WATERBURY, Conn. (WTNH) — There was a presidential presence in Waterbury Friday. 

Cape Verdean President Jose Maria Neves traveled from his African nation to the Brass City, where he met with students from the International Dual Language and Washington Elementary schools. 

“I feel happy, nervous, and excited,” said Diego Rodriguez, a second grader at the International Dual Language School. 

“Cape Verde can see that we’re a part of their team,” said classmate Dareleishka Rodriguez.

The students performed songs and poems for the president, who is making his first official visit to the United States since his election in 2021.  

About 500,000 people live on the country’s ten islands, but leaders say there are thousands of Cape Verdeans across Connecticut, including 4th Grade teacher Melanie Santos.  

“I was very honored [to meet President Neves]. This is not an experience you get to see every day,” Santos said. 

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Neves’ visit to Waterbury, Hartford, and other parts of New England is meant to strengthen relationships. 

Waterbury Mayor Neil O’Leary says Cape Verdeans first arrived in the city centuries ago to work at the brass factories. 

“They’ve established strong roots in this community and are very involved with education, public service, and government services. They’re a very respectful community, well liked and well loved,” O’Leary said. 

Neves expressed a message of solidarity during a ceremony at Waterbury City Hall with local leaders and Cape Verdeans.

“Now is the moment to unite all Cape Verdeans, those that are in Cape Verde and those outside of Cape Verde, so we can come to an agreement on how we can develop more,” Neves said.  

O’Leary presented Neves with a key to the city of Waterbury.  

The Cape Verdean president is expected to be in New England through April 5.