Melanie Xavier Silva was born and raised in Manteca. But she is quick to qualify that she was also raised at the FESM Hall on North Main Street.
That’s how steeped in the Portuguese festa tradition is her extended family.
As the Festa do Espirito Santo de Manteca marches on to its 79th year this weekend, Silva is once again a fixture at her second home. This time, however, she is not the three-year-old anymore running around and playing inside the spacious hall. Now a school teacher and a wife and mother, she is at the helm of the organization next to her husband, Danny. He is this year’s FESM president and arguably the group’s busiest man over the next few days starting today when they start making the traditional Portuguese bread. Volunteers will work literally scores of bread loaves. The bread will be served to guests on Saturday after the rosary in the evening and at the festa on Sunday. Some of the more artistic ones are reserved for the auctions on the weekend.
Melanie Silva was already three years old when her parents, Manuel and Natalie Xavier, became members of FESM. The Xaviers are perennial volunteers at every FESM celebration. In fact, they were presidents of the organization twice – the first time in 1980 and again in 2007 when the FESM celebrated its 75th anniversary.
In 1979, Melanie was a Little Sidemaid during that year’s festa. This year, as she and her husband are at the helm of the celebration, it’s their own four-year-old daughter, Grace, who will be starting kindergarten in August, who is the festa’s Little Queen. The Silvas also have two sons.
FESM president Danny Silva is from Denair but he and his wife call Manteca their home. A graduate of East Union High School and California State University at Stanislaus, Melanie is a second-grade teacher at the McParland Annex School. She and her husband met when they both played for the Tracy Portuguese band. When he is not involved in activities at the FESM Hall where he has been active for six years, Danny Silva is busy at his job with the Manteca Unified School District. He also plays saxophone for the Azores Band of Escalon. He has been playing the saxophone and being the lead singer in bands that play music for dances at Portuguese festas.
The highlight of the celebration in observance of the feast of the Holy Ghost, also called Holy Spirit, will be the traditional procession on Sunday from the FESM Hall on North Main Street to St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church on East North Street for the Portuguese Mass.
The mass will begin at 10:30 a.m. instead of the usual 10:45 a.m. Presiding over the liturgy will be Msgr. Myron Cotta of the Catholic Diocese of Fresno.
After the church service, the procession will trace its way back to the hall where sopas will be served free to the public. The sopas feed is part of the centuries-old tradition commemorating the miraculous charitable action of the Portuguese queen, St. Isabel, who fed her people during the time of famine.