Tulare’s Portuguese community celebrates 100 years in the city

For 100 years, the Tulare Divino Espirito Santo (TDES) Hall has served Portuguese immigrants and their descendants keeping their faith and tradition alive in the community. This year brings about the celebration with the 101st year of the Festival of the Holy Spirit, with a week-long celebration.

By Nancy Vigran
Reporting for the Sun-Gazette

TULARE – The Tulare Divino Espírito Santo (TDES) Portuguese Hall is celebrating its 100th anniversary in the community and its 101st year of the annual Festas do Espírito Santo (Festival of the Holy Spirit). June 17-21 brought about a week full of activities at the TDES Hall including a parade, Blessing of the Animals, traditional dance, professional bullfighting and a lot of Portuguese food. 

But, what festival president Matt Lawrence doesn’t want lost by the events is that the festival is truly a celebration of faith.

“It’s really about glory and honor to the Holy Spirit,” he said.

Lawrence’s dad emigrated from Portugal by way of Brazil, where he met his wife. They eventually moved and settled in Tulare County where the family has continued in the Portuguese tradition. It is the faith that keeps the community together, rather than the tradition, Lawrence said.

“I believe the only reason we’ve lasted this long is because of faith,” he said.

Now 40, Lawrence has been involved with the hall and festival boards for a few years now. He always knew someday that he and others of his generation would need to step up, and they have.

Every night during the festival, time is taken to say the rosary, he explained. Following, they can get on with the other activities of the evening. 

While this year’s festival generally follows the status quo of recent years, Lawrence wanted to bring back the Blessing of the Animals, which was done following Saturday’s parade. He sees the festival also as a chance to celebrate the dairy industry (which is why so many Portuguese from the Azores immigrated here), and the children especially enjoy having a variety animals blessed by the priest in honor of St. Anthony of Padua, also known as St. Francis of Assisi. 

“It’s a great year to be president, this the centennial year,” he said. He hopes it lives on for the next 100 years.

Mark Nunes has served as president of the festival in the past, and is currently serving as TDES president. His grandfather brought the family to California when Nunes’ father was 15. He started milking cows while still in high school. He later met his wife, also of Portuguese decent, and they settled in Tulare County to raise their family. They have been members of the TDES since they first moved here.

TDES has approximately 310 family memberships, Nunes said. Members join the group by paying a $1 lifetime membership per family. And while traditionally members are Portuguese, or of Portuguese decent, and the bylaws state they should be, Nunes and Lawrence agree they can’t see turning down anyone because of their lineage. The Tulare Hall is the most active in the Valley, Nunes said, and probably one of the top 5 of the 40 halls in the state.

This past Saturday, they honored the current and all previous festival presidents, senior and junior queens, and board members during and following the annual parade.

Another highlight of the week-long celebration was Friday night’s professional bloodless bullfight, in which matadors use Velcro-type swords to attach to Velcro spots placed on the bulls. Another less dangerous cow fight was also held during the weekend, in which member want-to-be matadors try to perform similar acts on the less dangerous animals.

For more information regarding TDES or rental of its hall, call 559-331-1835.

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