Over the weekend, I had the privilege to work simultaneously for two organizations that I hold most dear: British Airways (my professional family) and Kaya Natin (my advocacy). Not many people are given the opportunity to pull off such a feat. I am humbled to have been granted the sense of fulfilment to wear both hats with pride at Lampton Park, Hounslow, London, England on June 30 - July 01 2012.
The Philippine Centre Barrio Fiesta is an event that I have been attending for many years. It is a venue to entice thousands of our kababayans to return home for brief holidays. The origin of this event is a tale worth sharing as it is the fruit of many years of struggle and hard work to showcase being Filipino. It started 28 years ago with a hand full of families who migrated to London. They felt the need to converge together as a people in order to constantly remind themselves of who they are. A little over 20 families belonging to the Philippine Centre celebrated it then, in the early 80's, with a picnic at Lampton Park. They built a small stage then to showcase traditional songs and dances. Children would be taught about their heritage and culture as adults proudly paraded in "barong tagalogs" and the "baro at saya". At the periphery of the park would be stalls selling pinakbet, sisig, chicharong bulaklak, bopis, laing, puto and dinuguan. Just about every Filipino dish that you can think of is available for sale at this event. I have seen the effort exerted by the community to create a semblance of home, the Philippines. There is a near tangible longing for the home country that they miss. This is the brainchild of a Filipino couple, Benjamin and Nona Tomelden, who moved to the UK as professionals in the early 80s. Their daughter, Leah, is a dear friend and colleague at work. What started off with a get-together of a few families has become a two day event with over 50,000 people marching into the park each day. Now, it is the largest gathering of any ethnic community in the whole of Europe.
A few years back, the Filipinos would labour to pitch tents for the food stalls. Everyone had to do their share of litter picking (including me) to comply with the rules imposed by the council of Hounslow burrough. So much effort was put into the event by the community to ensure that it would proceed to be successful and people would go home looking forward to the next gathering.
ABS-CBN, through The Filipino Channel (TFC), has become the event organizer in recent years. Kapamilya stars like Ghiselle Sanchez, Angelica Panganiban, Jed Madela, Kristine Reyes and Jericho Rosales graced the occasion this year. It was very clear from their reactions on stage that they too were surprised by the volume of people who came out to take part in the fiesta.
The Philippine Centre allowed Kaya Natin Gives to display our banners in their booth. A one-page brief on our scholars and Philhealth beneficiaries were also inserted in the program brochures. Volunteers from the Philippine Centre explained our charity. We explained that donations could be made online. I also had the opportunity to meet up with some Filipinos who are in the travel business and make a push for kababayans to come home.
I was watching each one proudly proclaim their being Filipino. I reflected on this and asked myself what made me proud to be one. I couldn't put my finger to it and pin it down. What is it that brings thousands of us together? A foreigner friend once made a disheartening compliment about us. He said the world is lucky that we, Filipinos, do not know how to get our act together because, if we did, then we would rule the world. The puzzled look on my face made him go on to explain that we are so blessed as a people. He gave Metro Manila as an example. Within the radius of a few square kilometers, we have the mountains (Antipolo), the rivers (Pasig River and Marikina River), the sea (Manila Bay). But, we've managed to destroy uall of them. We are gifted with skill and talent yet the rest of the world benefits from this before we do.
So, what is it that makes us proud? For me, it's the generosity to share our last morsel, the capability to persevere through adverse conditions and the resiliency to bounce back from dire situations. We have steadfast faith and gratitude for a God who is all giving thus the capacity to see everything as a blessing. Being Filipino is a gift that we need to share with each other. We readily offer so much of ourselves to the world that my hope is we first tend to the needs of our own home and heart.
Marisa Lerias is originally from Southern Leyte and currently works with the Philippine office of British Airways. She is also part of the core group of Kaya Natin! Movement for Good Governance and Ethical Leadership.
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