The Portuguese São Joaquim Valley Festival, held on Saturday in Turlock, attracted “more than 15,000 people” and became the largest Portuguese-American event in California, organizer Elaina Vieira said.
The president of the Carlos Vieira Foundation, who created the new festival, underlined the dynamism of the Luso-American community in the central California Valley region and said that “there was already a queue before the gates opened,” a demonstration of the “excellent response” to the event.
The figures place the first edition of the Portuguese Festival of Vale de São Joaquim among the largest of the Portuguese community in the United States.
The profits made in the event will revert to the “Race for Autism” initiative, a permanent campaign of the foundation Carlos Vieira that at the moment gives scholarships of 500 dollars per year to about 100 families with autistic children.
That’s why Liz and Tony Rodrigues travelled from Artesia to Turlock to attend the festival, as the couple have relatives with autistic children.
“We came to support this foundation,” told Liz Rodrigues, considering “incredible” what the Carlos Vieira Foundation is doing for autism and praising the “good looks” of the festival, which surpassed the dimension of the celebrations of Portugal Day in Saint Joseph.
Brian Martins, a representative of Luso-American Financial and deputy director of Hart-Ransom Elementary School in Modesto, highlighted the diversity of the audience, saying “it’s great to see people from all over California.”
Shortly after four in the afternoon, the food in the organization’s kitchen was exhausted, and there were long lines in most tents selling Portuguese specialities.
Alexander Dias, CEO of Óbidos Ginja9’s ginjinha brand, noted that the festival was more comprehensive than the Portuguese community parties that take place all over California and in which they usually take part.
“This event is a bit different because it involves not only the Portuguese community but also the Americans who live in the central valley,” said the official, speaking of a “mixed cultures” and the opportunity to show the ginjinha to a more diverse audience.
Among Portuguese flags and Portuguese colours used in sun hats, scarves, clothes and decorative articles, many Portuguese descendants wore clothes alluding to their origins, saying “Portuguese Power“, “Portuguese Princess” or Portuguese Princess. “American Grown with Portuguese Roots” (Grown in America with Portuguese Roots).
In the space of the Portuguese Historical Museum of San José, the only one of the United States exclusively dedicated to the Portuguese heritage were artefacts of the immigrant community of the nineteenth century and tables explaining the influence of the diaspora in California.
“We are very excited about the result,” said Elaina Vieira, noting that the community’s welcome to the event was due to the ability to bring together in a single space several aspects of the Portuguese heritage, including gastronomy, art, traditional music, comedy and merchandising.
“People were enthusiastic,” she said. “There are Feasts [of the Holy Spirit] and other things, but nothing on this scale and with this alignment.”
The group of comedians The Portuguese Kids was one of the main attractions in terms of entertainment, with a comedy aimed at the specificities of Portuguese immigration, which mixed both languages and included parody songs as the “Song Festa.”
Other strengths of the alignment were performances by rock band Eratoxica and Portuguese-Canadian StarLight, as well as popular music by Alcides Machado.
The Porto Fado Medical Group, which is on a mini-tour in California, also performed at the festival and played several classic fado themes in Coimbra, such as the “Farewell Ballad“.
Medical students addressed the audience in Portuguese and English and highlighted the size of the festival and the interest of the audience, saying that its mission is to bring traditional music to the diaspora so that Portuguese traditions “are not forgotten.”
Jerry Escobar, the festival’s chief sponsor, fraternal activities director of the Portuguese Fraternal Society of America (PFSA), expressed his delight at a large number of people who attended the event.
He pointed out that many are descendants of third generation or higher but “continue to identify with Portuguese roots,” something the PFSA wants to reinforce with initiatives aimed at younger generations.
The Portuguese Festival began with a Portuguese Parade and had a run of bloodless bulls, led by Paulo Jorge Ferreira and the Turlock Amateur Forces Group.
The city has one of the largest concentrations of Portuguese-Americans in California, with 7.4% of the population declaring Portuguese origins in the last census.