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U.P.E.C. Fraternal Benefit Society

Thirty Portuguese immigrants founded the society in San Leandro in 1880.

Years:  1880 — 2010

Preamble to the U.P.E.C. Constitution

Buried in indifference all political creeds and preferences for distinguished positions in society, presently swayed by prejudice and harmful to everyone, we have a religious conviction which in every instance shows clearly the existence of a Great Universal Architect, Creator of the whole world and Humanity, and possessing patriotic sentiments which prescribe our duty to mutually help each other, in order to prevent us from falling in the terrible and horrible abyss of misery.

And for that highly commendable purpose, the União Portuguesa do Estado da California was founded on August first of 1880 in San Leandro, whose fundamental principles are: To provide with all sincerity for the protection of its members and their families, to maintain among them a true harmony and friendship, to create a fund so that when any of its members dies, it will be of assistance to the surviving family; to guaranty an appropriate last resting place and to protect them from misery, which as led many to vice and crime.

And that was…

The beginning of the “União Portuguesa do Estado da Califórnia” (Portuguese Union of the State of California) dates to August 1, 1880 in San Leandro, when thirty Portuguese immigrants founded the society.  These enthusiastic men laid the cornerstone on which through the years an institution steadily grew to unite Portuguese families in California, protecting them with financial and spiritual benefits. The U.P.E.C. achieved records second to none in serving its members, and in serving communities throughout the states and California and Nevada, where subordinate councils were established.

The U.P.E.C. was comprised not only of members of Portuguese descent, but of every nationality, regardless of religious or political beliefs.  In existence for more than 120 years, the U.P.E.C. was one of the oldest domestic fraternal insurance societies organized in California.  The society’s actions throughout the decades earned prestige for its members along with public recognition and respect.

António Fonte was born on February 25, 1826 in São Mateus, Pico, Azores.  He immigrated to California in 1851, settling in Oakland, where he established a general merchandise store that he operated for forty years.  He was a person of integrity, thrift, and strong character.  In 1880, he and 29 others founded the U.P.E.C. and served as its President from its founding through 1893.  António Fonte also organized fourteen councils throughout the state and was the driving force behind the consolidation of different factions that solidified the society in its early stages.  He died in April 1906.

The first U.P.E.C. convention was held in 1890 in San Leandro.  Conventions became the true forums and bastions of democracy.  Councils elected delegates in proportion to their respective membership to discuss reports, enact rules and regulations, and elect officers who guided and managed the society’s affairs.  Delegations sometimes more than 300 strong would meet annually in different parts of California, providing opportunities to make friends and voice opinions about the future of the fraternal society.

The U.P.E.C. published periodic bulletins, the first of which released on March 1, 1898 in San Francisco.  It was the first publication of its kind, containing the directory of subordinate councils, reports by the society’s president, activities and other official society news.  After the 1950s, it was enhanced to include articles of a historical nature.  In January 1967, its name was changed to “U.P.E.C. Life”, and its 5,000 circulation reduced from monthly to quarterly.

The U.P.E.C. built its home office in 1909 on East 14th Street in San Leandro.  It was a two-story brick building that housed the administrative offices of the society and a couple of rental suites.  A new structure was built in 1964 to accommodate the growth of the society and was expanded in 1971.  It housed administrative offices, library, lecture hall, and several rental suites.

In the annals of the U.P.E.C. are documents of historical value, humanitarian acts, and outstanding contributions for the welfare of Portuguese immigrants and the community-at-large – not only in this state and nation, but also beyond the borders of the U.S.

In step with the needs of the generations since its founding who manifested their interest in Portugal and the Portuguese, the U.P.E.C. founded a library of Portuguese history and culture in its U.P.E.C. Cultural Center in San Leandro.  The library was made possible through the contributions of its members and the cooperation of many cultural institutions in Portugal, the Azores, and Madeira. More than 12,000 volumes, publications, and audiovisual materials are housed and publicly available in the J.A. Freitas Library, founded by Carlos Almeida in 1964.  The library has the largest collection of newspapers and magazines published by the Portuguese in California.  It stands in tribute to a culture and a people who gave worlds to the world, including California.

An important event with Portuguese-American participation was the construction of the Portuguese Pavilion at the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco.  Throughout its existence, the U.P.E.C. membership engaged in many civic activities, both on its own and in conjunction with other fraternal societies and community groups.  The U.P.E.C., through the leadership of Past President Francisco I. Lemos, was key in winning Portugal’s participation at the Expo.  During the event, the U.P.E.C. Band performed several concerts under the directorship of Mario Bettencourt Câmara, then U.P.E.C. Assistant Secretary-Treasurer.  The U.P.E.C. and other Portuguese fraternal societies and community organizations also participated in the Golden Gate International Exposition from 1939-1940.

The U.P.E.C. Band was born out of the U.P.E.C. Uniform Rank, a drill team organized by Mario Bettencourt Câmara in 1902.  In 1905, the U.P.E.C. authorized the purchase of musical instruments and ordered navy blue uniforms from Portugal at a cost of $1,319.  The band attracted many young members and took part in parades and festivals.  It was considered the most popular band in the California Portuguese community.  It offered concerts at the 1915 Panama Pacific Exposition and at the Golden Gate International Exposition in 1939-1940, both held in San Francisco.

During World War II, fraternal societies joined forces to help the U.S. in the war effort.  This involvement included the purchase of War Bonds as an investment for the societies and the running of advertisements in their bulletins encouraging members to purchase bonds.  The League of Portuguese Fraternal Benefit Societies held fundraisers to help with the purchase of artillery pieces that were provided to the Armed Forces.

The U.P.E.C. assumed a leadership role in many civic projects.  One important effort was the enactment of a Bill allowing unclaimed funds held by the Portuguese fraternal benefit societies to be used for scholarships instead of escheating to the State General Fund.  Attorney General Bill Lockyear, at that time a State Assembly Member, authored the Bill.

The Monument to the Portuguese Immigrant was a project sponsored by the U.P.E.C. membership.  The 20-foot tall monument that stands at Root Park in Downtown San Leandro was made possible with funds raised by the members and gifted to the City of San Leandro.  The art piece sculpted by Numidico Bessone was shipped from Lisbon to California in 41 pieces through the Panama Canal.  The dedication ceremonies were held in March 1964, and later led to the proclamation of Portuguese Immigrant Week by then Governor Ronald Reagan.

The U.P.E.C. individually and collectively contributed funds and goods to assist their Azorean brethren whether in need or as victims of natural disasters.  Drives for clothing and staples were held on several occasions to assist victims of earthquakes in the Azores.  The U.P.E.C. coordinated such efforts with the help of the U.S. Air Force stationed in Lajes, Terceira, as part of the “People to People Program”.  Another contribution was an ambulance purchased by Council No. 1 from the City of San Leandro and flown to Terceira by the U.S. Air Force in 1966 as a gift to the Volunteer Fire Corps of Angra do Heroísmo.

In 1983, the U.P.E.C. sent a delegation to São Caetano, Pico, to attend the dedication ceremonies of the monument honoring its founder, António Fonte.  The bronze monument was the work of sculptor Euclides Vaz of Lisbon.  It was a U.P.E.C. gift to the municipality of Madalena, Pico.  The António Fonte Park faces Prainha do Galeão (São Mateus), birthplace of the founder of the U.P.E.C.

The U.P.E.C. merged with the I.D.E.S., the S.E.S., and the U.P.P.E.C. on January 1, 2010 to create the entity Portuguese Fraternal Society of America (P.F.S.A.).

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