Por Mathew R. Corso
Santana Ventura was completely illiterate when he immigrated to the United States from Portugal in the 1930s. Because his brother and sister had moved to Brazil, Santana came to this country on his own. Despite the immense obstacles he faced, Santana Ventura learned to read and write both English and Portuguese, as well as to speak Italian. His indomitable spirit and love of learning was honored on June 4 at the Portuguese Cultural Center, where the 45th Annual Sons of Portugal Scholarship Awards Banquet was held.
Local and state authorities marched at the Day of Portugal Parade Gina Maria Rodrigues and David Mark DaCruz were selected to receive the Santana Ventura Portuguese History Scholarship, a prestigious award given once a year in honor of the man for whom it is named. The two college students, both of Portuguese descent, were awarded a total of $2,200 for writing essays about Portuguese history.
From left - back row: Maria Rapouso, Guilherme Rapouso, Nuno Almeida and Amanda Almeida. Front row: Alba Gillotti, Francisca Almeida and Hector Si-Tu "If you live in Danbury, you're basically Portuguese," exclaimed Mayor Mark Boughton to a banquet hall packed with members of the area Portuguese community. The awards ceremony was only the beginning of a festive weekend honoring the rich culture of Portugal.
Despite the looming threat of rain on Sunday, Danbury's Portuguese were out in force for Dia de Portugal (The Day of Portugal). A host of community leaders, including Lieutenant Governor Michael Fedele and Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, gathered at the John Perry Memorial in Roger's Park for the 8:15 am flag raising ceremony that kicked off the festivities.
The Portuguese community stood out amongst all the others during the Dia de Portugal parade, illuminating a single patch in the diverse quilt of cultures that make up Danbury. The parade began at the Immaculate Heart of Mary Church on Deer Hill Avenue and continued through downtown Danbury to Portuguese Square on Liberty Street, so named for the high volume of Portuguese and Brazilian shops in the area.
Andrea Sousa wowed all who gathered at the Library during the parade with a moving performance of the national anthem. "If you try out for American Idol, I'm driving you to the audition!" said Mayor Boughton.
"We all have something in common," said Lt. Governor Fedele, "Like many of you, my family immigrated to the United States [from Italy] when I was a little boy... Always be proud of who you are and where you've come from. If you know where you've come from, you know where you're going."
There was no shortage of motivating and emotionally charged examples of what the local Portuguese community has to offer the city. The four months of preparation that went into planning Dia de Portugal were readily apparent in the smooth procession of events and the amazing performances of all in attendance, including the Rancho Infantil do Manuel and Portuguese Cultural Center Coro Infantil bands.
The array of floats included examples of traditional Portuguese life, recreation and dress, and the Sons of Portugal Folklore Dance Group was a perfect accent to the parade as it moved through City Center Danbury.
After the parade, the celebration dispersed and reconvened at the Portuguese Cultural Center on Sandpit Road. Traditional Portuguese food, games and dancing were among the many offerings. The Center, built to preserve and perpetuate the language and customs of Portugal, sports a full-service restaurant that's open to the public, an indoor gym with state of the art equipment and a soccer field. Although it's called the "Portuguese Cultural Center," you don't have to be Portuguese to join. Membership is available to anyone who has an interest in the culture, or in Danbury's communities in general.
In the words of an enthusiastic Mayor Mark Boughton: "Danbury is a better place because of the Portuguese community. The sun is shining, and we have joy in our hearts. Viva Portugal!"
Tribuna Connecticut, aqui.