The Gustine community donned their finest apparel and rolled out the proverbial red carpet to welcome Portugal President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa to town on Sept. 20.
“This is a big honor for Gustine,” said Manuel Siqueiros, the president of the Gustine Pentecost Society. GPS hosted the president at their hall. “People are really excited about it. It’s recognizing our efforts and our faith.”
Rebelo de Sousa was presented with a key to the city from Gustine Mayor Pat Nagy, who was one of several local and regional dignitaries at the event.
“This will go down in history, you can believe it,” Nagy said. “You will forever be welcome here, and you will be in our hearts.”
Later, when addressing the crowd, Rebelo de Sousa said he wasn’t sure if Mayor Nagy knew what he was doing when giving him the key to the city.
“Now, I feel like a citizen,” Rebelo de Sousa joked. “I may be back several times.”
Rebelo de Sousa tour of the West Coast included several stops, but coming to Gustine had been made a priority. He said it was a promise he made to himself when he was elected, first in 2016 and again in 2021. He had planned on making his first visit to Gustine, a town rich in Portuguese history and traditions, in 2020, but the pandemic forced a long delay.
“This one is even more special,” Rebelo de Sousa said of Gustine. No other Portuguese president has been here. So many Portuguese have been working here. I had to come. This is a place where Portuguese have been for 150 years. It’s a lifetime. Several generations.”
Rebelo de Sousa praised Gustine and California as a whole for having the “best immigrant culture.”
For some at the event, it was a once-in-a-lifetime occasion.
“We are very excited to be here,” said Danny Porto, who along with his friends Jerry Silveira and Anthony Bispo, also known as the Red Tie Guys, came from Kerman for the special event.
“When do you get a chance to meet the President of Portugal?” Silveira asked.
The ceremony included a surprise presentation of a medal of merit to Gustine dairyman Joao Pires for his decades of support to the Portuguese community. Pires has served as a role model for Portuguese immigrants. Before leaving town Rebelo de Sousa was making a quick stop at Pires Dairy Farm.
It clearly was an honor for Pires, who was momentarily at a loss for words and tried to hold back the tears.
“He is so honored by this,” said Siqueiros, who is Pires’ son-in-law. He will probably be wearing it all the time now, like a badge of honor.”
Following the event in Gustine, Rebelo de Sousa was off to Livingston for a private dinner at the home of Manuel Viera. On Monday he was scheduled to go to Stanford University to talk about sustainability work between Portugal and California.