By Noel Pangilinan
NEW YORK CITY – The Filipinos’ rich cultural heritage was on full display for one whole day in June, during the Bayanihan Cultural Festival held in the very heart of the Filipino community in this city.
For many Filipinos who have been living in the New York – New Jersey area for some time now, the whole-day festivities on June 21 did not only serve to reconnect them to their native country, but it also reinvigorated their pride in being Filipinos.
Liza Hizon, a mother of two from Plainview, NY, has not been to many Filipino events in years but said she felt an instant reconnection with her Filipino roots at the festival.
“It was a wonderful experience, it brought back my being a Filipino,” said Hizon, who brought her 13-year old daughter and 10-year old son to the festival. “Hearing native music and watching folk dances were very moving. Being with fellow Filipinos made me feel like I was home. We will certainly be back next year.”
An estimated 5,000 Filipinos and Filipino Americans attended the Bayanihan Festival that featured a day-long cultural program showcasing Philippine music, dances, songs and martial arts. It was also a day when Filipino culture was literally on display out on Hart Playground in Woodside, Queens: Filipino food and delicacy, native products on sale, children’s games, arts and craft and a giant mural-painting using a traditional Filipino style.
The festival was the first ever celebration of Philippine Independence Day held in the heart of the Filipino community in Queens. Among the five boroughs of New York City, Queens has the largest Filipino population.
The festival began with an Ecumenical Service that was designed to reflect the various religious, geographic and political realities in the Philippines. The service was concelebrated by a Catholic priest and a Protestant pastor, with representatives from Muslims and non-Muslim, non-Christian ethnic groups participating in the ceremony.
The Prayer of the Faithful was presented in several of the major Philippine languages, and the various sectors of Philippine society – workers, farmers, youth, indigenous groups both from the northern mountain provinces and in the south in Mindanao – were represented during the offertory.
“That was beautiful,” said Perla Godinez, who came all the way from Central New Jersey with her daughter’s family and grandchildren. “I like the fact that they said the Prayer of the Faithful in different languages.”
Hilda Mantalaba from the St. Sebastian Parish in Woodside, Queens, said she received a lot of positive feedback about the Ecumenical Service. “The people I talked to said it was an inspiring moment,” said Mantalaba, who was one of those who drafted the liturgy for the service. “They said that Filipinos have proven themselves once more that they are united as one people and one nation.”
The day-long lineup of performers was not just a hodge-podge, free-for all program. The performances were carefully selected to reflect the social and historical influences that shaped Philippine culture through the years.
Among the notable performers were:
The BIBAK North East, an association of Filipinos from the five Cordillera provinces (Benguet, Ifugao, Bontoc, Apayao and Kalinga) now based in the U.S. Northeast, performed traditional ritual dances of their region, such as a war dance, a courtship dance and one asking the heavens for rain.
The Filipino American Senior Citizen Association of Woodside, Queens danced to Hawaiian ditties “Pearly Shells” and “Tiny Bubbles”, to remind the crowd that the first wave of Filipino migration to the United States were the manongs who landed in Hawaii to work in pineapple plantations.
Several members of Project YEHEY (Young Educators for Health and Empowerment of the Youth) demonstrated the world-renown Filipino martial arts arnis and kali.
While the performances were going on, there was a sizable crowd who availed for themselves the free health screening and free immigration consultation that the organizers offered for the day. “Bayanihan Day is not only a day for celebration. It is also a day for service,” said Julia Camagong, co-exectuive director of the Philippine Forum, one of the organizers of the festival.
Bayanihan literally means being a hero for others but it has also become synonymous with volunteering, lending a helping hand, involvement in community projects or coming together for a common purpose.
In one corner of the park, award-winning artist Eliseo Art Silva was guiding festival participants in painting a mural with the word ‘BAYANIHAN” printed on it. Silva said the mural is done in the traditional “Letras y Figuras” style, which depicts scenes from daily Philippine life sometimes hidden and sometimes emphasized by the letters of the word printed on the canvas.
At around 4:00 in the afternoon, a thunderstorm cut short the program and the festivities in the park. But it was not enough to dampen the spirit of those who were there. Youth volunteers transported the sound system and equipment to the Bayanihan Filipino Community Center a few blocks and resumed the performances. The night belonged to young Filipinos who danced and grooved to the live music of Filipino American rock bands.
For many Filipinos who took part in the festival, what happened that day was not just an explosion of Philippine culture, but also a manifestation of the indomitable bayanihan spirit of Filipinos as a people.
Adel Inez, of St. Elizabeth Parish and one of the lead volunteers of the festival, said it was “a historic event in New York City.”
“It was a fitting tribute to our motherland, whose children come from different ethnic backgrounds, originating from different parts of the Philippines and belonging to various religious denominations, and yet deciding to gather together as sanlahi (one race),” Inez said.
“We need to do this as least once a year,” she added.
(Note: For more information on how to participate in next year’s Bayanihan Cultural Festival, contact the organizers at 718- 565-8862 and look for Julia or Cling. You could also send an email at Bayanihan.firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the Bayanihan Filipino Community Center at 40-21 69th Street, Woodside, New York City.)