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It’s Festa time

Let your Holy Ghost shine

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It’s Festa time

Former MRPS Hall president Jody Correia (right) and her twin sister Jerry Scott work on making about 400 sweet bread balls that will make the Portuguese sweet buns, a staple of the hall’s annual Fe...

HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin

POSTED June 26, 2014 12:24 a.m.

This weekend marks the 95th annual MRPS Hall Celebration of the Holy Ghost – better known as Festa. The Portuguese people have left an indelible mark on California as far back as 1542. That’s when Portuguese explorer Joao Cabrilho became the first European to set foot in our great state when his ship landed in San Diego Bay. 

A mass immigration to California took place in the early 1900s. If you have lived in our little town for any amount of time, you undoubtedly have made more than a few friends with Portuguese bloodlines. We are usually easy to spot – the loudest and shortest in the room, unnecessarily using their hands to turn a two-minute story into a 15-minute short film. But I’d venture most people also consider the Portuguese a hard-working group of honest and fair people that put one thing before anything – family. 

The Festa ties together the rich traditions of Portugal and the Azore Islands. Many have heard of a Festa, or have even attended a few. Some ask, “Do I have to be Portuguese to attend?” or “What’s it all about?”


The Miracle of Queen Isabel, as told by others

The Library of Congress: "Born in 1271, Queen Isabel was married to Portugal’s King Diniz. Like her great-aunt Saint Elizabeth of Hungary, for whom she was named, Saint Elizabeth of Portugal dedicated her life to the poor. She established orphanages and provided shelter for the homeless. She also founded a convent in Coimbra.

There are many versions of the story of Queen Isabel’s miracle of turning bread into roses, but they are all fundamentally the same. She is said to have been forbidden by her unfaithful husband to give to the poor." According to Carlos Ferreira of Salt + Light Blogg: "Legend says she would leave the palace disguised in order to take food to the poor. She was very devoted to God and also passed a great part of her time in prayer.

One of the miracles attributed to her is the “miracle of the roses.” After the king had discovered she was leaving the palace to take food to the poor he forbade her to do it. He threatened to lock her up and confine her to the palace. She never gave up, every day leaving behind the king’s back. One day in the winter she was carrying pieces of bread hidden in her dress. The King saw her going out and stopped her asking, “What you are carrying?” She answered, “Roses, my lord.” He didn’t believe her because it was winter. He asked her to show him the roses. Obediently, she unfolded the dress and there were roses instead of bread. 

This is the most famous miracle attributed to her. She was always an example of devotion to God and to those in need." Queen Isabel subsequently started a tradition where she would find the poorest people, adorn them in new clothing, and then personally serve them a meal at her table. The people of Portugal vowed to honor and commemorate Queen Isabel, by carrying on this tradition on their own.

She was canonized in 1625, and we now celebrate her as Saint Isabel.


And the Festa is born

This weekend we will feed the people of Manteca – the poor and well-to-do alike. While we are honoring an old tradition, I like to always put a new spin on it. The Portuguese people in this community are honored and overwhelmed at the opportunities they have been offered by our wonderful town throughout the years. Showing our gratitude and appreciation to the people of Manteca is something that we are more than happy to do. There is nothing that makes an old “Portagee” happier than having food in his belly, a drink in his hand, and someone’s ear to bend about the history of their town. This weekend is your opportunity to share a plate, cup, and ear – and just listen. You may learn a little something you didn’t know about Manteca.

The majority of Northern California towns have a large Portuguese faction. With a different town having a different Festa every week, it can easily become a summer-long party. Manteca is fortunate enough to have two Portuguese Halls/Societies, the MRPS and the FESM. That’s twice the Festa and twice the fun! 

I am 41 years old, and have only attended one “Annual” event annually — the MRPS Festa!


Festa days past

My brain floods with memories of Festas past. Searching for cute girls – then finding out they are related. Wearing Orange Crush cans on my feet after drinking my 10th one. Climbing the flag pole for money. Sliding on the dance floor as old timers danced the Chamarrita. I actually had most of my “firsts” in life at this very function. First kiss. First fight. First drink. And all in the same year. Let’s just say the age of 10 was pretty awesome. 

As a young Portuguese boy you spend your first 10 Festas just trying not to get yelled at or spanked. And I mean by anybody. I learned early on that any female 20 years my senior is an aunt and any male an uncle and they all have authority to punish you. If old man Joe Mancebo would’ve had it his way, young boys wouldn’t learn to run and yell till old enough to drive. “Quit running and yelling, gosh darnit!” must’ve been said to Tony Coit and myself nearly 100,000 times from 1976-86. Then you get older and realize you may as well play by the rules since you are more than likely going be here for 75 more of these. 

I think I can speak for most when I say, the Festa is about heritage and family. It is important we teach every new generation of the values and lessons instilled by our forefathers – not just in the Portuguese community – but all: Italian, Mexican, German, American, etc. Where we came from and what we were will be in the rearview mirror soon enough. Nationalities blend, the old school ways become new school and people forget, but we should all try our hardest to pass on the history of our cultures to our upcoming generations.


See you Sunday

This year’s MRPS presidents are my cousins Mike and Cheryl Pires, and Cheryl will kick my behind if I don’t mention the thousands of “Thank Yous” she wants to give everyone for helping this year. The parade starts at 9 a.m., with the first public feeding happening around 11, followed by a live auction and more food. After all of that, there’s a dance where you can find me continuing my search for “Not a cousin.”

You have all been invited. Now let’s make this the greatest Festa ever ... until the next one.

“It’s not Where ya do, It’s What ya do.”

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