Members of the Portuguese American Club in Mentone are preparing for their annual Festa do Espirito Santo this coming weekend, June 2-3.
The festa - Feast of the Holy Spirit - is a centuries-old religious celebration brought to Mentone and other parts of California by Portuguese miners, fishermen, and citrus workers in the 19th century, Jane Jacinto Mishak, 76, secretary of the club, said in recent interviews.
"Most of the Portuguese here came from the island Santa Maria in the Azores, about 250 miles off the coast of Portugal, in the Atlantic," Mishak said.
"Some had already come, and a lot of them worked in the orange groves," she said. "A lot of Portuguese were handy in agriculture. They liked tending the groves, and they were hard workers."
The Festa de Esperito Santo began with Queen Isabella of Portugal, also Holy Roman Empress, who lived from 1503 to 1539.
"It is said Queen Isabel saved bread from her own table to give to the hungry," according to the United Portuguese of San Diego. "Legend has it that the King tried to stop her from mingling with the poor and was once caught hiding something in her cloak.
"When he demanded that she open her cloak to show the concealed food, she said a prayer, threw open her cloak. Instead of bread, red roses tumbled out. It is for this reason, that the statue of Queen St. Isabel is depicted with the mantle of flowers."
The Portuguese American Club in Mentone was founded in 1923 but Portuguese were here years before the club formed, according to Mishak. A photo displayed in Mentone shows local Portuguese at a charter meeting of the UPEC lodge, at the Odd Fellows clubhouse in Redlands in August 1911, she said.
"The Festa is still celebrated in Portugal, especially on the Azores Islands, where it is an important part of religious and social life," club officials said in an announcement. "It is also still enthusiastically celebrated in California by Azorean immigrants and their descendants."
Today there are about 130 active members in the Portuguese-American Club in Mentone, and that includes members and their families, Mishak said.
The majority of Mentone-Redlands Portuguese descendants are Roman Catholic, and they worship at Holy Name of Jesus Church in Redlands, formerly known as Sacred Heart, Mishak said.
The 2012 Festa do Espirito Santo in Mentone begins at 6 p.m. Saturday June 2 with a procession at the Portuguese American Club, 1133 Crafton Ave., followed by the saying of the rosary and a light dinner, organizers said.
The celebration continues at 10 a.m. Sunday June 3 at Holy Name of Jesus Church, 115 Olive Ave., where a Mass will be dedicated to the celebration and the Festa queen will be crowned, organizers said. After Mass is an all-day celebration at the Portuguese American Club.
The celebration is open to the public, Mishak said.
The Portuguese American Club in Mentone has been crowning an annual Festa queen since the 1920s. Processions used to be in public but years ago they were moved to the club grounds, Mishak said.
This year's Festa queen is Yvonna Johle, 16, a student at Yucaipa High School. She is daughter of Therese Smith and Brian Johle, and granddaughter of Madeline and Roy Smith.
Emily Moore, 14, is second year princess, and she attends Orange Lutheran High School. Shelby Fontes, 15, is first year princess, and she attends Redlands East Valley High School.
For more information about the Portuguese American Club, visit www.paclubmentone.org.