Sunday, September 30, 2012

First Story

Home Away From Home

            Old men gather around a fold up table with a cup of coffee in one hand and a cigarette in the other as they start their daily game of dominos.  They meet up everyday around 6 a.m. as they tell stories of what it was like back at home and what it’s like in America. 

            This home away from home, the Artesia D.E.S. Portuguese Hall, gives these men and other Portuguese citizens in Artesia, California a space to remember a foreign culture in an American city. Founded in 1927, the community grew in the early 1970s due to a large wave of immigrants from the Azores Islands and Portugal.  With a total population of 16,522; 10 percent of the population was born in Portugal, according to the 2010 U.S. Census They migrated into the city creating its own soccer team and philharmonic band. The hall was created to host traditional festivals, ceremonies and dinners to celebrate the Portuguese culture.

Artesia D.E.S. Portuguese Hall lit up during late-night festivities.
     “What we have here is essentially a replication of what we have in the Azores Islands,” said Artesia D.E.S president Jimmy Enes.  “At the time it was an impoverished place.  Every one came to get away from that and established this, but at the same time keeping in mind the same tradition and the same ideals as before, where everybody gets together to help.”

            The celebrations include ways of life, the Catholic religion and the traditional past-time sport of soccer.  Three times out of the year the Portuguese community, near and far, celebrate as one at the Portuguese hall to honor and celebrate the following Catholic figures: St. Anthony, the Holy Spirit and the coming of the Virgin Mary to the city of Fatima, Portugal. At the beginning of the year a queen and two aides are chosen and fill out a court.  This matriarchal system is a tradition dating back 150 years to the city of Fatima; where it is believed that the queen is a vessel for the Holy Spirit to represent Queen St. Isabel who iniated the traditional festival, and the following queen is chosen by the Holy Spirit.  “It’s a way of handing down the traditions from generation to generation so it isn’t lost,” said Susie Gomes, a member of the Portuguese hall committee.  There is a struggle within the committee in whether to change and become more modern or to continue with the more traditional meanings of the celebration.

            It’s a struggle that the committee has been dealing with for a few years and can’t seem to find a balance between staying with the older more traditional ways or converting to a more modern way to try and attract the younger crowd to the hall, said Gomes.  That might be a direct result of the committee consisting of older and younger people. “We come here to remember what it was like at home (in Portugal) because we are getting older and our grandchildren are brought up in an American way, and the traditions of our culture are being lost here,” said Jose Fernandes, a hall-goer for over 40 years.  This creates a clash of conflicting ideas at a time where, economically, it’s hard to make money with the old ways of doing things.  “To me it’s more about the sentimental meaning behind celebrating the saints and sticking to the original meaning of what the festivals stand for,” said Sofia Borges, a former committee member, who quit because she couldn’t stand for the new direction the hall was going.  Justin Sousa, 21, said that he goes to the hall to hang out, party and just have a good time with his friends and the meaning behind the festival is completely different from what his parents think it is.  There isn’t just an internal struggle that surrounds the Artesia D.E.S. Portuguese Hall; there is a struggle with the cultural practices and the way American society views them.

            Every festival concludes with a bloodless bullfight held on its property.  In 2009, at the conclusion of the Festa da Bola (Soccer Festival) a member of the Animal Cruelty Investigations (ACI) shutdown the bullfight mid-way through for violating animal rights.  The officer discovered 30 sticks with nails at the ends that were used to stab the bull in the shoulder area.  The investigation is still ongoing but this isolated incident shows the struggle the Portuguese community faces with the American community.  The cultural clash that the Portuguese community faces is just a microcosm for what is going on in the world.  Cultural differences causing tension when one culture finds the other culture wrong and will try anything to fix it 




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