Luso-American Financial Fraternal Benefit Society

Successor of the Benevolent Society of California and the União Portuguesa Continental.

Years:  1868 — 2020

Luso-American Financial was the successor of the Benevolent Society of California, founded in San Francisco in 1868, and of the “União Portuguesa Continental”, founded in Oakland in 1917.  In 1957, these two leading societies consolidated under the name of the United National Life Insurance Society.  Later, the name was changed to the Luso-American Life Insurance Society to more easily identify the society and to pay tribute to early-day Portuguese immigrants.  The word “Luso” is derived from the word Lusitania, and ancient name for the area that is now Portugal.

In 2016, the governing body of the organization voted to change the name to Luso-American Financial to better align the company’s name with its full scope of financial product offerings which include not only life insurance, but annuities, IRAs, IRA rollovers and educational savings accounts as well.

The Luso-American Fraternal Federation, a division of Luso-American Financial, has the responsibility for the civic, cultural, educational, social, and fraternal activities of the society.

Subordinate councils provide community and fraternal involvement.  Meetings are held regularly and councils sponsor receptions honoring the federation’s president each year. The president and all officers and directors of the federation are elected at the annual convention.  Delegates representing the subordinate councils establish and adopt continuing programs of fraternal and civic activities.

To meet the interests of the various age groups among the membership, the federation established several auxiliary groups.  The participation of all age groups ensures that the society is, and will remain, a family-oriented organization.

The Youth Department was created in 1955 to enable the youth to establish their own youth councils and develop programs and supervised activities. These activities give them opportunities to learn more about the culture, traditions, and folklore of their Portuguese ancestors. It also enhances their knowledge of fraternalism, parliamentary procedures, and the importance of civic involvement in their communities. Activities include an annual queen contest to help fund college scholarships and productions of traditional Portuguese songs and dances, as well as skits and routines at the annual convention. The society’s first queen contest dates to 1918 with the purpose of raising funds for its annual picnic.

The society’s young people are the basis of its continued growth into the future.  The youth councils promote the pride of our culture, instill a sense of civic duty, and develop the bonds that represent the strength of the Portuguese-American community.

The 20-30 Associates auxiliary was organized in 1968 to attract members in the intermediate age bracket (18-39).  This group shares the common bond of preserving the cultural heritage and purposes of the society and promoting civic, cultural, and educational programs.  Through their regional chapters, they raise funds for their own scholarship and grant programs.  These programs are designed specifically to assist individuals who are returning to school to complete their education or to learn a trade or profession.

For many years, an Education Committee supported programs for qualified graduate students to study Portuguese at Portuguese universities during the summer.  With an interest in expanding educational activities, the Luso-American Education Foundation, a non-profit corporation, was founded. The foundation provides a wide array of services, including scholarships to high school graduates and grants for teachers and students to study in Portugal. Also, the foundation contributes funds to U.S. colleges and universities for the improvement and continuation of Portuguese language studies.  One of the first awardees to study at the University of Coimbra in Portugal was Dr. Arthur Francis Lee Askins, who went on to a professorship at U.C. Berkeley and Chair of the Department of Spanish and Portuguese.

Luso-American Financial has a proud history and bright future of service to its members and community.

Birth of the Organization

San Francisco, the boomtown of the Gold Rush, developed an active Portuguese community with hotels, restaurants, and other businesses.  In 1868, Portuguese immigrants formed the Portuguese Protective and Benevolent Association (Associação Portuguesa Protectora e Beneficiente). Most of the records of this early association were destroyed in the earthquake and fire of 1906.

Membership in the APPB gradually grew with the creation of lodges throughout the state.  The first lodge, designated as Lodge No. 1, Eden, was organized in Hayward in 1911.  Other early locations included Crescent City, Colusa, Scotia, Loleta, Arcata, Oakland, and Benicia.

União Portuguesa Continental do Estado da Califórnia

Portuguese immigrants from continental Portugal founded the UPC.  Because of the relatively small number of people from continental Portugal in California, the organization also established subordinate branches on the East Coast.  In 1957, the UPC and the Benevolent Society of California consolidated to become United National Life Insurance Society.  António Simas of the UPC became the first president of UNLIS.

Annual Conventions

Annual conventions serve as an important link in strengthening the bonds of fraternalism and democracy within the society.  Representatives from each council gather to conduct the society’s business, share in the bonds of fraternalism, and enjoy the pageantry and entertainment provided.  All divisions, including the youth councils, plan an active part in the conventions.

Pride and Patriotism

Throughout the years, the members of the society have shown their love and loyalty to the United States.  During World War I, the society invested 50% of its capital to purchase Liberty Bonds.  Throughout the 20th century, Portuguese-Americans served their country valiantly; 395 members of the society served in World War II.

Supporting the Community

The society has extensive charitable and educational programs that serve the entire community.  As an example, in 1997 the society presented to the American Red Cross more than $20,000 raised for California flood relief.

Cultural Activities

There are many programs and activities designed to maintain Portuguese cultural ties and increase cultural awareness.  The youth councils provide the young people with opportunities to learn the folklore dances and songs of Portugal.  The other divisions have organized dramatic groups and provided sponsorships of cultural events.

Dia de Portugal

“Dia de Portugal, de Camões e das Comunidades Portuguesas” is an international event celebrated annually on June 10.  The date was chosen to honor Luis Vaz de Camões, Portugal’s famous poet laureate.  Since 1966, when the first banquet was held, the Luso-American Education Foundation has played a key role in organizing these events, while also providing financial and administrative support. At the annual banquet, the foundation honors the scholarship program awardees.

Civic Involvement

Over the years, the local councils have developed their own programs and activities to publicize the contributions of Portuguese-Americans.  These activities include participating in civic parades and events.

Innovation to Tenth Ball

The primary purposes of the association were to provide its members with mutual protection, assistance in time of sickness and a proper burial in case of death.  In addition, the association served as a contact for the Portuguese immigrant, was a focal point for recreation and social activities and a forum where members could develop the skills to succeed in their adoptive land.

António M. Carvalho

António Martinho Carvalho, a native of Praia da Vitória, Terceira, Azores, joined the association in 1901.  Following the 1906 earthquake, he played an active role in reorganizing the association’s affairs and expanding the organization with branches throughout the state.

Manuel Reis

An immigrant to the United States, Manuel Reis joined the society in 1927.  He served in many executive capacities, including Executive Vice-President and Chief Executive Officer from 1957-1987.  Under his leadership and direction, the society experienced significant growth and prosperity.

Assistance to the Needy in Portugal

Throughout its existence, the society has aided those in need, not only within its membership but also throughout California and Portugal. After the volcanic eruptions in Faial in 1957 and the earthquakes in the central group of islands in the Azores, the society participated in the collection and shipment of relief supplies.

The Kennedy-Pastore Relief Bill in the U.S. Congress was instrumental in providing increased immigration from Portugal after the volcanic eruption in Faial, Azores, in 1957. Resolution No. 3 passed at the society’s convention in 1958 urged the California congressional representatives to support the bill.  The resulting immigration of a new generation of Portuguese revitalized the social and fraternal organizations throughout the state.

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