Two women are coming out of the US Citizenship naturalization ceremony. One lady recognizes the other as a kababayan (fellow countryman) so she walks next to her, inquiring, “Huy, Pilipino ka?” (Hey, are you Filipino?).
The lady, seemingly excited to have found a new friend, looks up, smiles beamingly and says in a thick Filipino accent, “Naht a-knee-moor!” (Not anymore!).
Ms. Loida Nicolas Lewis shared this joke during an informal “talent showcase” with FYLPRO delegates after dinner at her beautiful home in Manhattan last Saturday. She invited us, the delegates of the Filipino American Young Leaders Program (FYLPRO), who converged in New York on the first weekend of June for the organization’s strategic planning for 2015-2017.
Filipino American Young Leaders
FYLPRO began as a yearly immersion program that was established in 2012 by Ambassador of the Republic of the Philippines to the United States of America, Jose L. Cuisia, Jr. and Mrs. Victoria J. Cuisia in cooperation with the Ayala Foundation Inc. to identify, each year, ten outstanding young professionals in the Filipino communities across the United States. Beginning last year, the delegates have taken steps to formally organize as a nonprofit aimed at supporting the immersion program to the Philippines as well as serving as a support system for delegates who want to pursue legacy projects in political advocacy initiatives, cultural and tourism promotion programs, social entrepreneurship, education innovations, Filipino-American heritage projects, and voter awareness and education drives, among other things.
The delegates, now 40 in all, make up a diverse group from different states who hold top positions from various industries and having varying levels of familiarity with the homeland – from folks who have only visited the Philippines once to some who have lived and studied in the country.
Leveraging these qualities that make each of us unique, the organization has committed to upholding the core values of integrity, innovation, collaboration, compassion and pride in being Filipino, values that will serve as our pillars as we continue to work on initiatives that will uplift the Filipino whether here in the US, in the Philippines or anywhere in the world.
Ms. Loida Nicolas Lewis
For all 18 of us present at dinner, it was a relaxing and fun evening that ended with special musical performances, jokes, storytelling, Baron on the piano and me singing our favorite Filipino songs and Kit Zulueta and Mike Dahilig from Hawaii teaching all of us how to dance the Hukilau!
But business, of course, had to be taken care of first.
Earlier that evening, we gathered in her living room overlooking Central Park, the same room that hosted President Obama in a fundraiser recently. After Ms. Lewis gave each guest a chance to tell the group about themselves and what their passionate about, she also shared her passion for helping shape the future of the Philippines by supporting the right government leaders and encouraging others to do the same.
She summarized the achievements, or lack thereof, of every President after the 1986 People Power Revolution all the way up to the current President Noynoy Aquino. She expressed her confidence in his party successor, Secretary Mar Roxas describing him as a man of humility and integrity, once giving up the post of President when there was a clamor for NoyNoy to run; She dismissed opinions of Roxas being unfit since he was not “masa” (of the masses, loved by the masses) citing there have been many former “masa” Presidents who did not do the country any good.
In the end though, she requested one thing that she wanted us to take away.
No matter who we support, she said “As young leaders, I don’t expect you to only vote, you have to campaign for people to vote”.
Filipino Americans of New York
It was also the weekend of the Philippine Independence Day celebration in NYC dubbed to be the biggest Independence Day celebration outside the Philippines. Madison Avenue was closed off from 24th Street to 40th Street on Sunday for the much anticipated parade highlighting numerous Fil Am organizations in NY and in the US. The parade was hosted by respected Filipino actors, Michael De Mesa and Cherie Gil introducing all the groups that took part in the festivities. Sitting by the VIP Section were Filipino American representatives of the government from various US cities including Jersey City Council President Rolando Lavarro and Mahwah Town Councilman Jonathan Wong alongside Philippine government officials, Dept. of Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert F. Del Rosario, Senator Alan Peter Cayetano, Consul General Mario De Leon and Ambassador Cuisia.
By Madison Square Park, the sweet smell of barbeque and sisig wafting from a whole block of Filipino food stalls surrounded the crowd estimated to be over 10,000. Hundreds of families and groups of friends set up a picnic on the grounds while enjoying Filipino songs from local Fil Am celebrities and visiting Philippine artists. Filipino owned businesses, social clubs and nonprofits also set up shops for the curious or those seeking services or goods from folks who have a perennial smile.
It’s as if I was in Taste of Chicago, only that it was ALL Filipino.
It was wonderful sight to see tens of thousands of people gathering together for an event that celebrates the Philippines’ unique culture and emphasizes the impact of our people as part of a global power city.
We have something in common in our core
I met so many new Filipino friends on this trip.
I also got introduced to and inspired by a few young community workers, members of UniPro, Pilipino American Unity for Progress, who have done great work in unifying and engaging young FilAms in advocacies that affect Filipinos. That weekend, they also had the UniPro Summit and they were over 200 strong.
Regardless of age, educational background, how long or little they have lived in the homeland, whether they are active leaders of the FilAm community or just avid spectators of anything Filipino-ish, I believe that we are really all just like the 2 ladies who had just become US citizens.
Our environment may change the way we speak, how we look and even how we think! But despite all of these seemingly dividing factors, it is clear; It is in our core as Filipinos to desire to connect with our kapwa (fellow), to think of each other’s well-being and to celebrate with friends.
Your turn. What would you say if someone asked you, “Hey, are you Filipino?”
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Louella Maningas Cabalona is a singer, actor, and a business intelligence consultant. She is the co-founder of the Filipno Folk band, SamaSama Project, ILPRO (Illinois Philippines Recovery Operations) and the soon to be launched FilipinoAcademy.org. One of the 10 inaugural delegates of the FYLPro Immersion program of the Philippine Embassy in DC in 2012, she is currently pondering on a “Pinoy” business startup while planning the next series of 2016 medical missions to the Philippines with her husband, Baron. If any of these adventures sound interesting to you, email firstname.lastname@example.org.