Martial Law or Sopas?

by on June 1, 2020 · 1 comment

in Civil Rights, Ocean Beach

By Colleen O’Connor

Sunday was the Feast of the Holy Spirit.  Pentecost Sunday.

The morning started off at 2 a.m., with 11 fire trucks (lights and sirens blazing) and 9 police cars, speeding down Rosecrans to Shelter Island.

Fear and courage addressed the billowing smoke and flames that could be seen from downtown to the coast.

That afternoon, hundreds of vehicles backed up for blocks on those same streets, surrounding Portuguese hall. With popped trunk lids, drivers waited patiently in line, for hot plates of homecooked Sopas.

Great expectations and faith motivated them. For over 700 years, Portuguese worldwide have celebrated this Festa de Espirito in thanksgiving to the Holy Spirit for help in “times of danger or calamity.”

Not unlike today.

Since 1922, San Diego’s Portuguese have kept that spirit alive with Mass, an elaborate procession and dinner.  This year, COVID-19 took that away. Yet, here they were, still honoring their faith and tradition by substituting the usual sit-down dinner with a drive-through celebration.  Flags flew and music blared.

The reigning King and Queen of this year (and their court) donned running shoes, jeans, slacks or shorts, and wore masks and gloves while delivering Sopas from the Hall’s kitchen to the waiting cars.  All while practicing social distancing.

Serious fun. Serious faith.

All this to honor Portugal’s Queen St. Isabel, who defied royal tradition, by feeding the starving among her people, until without funds or enough food to distribute.  Then she simply prayed.

Also, not unlike today.

Into the evening, most San Diegans still sheltered in place, watched the horrific images of looting, lockdowns, and a seemingly lawless country warring against itself.

Hard to imagine.  A COVID-19 pandemic, riots, curfews, Depression-level unemployment, and all the signs of unsolvable problems growing ever more unsolvable; racism, domestic violence, poverty, homelessness, etc.  In short, societal degradation.

What’s a person to do?  Freeze?  Act? Pray? How to respond?

A wise educator, of some renown, once invited a fist-pumping, jargon-yelling student who “led” a highly publicized, confrontational demonstration, to come to her office for a chat.  He, quite emboldened by his newfound fame, accepted.

The educator and the student sat down together. Then (showing him a press clipping of his fist-pumping, sloganeering self) she quietly and simply asked, “How does this advance your case?”


That is the question that each of us needs to ask ourselves.  Not just how does it advance your case, (probably for the good) but how does it advance another’s (less than good)?

In short, who benefits from what actions?  Is there a malign influence orchestrating the chaos?

Every historian knows the trajectory from stable to unstable, from riots to reactionary responses, and from curfews and suppressed voting rights to possible martial law.

They also know the history of momentous confrontations and the choices people made; a Gandhi, a Reverend King, a George Wallace, an Adolf Hitler.

That is the reality surrounding the life or death of every democracy. Trace the trajectory of unfairness, economic inequality, racism, sexism, lack of education, perpetual propaganda, systemic exclusion, repression, corruption and governmental incompetence to tyranny and martial law.

It is undeniable.  It does not mask itself. Ask yourself, who benefits?  How does what you are doing advance your case?

Back to the question.  It is not a silly question: Martial law or Sopas?

Which do you choose?

Watching the mostly young Portuguese serve their community, save their traditions, and respect the COVID-19 directives was inspiring.  They re-imagined and re-created their Festa.

Just as watching the fire trucks and police cars race towards the blaze to save the town from possible calamity was reassuring.   (It was two 40-foot cabin cruisers ablaze in the bay).

Both exemplify the best in our neighborhoods, communities, cities, and states.  They define what makes us San Diego viable and enviable.  Respect, personal responsibility and belief in the greater civic good.

A fine Pentecostal Sunday.

If you cannot put out a fire; celebrate your faith, honor a tradition, feed the poor, or help the less well off, then offer a kindness.

And then pray.  A miracle would be as welcome today as it was 700 years ago.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Geri Casemero Lauriano June 2, 2020 at 2:00 pm

Thank you Colleen for a wonderful article. The Portuguese community will always find strength in their faith and traditions.


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