about being “politically correct”, it’s about showing respect for others. What if Joe had been an African-American, would you feel the same about preserving history if the campground was called N***** Joe’s?

    • Tbone February 10, 2017 at 10:08 am #

      Why do you describe this as “re-writing history to be politically correct”? Isn’t this just learning as we go to be more considerate of others? Because if we didn’t, we’d still be calling blacks teh “N” word and making them sit at the back of the bus. It’s about respect, not preserving some racist history.

  4. Allen Berrey February 9, 2017 at 4:47 pm #

    “Portagee” is an outdated, pejorative term for someone of Portuguese descent or origin.

    Consequently, my suggestion was simply that the campground be renamed “Portuguese Joe.” (For some reason this suggestion is not mentioned in the article).

    This name – which shows respect for the man’s Portuguese ancestry – would allow the County and community to continue to honor the man, but without the pejorative and outdated “portagee.”

    By renaming the campground Portuguese Joe, the County would be saying, in effect, that we still wish to honor and remember you; we just aren’t going to call you a portagee anymore.

    The man was Portuguese, not a “portagee.”

    Unfortunately, the consensus at Supervisor Kingsley’s meeting was to reject this solution.

    I understand that decision, but cannot say I am “happy” about it, because the pejorative “Portagee” will remain in the name of the campground.

    By the way, I said I lived in Merced, not Modesto; Merced is Modesto without the glitz.



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