NAUGATUCK — The annual Sao Paio Festival kicked off Aug. 29 with the Portuguese Mayor of the Day celebration.
Alberto Janeiro, 49, was named the Portuguese Mayor of the Day during a ceremony outside of Town Hall.
Janeiro emigrated from Portugal to America with his family in 1969 when he was 4 years old and settled in Naugatuck with his wife in 1985.
“In 1989 I went to a festival here with my wife and her family and witnessed a large group of people working very, very hard but having a lot of fun. I said to my wife. ‘I want to be part of this group,’” Janeiro said.
The festival turned out to be the Sao Paio Festival. The following year Janeiro became a member of the Naugatuck Portuguese Club and part of the committee that organizes the annual festival.
John Dasilva, chairman of the Sao Paio Festival, said Janeiro spends most of his time working in the kitchen during the festival, making sure everything runs smoothly.
“Al, once he gets involved with something, he will never get out of there. Every time we turn around Al is in the kitchen, and don’t you go in there or try to move anything. He’ll take care of it for you,” Dasilva said.
Mayor Robert Mezzo said the festival, which marks the unofficial start of autumn in the borough, only succeeds because of how much work people like Janeiro put into it.
“We go to Sao Paio every year, we enjoy it, we see friends, we enjoy fantastic food, and we think that just happens by accident. It doesn’t. There are a lot of people here who put a lot of time into making each and every detail special, making each and every memory special for all the families that enjoy it,” Mezzo said.
Mezzo said whatever Janeiro has undertaken he has given it his all.
“Al Janeiro came to this country with the same dreams as many Americans, to make a better life. That’s probably a scary thing, to leave your homeland and come make new roots. But he’s done so, be it in the club, be it in his church, be it in coaching youth sports here in Naugatuck. Al is one of those people who may think he’s an ordinary person, but he does extraordinary things,” Mezzo said. “We’re very fortunate to have people like Al Janeiro here in this borough.”
Janeiro, who served as the president of the Portuguese Club in 1993 and 2003, said cultural clubs are important for those who have emigrated from other countries and their descendants to help keep their culture alive.
“When my parents came over from Portugal, other than family and friends, the local cultural clubs were the only place they could go that spoke their language and had other people that understood their struggles and their attempts to give their children a better life,” Janeiro said. “Although immigration is not what it used to be, these clubs still play an important role in keeping our diversified cultures alive. I believe it is our obligation, as immigrants or descendants of immigrants, to help these clubs survive. We should be one of the first places that children go to when they want to learn about their culture.”
State Sen. Joseph Crisco (D-17), who presented Janeiro a proclamation along with state Rep. Rosa Rebimbas (R-70), said clubs and community members like Janeiro represent what it means to be American.
“We have this quilt of a country with different nationalities. Regardless of one’s religion, regardless of one’s nationality, we’re all here to serve our country and to serve our communities and to make it a better place to live and work,” Crisco said.
Janeiro said he was proud of both the country he is from and the borough he now calls home.
“The Portuguese, as a culture, have always been a proud and hardworking people. They installed that pride, along with their work ethics, into their children. Today their descendants reach far into our communities. They have become part of what makes Naugatuck a great town to live in,” Janeiro said. “I’m proud to be a member of the Clube Uniao Portuguesa, I’m proud to be a resident of Naugatuck, and in the future I will keep trying to help both the club and the great town of Naugatuck.”