PEABODY — Mario Costa has loved to read ever since he was a young boy in the Portuguese village of Vila Nova on the island of Terceira in the Azores.
“I would spend hours of my life in the library reading books that were privately collected by a teacher in my town,” Costa, who is 76, said, adding that poetry is his favorite genre to read. “This grew a burning desire within me to eventually write and create my own books and articles that I could freely share as an adult.”
Costa was born and raised in Portugal, which at the time was ruled by the dictator António de Oliveira Salazar, and he said he always “dreamed of living in a country where one could freely read and create content freely without outside intervention or fear of being arrested.”
In 1969, Costa and his family moved to Peabody — which has a large Portuguese community — where he began collecting books written by Portuguese-speaking authors. Earlier this month, Costa said, he donated approximately 300 of those books to the Peabody Institute Library.
According to Costa, the books encompass many genres from nonfiction to biographies, fiction to culture. He added that most of the books are written in Portuguese, but there are some books written in English by Portuguese authors.
Mayor Ted Bettencourt said he and other Peabody officials are excited not only that this donation will expand the options that Portuguese-speaking residents will have to read when they visit the library, but will also showcase the accomplishments of Portuguese people throughout history.
“We want people to see what the Portuguese community means here in Peabody, and this is going to provide a number of options for people to read about their history and culture,” Bettencourt said, adding that he is half Portuguese, so the donation is meaningful to him on a personal level.
According to Library Director Cate Merlin, while some of the books will be able to be checked out, others will only be available for reference use at the library so they can be properly preserved.
She said the donation will significantly increase the number of Portuguese language books available at the library, which she believes will benefit the community.
“Seeing books written in your language is a really empowering and exciting thing,” she said, adding that she is honored Costa chose the Peabody Institute Library as the new home for his collection.
Costa said he decided to donate his collection of books to the library because he is getting older and is retired. He’s still the host of Radio Portugal, however, which he’s been part of for 50 years. It’s the oldest Portuguese language radio program in North America and airs every Sunday from 8 to 11 a.m. on WESX 1230 AM radio. Costa said he also worked in various Peabody factories and had owned and operated a Portuguese record and video company, and wrote a biography about two famous improvisational artists from the Azores.
“It’s always been my dream to have my collection available to the people of Peabody and the North Shore,” he said. “In my home, they have served their purpose fully, and I felt now was the time to pass them on and hopefully leave a legacy that will educate people for decades to come.”
Costa said one of his passions over the years has been teaching his children and community about the Portuguese community.
“My sister Elizabeth Chavez and myself are so proud of my father and everything he accomplished in life,” said Mario Costa Jr., Costa’s son. “He always made it a point to educate us of our heritage while not taking for granted the freedoms given to us in this country, especially our freedom of speech and creativity. It is a huge honor for all of us to be a part of this legacy gift to our hometown and we are humbled by this opportunity to make his dreams come true.”
Erin Nolan can be reached at 978-338-2534, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @erin_nolan_.