The Festa do Divino Espirito Santo, San Diego’s oldest ethnic tradition paying homage to faith, service and selflessness, hits the 100-year mark this weekend with glitz and glamour to guild an already opulent lilly of Portuguese culture, heritage and pageantry. The main event is the parade on Sunday, May 23 at 10 a.m. that makes its way from the United Portuguese S.E.S Hall to St. Agnes Catholic Church, 1140 Evergreen St. Here, the Festa queen and king are crowned during Mass.
In addition to this year’s Festa queen, her royal court and the six weekly queens — all wearing at least 20 pounds of spectacularly handmade gowns and capes and carrying crowns — the parade will feature a float of past Festa presidents and queens. The Portuguese American Dancers will entertain in traditional costumes. Filarmonica from Artesia and Chino will headline a bevy of bands. In step with the theme of service and volunteerism, the community rank and file of service groups will be there: the Point Loma Rotary Club, Lions Club, Optimists, the Point Loma Association Mean Green Team and the crew from Fire Station 22 on Catalina Boulevard.
“Portuguese or not, this event reaches out and touches everyone,” said Evelyn DaRosa Feliciano, centennial Festa president.
The Festa is being celebrated in honor of Feliciano’s husband, Michael, who passed away in 2003 of brain cancer. This year’s Festa queen and king are Feliciano’s daughter and son, Her Royal Highness Queen Karinna Evelina Feliciano and His Royal Highness King Joshua Michael Feliciano. Evelyn’s granddaughter, Janee Isabella Feliciano, is Festa Li’l Princess.
“It’s amazing when you stop and think about what 100 means,” said Diane Leal, who, with her husband, Manuel, was 2002 Festa president. “Think about how simple people were when they came here and 100 years later we’re still doing it; people like my parents were immigrants when they came here and unknowingly started a tradition that’s lasted this long.”
Kelly Madruga, 2006 Festa president, said that while the event carries the same faith and pride as it did in 1910, it has also evolved over the years.
“It used to be a widow couldn’t throw the Festa,” she said, pointing out that for many years the committee declined a widow’s request to sponsor the event.
The Festa is made possible by the largess of the annual president, a slew of fundraisers and a legion of volunteers who know how to roll up their sleeves and apply a little elbow grease to get the job done.
Andrea Calabrese, who for 32 years has organized the parade with the help of “an amazing crew of women and men,” says: “It’s often more chaos than organization — but it works.”
Calabrese’s mom and sisters started handling the parade in the 1960s.
Dinisa Valadao and her cousin, Manuel Leal, United Portuguese S.E.S. president, keep the Festa’s bazaar running, including the all-important food booths (don’t miss the cakes and sweetbread). Booths are run by the numerous organizations that are the touchstone of Portuguese history and heritage: Cabrillo Civic Club #16, the Portuguese American Social & Civic Club and The Festa do Santo Amaro.
In the kitchen, Gabe Leal and Lucille Madruga head up a dedicated crew of self-described “grunts” — many in their 70s and 80s — who keep the food coming.
Diane Leal wonders what that Festa will look like in the next 100 years.
“My kids will remember, but whether the generations after that do, I don’t know,” she said. “Point Loma is expensive, so many people move away.”
The Festa is a seven-week celebration between Easter and Pentecost Sunday to honor Queen Isabel, who selflessly fed the poor, and the Holy Spirit, who answered her prayers to feed her nation. The tradition holds that each week leading up to Pentecost Sunday, a queen is crowned during Sunday Mass at St. Agnes. The week before the Festa, families gather nightly in their homes to recite the rosary. This year, a public recitation of the rosary was held every night, beginning May 16. The first rosary was recited outdoors at the Tunaman’s Memorial on Shelter Island.
“It’s the tunamen who founded the Festa,” Feliciano said. “Saying the rosary at the memorial lets us honor them.”
IF YOU GO • Friday, May 21, 5:30 p.m., Flag raising and opening of the Festa Bazaar, featuring Portuguese music, folkloric dancing and delicacies; 8 p.m., family youth dance in the main hall; 9 p.m., Music by Os Navegadores.
• Saturday, May 22, 4 p.m., dedication Mass and crowning for the Festa 2010 volunteers in the outside tent; 5:30 p.m., bazaar reopens until 11 p.m., music by Filarmónica União Portuguesa de San Diego and Artesia D.E.S. Filarmónica; 6:30 p.m., procession to Saint Agnes Church, accompanied by Artesia D.E.S. Filarmónica; 7 p.m., Novena at Saint Agnes Church with musical selections by the Saint Agnes choir; candlelight procession back to the main hall accompanied by Artesia D.E.S. Filarmónica, followed by the blessing of the kitchen and food and special crownings of the kitchen staff.
• Sunday, May 23, 9 a.m., parade formation for all participants at the U.P.S.E.S. Hall; 10 a.m., parade departs to Saint Agnes Church; 11 a.m., celebration of the Solemn High Mass and coronation of Her Royal Majesty Queen Karinna Evelina Feliciano, His Royal Majesty King Joshua Michael Feliciano and all 2010 royalty; musical selections by the Portuguese Choir; 11:30 a.m., bazaar reopens; open seating will be available for sopas throughout the day; noon, parade departs Saint Agnes, returning to the U.P.S.E.S. Hall for the queen’s luncheon; open-air concert featuring Filarmónica Portuguesa do Chino, Artesia DES Filarmónica and Filarmónica União Portuguesa de San Diego continues in the bazaar, along with performances by the Rancho Folclórico Vira Virou of Newark, Groupo Etnógráfico Espirito Santa Vale de São Joaquim, Groupo Folclórico Mar Bravo Casa dos Açores de Hilmar; 6:30 p.m., Queen’s Ball with presentation of the past Festa presidents and past Festa queens and 2010 royal court; dancing to music by Rapaziada until midnight; Super Magnetic performs in the outside tent from 6 to 10 p.m. Attire is semi-formal.
ABOUT THE FESTA Queens: Six weekly queens and their courts walk in the parade, in addition to the Festa queen. The Festa queen and her court appear last in the parade lineup. All queens carry crowns. The women to the left and right of the queens are known as her “sides.”
Crown: The crown, or coroa, consists of a scepter, crown and plate. The scepter is accented by a dove, the symbol of the Holy Spirit. The plate, representing the people, is a stand for the crown and the scepter. The crown represents Queen Isabel and the Holy Spirit. Many Portuguese families have their own crown, or a crown that is shared and travels from home to home for an altar and recitation of the rosary. The crown at the United Portuguese S.E.S. Hall was acquired about 90 years ago.
Alva Pomba: Literally means white dove. It is the traditional Portuguese march played by Filarmonica.
Sweet bread: The homemade bread is as delicious as it is simple. It is made of eggs, lemon, flour, milk sugar or honey. It is traditionally served at Easter, Christmas and special occasions. Most people have their own special family recipe. Try a slice warm with butter.
Sopas: Traditional dish of day-old bread, roasted meat with potatoes, cabbage and kale. Sopas are served free to the public after the parade.
Capes and gowns: A majority of the clothing worn in the parade and for the crownings in church is handmade by seamstresses in the community.
White dove: The white dove represents the Holy Spirit. See if you can count how many doves you see in the parade.
Parade: The Festa parade in Point Loma is the only one in San Diego. However, at one point, an argument led to a division in the Portuguese community, where one parade was held downtown and one in Point Loma.
Learn more: For more Portuguese history, visit www.upses.com