Portugese Festa embraces history in Fallon this weekend
Fallon’s annual Portuguese Festa is among one of the many local events that unites the community — way before Maine Street had pavement.
For over 90 years, the public event has crowned queens, hosted parades, Azores-style meals, and promoted the Portuguese history in Fallon.
Stephanie Hamlin, one of the event organizers, said the fact that it’s a tradition pulls the community closer together.
“I think tradition in anything is important, as well as involvement,” she said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re Portuguese or not, it’s about having fun when you’re there.
“It takes one person to include another in something and it passes on.”
Fallon is home to a number of Portuguese families, some of whom originally immigrated in the 1870s to the area to ranch, farm, mine and operate businesses.
The immigrants became dairy industry leaders and their presence in Churchill County turned the annual festa into a major local event. At least 50 families began the local tradition in the 1920s, Hamlin said.
Portuguese Festa also is held in Lovelock and Yerington on different weekends.
The first parade began in 1927 when floats were decked in colors representing Portugal’s flag and a crowd of over 500 would attend. It wasn’t until 1929 the first queen was crowned in Churchill County.
Fast forward to this year, Hamlin said two of three selected queens for 2018—Mini Queen Vivian Marian Gomes and Junior Queen Kari Bailey — have relatives highlighting the Portuguese history in the Churchill County area.
Gomes’ great grandfather is one of the founders of Fallon’s tradition and Bailey’s grandmother was selected queen in 1946 for the festival.
Hamlin also was queen in 1988, followed by her daughter, Kenna, in 2016.
“That tradition is something I love,” Hamlin said. “Four generations doing the same thing.”
The Azores are an island cluster west of Portugal. In the late 1200s when famine ravaged the islands and mainland Portugal, Queen Isabella prayed to the Holy Spirit for days and offered her crown as a sacrifice for her people.
The festa’s church procession during mass is to re-enact the queen taking her crown jewels to the altar, as the crown used is loaned from the Churchill County Museum.
The story continues that on the morning of the Pentecost Sunday, the Azores people saw in the sunrise a ship coming into port laden with food.
Since then, Portuguese communities and their friends continue to commemorate the answered prayers with thanksgiving worldwide.
Hamlin said the Portuguese Festa only went on a hiatus during World War II to respect the series of events during that time.
This year, the event begins during St. Patrick’s Parish Saturday and Sunday.
On Saturday, the event will start with crowning, linguiça and dancing at 8 p.m.
On Sunday, a parade will start at 10 a.m. before Mass is celebrated at 11 a.m. Sopas and an auction will follow at noon.
The parade will go from former West End Elementary School along West 4th Street, to St. Patrick’s Church.
Afterward, attendees may head over to the parish hall for complimentary Azores-style “sopas” or a meal of meat and bread that includes broth, cabbage, potatoes, pickles, olives and more.
Organizers of the Portuguese Festival would like to thank Frank Soares, who has been involved with the event since 1929, along with his family’s commitment.
To learn more about the Fallon’s Portuguese history, visit the event’s Facebook page at facebook.com/FallonFesta.