Thursday, Jun. 07, 2012
Portuguese share faith and culture at Los Banos festa
By Charles Guest / Cguest@losbanosenterprise.com
The Portuguese of Los Banos opened their hearts and their hall as they celebrated their culture and traditions at the 98th annual Holy Ghost Festa in Los Banos.
"If you want to do this you really have to do it from the heart," said Simon Sequeira, during a break from preparing the traditional sopas meal Sunday. "If you don't do it from the heart, it's not gonna work."
Scott Smith enjoyed a meal of sopas, a richly seasoned meat dish served with broth-soaked bread and cabbage, while attending the event for the first time.
Smith agreed that the efforts of volunteers and the DES Association had paid off.
"I was really impressed with the turnout and the diversity of people," said Smith. "I had some inclinations that it would be a strictly Portuguese event and I'd be kind of the odd man out and everybody'd be speakin' Portuguese.
"But when I came out and I saw all these different cultures and nationalities, it was inspiring," he said.
The Holy Ghost Festa, which was first celebrated in Los Banos in 1914, was a two-day event this year. There were dances, rosaries, the presentation and coronation of festa queens, two 1.2-mile-long parades, multiple servings of free sopa meals, and Masses at the DES chapel and St. Joseph's Catholic Church.
The festa dates to the 14th century and honors St. Isabel of Portugal.
Queen Isabel had a reputation of helping the poor and the sick. Legend says she attempted to sneak bread out of the castle to feed local peasants -- against the will of the king -- during a time of famine. Her husband, King Denis, caught her and demanded to see what she had hidden in her clothing. The queen said she was carrying roses. Upon his insistence, Isabel opened her robes to reveal that the bread had been turned into roses -- this was seen as a miracle.
Thus began the tradition of serving a free meal, including Portuguese sweetbread, at the Holy Ghost Festa. The entire event is open to the public at no cost.
Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, helped in the preparation of one of the meals.
"Being third generation Portuguese, the festas have always been a part of my family's tradition," said Costa, who was attending the Los Banos festa for the first time. "The Holy Ghost celebration is a tradition that goes back to the Azores islands, where my grandparents came. It's important to pass these traditions on from generation to generation. I think it maintains the strength and the vitality of the Portuguese communities," he said.
The DES is already planning for 2014, when the festa turns 100, with renovations to the hall. According to Simon Sequeira, even the guest list is being drawn up.
"For the 100th year we invite all the past presidents and all the past queens so everybody's invited to come to the celebration," he said.