Filipino focus: Cultural heritage celebrated at festival marking Philippine independence day
EDINBURG — Music, food, dance and art brought tradition and modern culture together at the third annual Filipino Festival on Friday evening at the City Hall courtyard.
“We are here to show people what we’re about and what our culture means to us,” said Paolo Santiago, a UTRGV student and member of the Filipino Student Association, which participated in the event.
The city of Edinburg, ANAK, and the Philippine-American Chambers of Commerce-RGV hosted the festival. Kusina Filipino Restaurant, Charlie Clark Nissan, and the Division of Nursing and Allied Health at STC were also present. It was a celebration of independence from Spain, of which the 120th anniversary is on Tuesday.
FSA at UTRGV sold boba tea, performed a dance called Bulaklakan, and sampled the traditional foods pancit and lumpia.
Liana Chee, president of FSA, emigrated to the United States from the Philippines when she was 7 years old and believes it’s important to be proud of one’s culture “no matter where you come from.”
She has been part of the organization for over two years, and has made deep connections with the other members – many of whom are immigrants as well.
“Some of them were born here, some moved here at a young age,” she said. “But we have a similar background so we can still connect because we are Americanized but still true to our culture.”
Chee wants her fellow Filipinos to stay close to their roots, especially if they live in the Valley, because she said it’s “not too diverse” and their culture helps them stand out.
“We’re all just trying to make it in America,” Chee said.
Gus Mercado, chief of staff to the Philippine Consul for Texas and founder of the Philippine-American Chamber of Commerce in Texas, attended the event for the second year in a row.
Three years ago, Mercado established a Philippine-American consul here so Filipinos in the Valley no longer had to travel to Dallas to renew their passport or apply for American citizenship.
“We are very happy with what we see here in the Rio Grande Valley,” Mercado said. “The senior Filipinos are able to preserve the culture and heritage, and pass it on to their children and grandchildren. That’s very heartwarming.”
Mercado estimates there are at least 25,000 Filipinos in the Rio Grande Valley.
“At last year’s independence day event, I got goose bumps when I saw the very young Filipinos perform our national songs and dances,” Mercado said. “Not very many Filipino communities have children experience the Filipino spirit the way they do here.”
Paolo Santiago, a student at UTRGV and member of FSA, emigrated to the U.S. from the Philippines at 4 years old. He said when people question who they are, an easy place to start is where they are from. That’s where celebrations like this come in.
“This kind of event is important because we tend to feel alone,” Santiago said. “But when we are surrounded by our own kind, we get a sense of community, a sense of belonging somewhere.”
He believes residents of the Valley are aware of the Filipino population, but not the size of it.
“It’s way bigger than just your classmate,” Santiago said. “We belong in your community.”
Kusina Filipino Restaurant catered the event, and manager Annie Liwanag spoke about the necessity of an event like this. She wants other Filipinos to have spaces where their culture stands strong and proud.
“We have to support each other even though it’s not in our own country,” Liwanag said. “Every Filipino is trying to adjust, and we are letting them know we are here as a family.”