By Diniz (Dennis) Borges Special to the Tulare Voice
The Portuguese-American community in Tulare is changing. Our immigration began in the 19th century and had two strong waves in the 20th century: from 1902 to 1921 and again from 1959 to 1978.
As the community integrates, and rightly so, into America’s mainstream, and as the younger generations become more American and less Portuguese, our associations and cultural organizations also must adapt and transform.
So as we celebrate the numerous events of 2013, we must also put forth a reflected and ambitious plan for 2014 and beyond.
Ask anyone in Tulare about the activities of the Portuguese-American and you will get a similar response: Festas. These traditional events have been part of the religious and cultural idiosyncrasies of our community since we came from the Azores islands.
This year, one of the most remarkable events was indeed the Portuguese Holy Ghost Celebration (Festa do Divino Espírito Santo). Held in Tulare for more than 100 years, most of the celebrations have been under the auspices of the TDES hall.
This year’s event was an exceptional celebration put forth by a large committee lead by Manuel and Alda Lawrence, both emigrants from the Azores, who came to America at a very young age. Through their vision, leadership and community unity, they were able to conjugate an amalgam of activists and groups, constructing a weeklong event that celebrated a 700 year old tradition.
They were able to congregate folks of all age groups from students to senior citizens. The Lawrences certainly took an important and much needed step in making the Festa (as it is popularly known) a celebration that involved the entire community. Kudos to the Lawrences for their significant contribution and leadership.
Our next step must be in the direction of making sure the Festa is part of our mainstream social and cultural calendar, with more visibility and totally opened to all the ethnic and racial groups that compose our truly unique human mosaic.
Tulare’s Portuguese-American community had an array of events in 2013, mostly social and gastronomical, celebrating some cyclical traditions brought over from the Azores islands. Amongst them were:
- Matança do Porco (Killing of the Pig) at Tulare-Angrense Athletic Club in March.
- S. Martinho (celebrating the new wine) by the Portuguese Cultural and Evangelization Center in October.
- Danças do Carnaval (Mardi Gras) in February, a vaudeville type of performance that involves groups from various parts the state, at both TDES and TAAC halls.
- Epiphany celebration by the students at the Portuguese Language school Vitorino Nemésio at St. Aloysius Catholic Church.
- The yearly celebration of popular culture and philharmonic band presentation in August, promoted by the Tulare Portuguese Philharmonics Band.
- The Portuguese-American County Breakfast, Tastes and Sounds of the Azores, Azorean-American Cultural Week (in October); Portuguese Immigrant Week (March); Portuguese-American Heritage Days (April), Portuguese Education Day (Oct. 22) and the MVPA Awards promoted by the Society of Portuguese-American Students (SOPAS) with the collaboration of other Portuguese-American organizations such as: CPEC, TAAC and TDES.
The year was also manifested by cultural events put forth by the Tulare-Angra Sister City Foundation, including a performance by two Azorean poets and singers, co-sponsored by SOPAS, promoting the richness of the Portuguese poetry; and a book presentation co-sponsored by the Tulare Historical Museum.
The book, a first in the Portuguese-American community, was entitled: “California’s Portuguese Politicians: a Century of Legislative service.” It was researched and written by Dr. Alvin Graves, who worked for many years at the local Wells Fargo Bank, and features the individual and collective stories of several Portuguese-Americans who have served at the state and national level, in our state and national legislative bodies.
One of those featured, Tulare resident and Congressman Devin Nunes, was the keynote speaker at the book launching.
This very elegant, hard covered book, was published by the Portuguese Heritage Publications of California, the primary publishing house of the history of the Portuguese in this state and one of the foremost Portuguese-American publishers in the country. It was certainly an honor for our community to host the first and official launching in our city.
The Tulare-Angra Sister City Foundation also hosted, with the collaboration of other organizations, the visit of Dr. Paulo Teves, director of Azorean communities, and the Sanjoaninas Committee.
This yearly visit promotes the June SanJoaninas (St. John’s) celebration, the largest celebration Angra do Heroismo, Tulare’s Sister City on Terceira Island, holds.
As the Portuguese-American community continues its metamorphosis into the American mainstream, it must look into its celebrations and cultural events – some of them seeing fewer and fewer participants each year – and reflect seriously not only on which need to be maintained, but also on what needs to be worked and reworked in order to fit the acculturation process our community undergoing. This is a healthy and natural process in a community that 35 years ago ceased to have significant immigration.
In 2014, we in the Portuguese-American community must look into our soul and collectively reflect on how we are going to preserve and promote, within our families and with our neighbors and friends from other ethnic groups in Tulare, our traditions, our culture and our ties to the islands that we, or our forefathers, left in the middle of the North Atlantic.
Diniz (Dennis) Borges is a Portuguese language instructor at Tulare Union High School and College of the Sequoias. He is also president of the North American Portuguese Teacher’s Association and the secretary of the National Organization of Portuguese-Americans