BOSTON — UMass-Boston linguistics professor Donaldo Macedo is as liberal as they come. Born in Cape Verde, Macedo immigrated with his family to Dorchester in the 1960s, coming of age during the height of the civil rights movement, Vietnam War protests and his native country’s battle for independence from Portugal.
A linguist, he has penned books with famed lefties Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn. So it is a surprise when he praises a Republican state representative who opposed gay marriage and abortion.
It is more of a surprise that the politician is his brother Vinny deMacedo, R-Plymouth. Donaldo has dropped the prefix that was accidentally added to his surname when he immigrated. His brother has kept it – another difference between them.
But political philosophy aside, Macedo believes in his brother.
“I think Vinny represents what a politician ought to be. At the end of the day, it’s not what you believe, it’s how you are in the world,” Macedo said.
Vinny deMacedo is an eight-term legislator and one of only 30 Republicans in the 160-member House. He is also a businessman who can be seen pumping gas or behind the counter at the gas station he owns in Plymouth.
His background, his family and his beliefs have made deMacedo a respected member of the House, known for his ability to work across the aisles, colleagues say.
“It gives him balance, and it gives him someone in the family to listen to on some issues,” said Sen. Marc Pacheco, D-Taunton, chairman of the Massachusetts Portuguese-American Caucus.
DeMacedo says it is family that has helped him stay grounded and open.
“Family is our bedrock. That’s what defines us,” deMacedo said. “My parents sacrificed everything on our behalf. I’m incredibly grateful for that.”
DeMacedo was born in Cape Verde but moved with his family to Kingston before he was a year old. His experience growing up in Massachusetts was different from that of his oldest brother, who was a teenager when his family moved to the U.S.
“Kingston was a community of about 5,000 people, when my parents moved there,” Donaldo Macedo said. “Vinny’s friends came from homes that were conservative. You didn’t get the immigrant experience that you would in Brockton, for example.”
As a child, Vinny deMacedo attended Sunday Catholic Mass with his mother. Later, he and another older brother, Olly deMacedo, joined a born-again Baptist church. Religions come with rules, but those rules never hampered deMacedo’s ability to understand the shades of gray.
“His posture, his moderance, his coherence will not allow him to be blindly locked into group-think that leaves him without independence of thought,” Macedo said.
Vinny DeMacedo, now a member of the Massachusetts Portuguese-American Caucus, made it a point as an adult to expose himself to the culture that he had left behind when his family came to the U.S.
Sen. Michael Rodrigues, D-Westport, also a member of the caucus, remembered traveling with deMacedo to Cape Verde to visit deMacedo’s family home.
“To see how proud and humbled he was to see the home. To see where his family came from,” Rodrigues said. “His family (history) tells a good story about what we’re about in America.”
Asked how he and his brother get along so well, Vinny deMacedo laughs.
“The reason that we have such a tight family is because we don’t talk politics at the table,” he said.
DeMacedo has voted against same-sex civil unions and has consistently opposed measures to increase taxes and governmental power.
Still, deMacedo says he sees himself in his liberal brother.
“I look at my brother, the things that he’s been able to accomplish,” deMacedo said, sitting in his office, which features a prominent portrait of him sitting with his wife and three children. “He’s got such a heart for people. I think in many ways I have the same attitude, but just from a different perspective. It’s a different philosophy, but the heart is the same.”
Family also led deMacedo into a business that has kept him accessible to his constituents. After graduating from New York’s King’s College in 1987 with a degree in business administration, he helped brother Olly run his car dealerships before buying a gas station from him in 1991. It was from here that he laid the foundation for his future political career.
“It was a full-service station, so I was outside talking to people and building relationships. When I first got elected, I received 70 percent of the vote in my part of town. I don’t think people were looking at me as a Republican or a Democrat. I was Vinny, the local guy at the gas station who was one of us,” deMacedo said.
DeMacedo has worked hard to maintain that reputation.
“I remember one person saying that they worried I would go (to the State House) and change. I hope that looking back 15 years later, people can say that I didn’t change,” deMacedo said.
Rodrigues said that in politics, as in business, it is all about relationships.
“It’s a level of trust and comfort doing business with people. Vinny knows that,” Rodrigues said.
That interpersonal skill allows deMacedo to advocate for his party and constituents.
“People know where I’m coming from as a member of the minority party,” said deMacedo. “But I don’t diminish the importance of my job as a legislator representing my town.”
Crossing traditional party lines is an unavoidable part of that job in Massachusetts. He feels that he is seen as a moderate Republican, nothing like the far-right politicians that have dominated national headlines.
“I represent everyone, if you are Republican or Democrat. That doesn’t matter to me,” said deMacedo. “My job is working with constituents to help them through the maze of state government.”
The ability to see shades of gray instead of black and white is why his brother believes in him in spite of their political differences.
“Vinny still believes that you can make changes, he still believes that democracy works, he still believes in the greater good of society,” said Macedo.