Monday, July 16, 2007

Mom's birthday and more.

Beginning this post, I am pleased to report that today is my mother's birthday. Happy birthday, Mom! I'm sorry to be away from home on important days like this. As always, please know of my love and my best wishes on this happy day.

Today is also the Memorial of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, patronal feast of the Carmelite Order. I spent the day working at Catholic Charities, but I'm sure today's memorial was celebrated with an appropriate mix of festivity and solemnity by the Carmel of the Infant Jesus in Santa Clara and other Carmelite communities. This is also a special day for Ciszek Hall's neighborhood parish, which is also under the patronage of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Though I didn't do anything in particular to mark the day - other than praying with the appropriate propers in the Liturgy of the Hours - I did take the opportunity to reflect on how I celebrated this memorial last year at a French Carmelite restaurant in Lima. If you want to know more, consult my post from this date in 2006.

Like any other major metropolitan area, greater San Jose has its fair share of summer festivals. For example, last weekend the Portuguese community of Santa Clara (the city, not the university) celebrated the annual festa in honor of Santo António de Lisboa. You may know this saint under a slightly different name, but like the organizers of last weekend's festa I prefer to associate António with the city of his birth rather than the place where he died. On another note, readers who are familiar with the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar may wonder why a saint honored by the Church on June 13th is celebrated in Santa Clara on a weekend in July. I don't have an answer, but I enjoyed attending the Mass in honor of Santo António at St. Clare Church as well as the parade that followed. Featuring several Portuguese bands and various parishioners in traditional attire, the parade in Santa Clara reminded me of a similar parade that takes place during the Feast of the Blessed Sacrament held in New Bedford every August. Though the festivities I witnessed here last weekend can't match the epic scale of the Portuguese Feast in New Bedford, I was nonetheless impressed by evident vitality of the local Portuguese community.

Another highlight of summer in Silicon Valley is the Obon Festival, held this past weekend in San Jose's historic Japantown. Obon is a Buddhist holy day honoring the dead that doubles as a celebration of Japanese-American identity. Though Japanese-American communities throughout Northern California host Obon celebrations, San Jose's Obon Festival is reportedly the largest in the Bay Area. I stopped by the Obon Festival yesterday afternoon to meet up with a Japanese-American coworker and her family and to witness the Bon Odori, a traditional folk dance that plays a central role in the festival. Accompanied by Japanese folk music, the Bon Odori is performed not by professional dancers but by regular people who either know the traditional dances or who simply follow others who know what they're doing. Approximately six hundred people took part in the Bon Odori in San Jose on Sunday, and I'm told there were even more on Saturday. Only about half of the dancers were kimono-clad, with the rest in modern Western attire.

The diversity of dress among the Bon Odori dancers testifies to the extent to which Japanese-Americans have assimilated into the cultural mainstream in the Bay Area. Outside of the song lyrics coming from loudspeakers, I heard very little Japanese spoken at the Obon Festival. From the announcements made by festival organizers to the invocation given by a Buddhist cleric, virtually everything was in English. My impression is that most of the Japanese-Americans at the festival come from families who have been in the United States for several generations. Even so, the attendees at the festival seemed to possess a strong (and, to my mind, laudable) desire to preserve their Japanese cultural identity. In this regard, the large number of children and young families at the festival is probably a good sign. AMDG.


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