Three women participate at the Festa Junina festival on June 15, 2019. They are wearing traditional costumes. (Bride, flower dress and paid shirts). Photo: Yasmin Graeml

June Festival – or “Festa Junina” as it is called in Portuguese- is one of the events most eagerly awaited by Brazilians during the year. It is a country-themed festival that is just as celebrated as the famous Carnaval in many parts of the Latin American country. In Berkeley, BrasArte has been hosting a June festival for over 20 years. The 2019 edition happened Saturday, June 15 at Casa de Cultura at 1901 San Pablo Ave.

The party honors three saints of the Catholic tradition that have their celebration dates in June: St. John, St. Peter and St. Anthony. Parties happen in churches, schools and communities during the entire month.

The main attraction in a typical Festa Junina is the food: “paçoca,” a sweet made from peanuts, “pamonha,” a sweet corn wrap, popcorn, hot dogs and a big variety of cakes. Old-time games such as fishing booths and ring tosses, among other carnival fair games, are part of the setting, as well as country costumes with flower dresses, plaid shirts, ripped pants and boots. The decorations involve colorful flags. Quadrila – a dance somewhat similar to American square dance-, forró and sertanejo  — couple dances — are part of the “soundtrack.” A bonfire is a must! June is a cold month in the Southern Hemisphere and the fire helps warm people up.

Conceição Damasceno, who organizes the event at  BrasArte, said between 200 and  300 people come to the Festa Junina every year. The cultural organization, which was founded in 2000,  tries to bring most Brazilian holidays, such as Independence Day, to the Bay Area as a way to celebrate Brazil and spread the country’s customs. The non-profit hosts dance and music classes, has a summer camp for kids, and presents Brazilian artists.

Festa Junina also has personal meaning for Damasceno.

“Forró, one of the dance styles, is something that is traditional in my family,” she said. “We are from the northeast of Brazil and my mom had a forró dance place in Bahia, so we are trying to keep it alive in honor to her.”

While Damasceno was talking, a girl dressed as a bride entered the room and handed the director a piece of paper shaped like a heart with an anonymous message. That is also part of the Festa Junina tradition, St.  Anthony, one of the saints celebrated, is known as the “cupid saint”.

Festa Junina, June 15. 2019.. Photo: Yasmin Graeml

The event was divided between two different spaces. The first room was quieter and had food and drinks. The second room was darker space and held tables and a dance floor near the stage for live music.

“When you listen to the music you feel a ‘good’ nostalgic pain in the heart,” said Erika de Souza, a Brazilian living in the Bay Area. “It is the first time I am going to a Festa Junina since I left Brazil. I am very thankful.”

Couples dancing Forró. Photo: Yasmin Graeml

The event is not only for Brazilians. It is open to the public and it is an opportunity for people to learn more about the culture or to reconnect to the Brazilian way of being. 30-year-old Alexandre Schendel was born in Brazil but raised in the United States. Thanks to BrasArte he was able to attend his first Festa Junina, Quadrilha and Forró.

“You have to concentrate a lot to be able to dance it!” said Schendel, who was on the dance floor,  listening to an accordion player going through some Brazilian traditional songs and watching couples dancing. “I always found the Brazilian culture more laid back, casual and fun.”

Yasmin Graeml is a Brazilian journalism student on a one-year exchange program at UC Berkeley.