A Filipino celebration

By: Modesto P. Sa-onoy

WHILE the Philippines commemorates its Independence Day from Spain on June 12, the Filipinos in America celebrates on different days. I was told New York marks the day early June while in New Jersey Filipinos commemorated last June 23. I happen to be here and witnessed the June 23rd celebration.

The event began with a 10:00 a.m. Mass at the Church of Our Lady of Victories where we also attended for our Sunday Mass. The congregation was a remarkable sight. The ladies wore long gowns of Filipino design while the gentlemen wore barong tagalog. Former and latest “queens” and “princesses” wore their regal gowns with their tiaras. One woman probably did not consider she was going to Mass that she wore a long gown with bare back and shoulders. Several had their trains sweeping the church floor.

It was like a fashion show of Filipino formal gowns and brought to mind the Santacruzan with several women and girls wearing their crowns. Some had Lion’s Club chalicos with Philippine American Friendship Community or PAFCOM patches that created a sense of a civic club gathering.

The Mass was celebrated by a Filipino, Fr. Victor Paloma, the parish priest who explained the shift of the Philippine Independence day from July 4 to June 12 but that July 4 was retained and called Philippine American Friendship Day, an event clearly forgotten or ignored by Filipinos today. Anyway, that explanation fitted well for PABCOM, the organizing organization. This is the 29th year that PAFCOM sponsored the event.

The all-Filipino choir sang wonderfully well. After the Mass, they sang “Pilipinas kong Mahal”. That was great. The lyrics and their singing touched me. I realized that these countrymen of mine have left their homeland but continued to nurture a love for the fatherland. The tenderness of their voices showed their feelings of nostalgia of home and family they have left behind. But there was a joyous mood.

The parade was long, from Clairmont to Lincoln Park where the rest of the day was spent in various activities with actor Sam Milby, the invited celebrity and a state senator, the usual kind of guests in a Philippine fiesta. Indeed, it was a fiesta featuring lots of food at the park.

The parade assembled just a hundred meters from our apartment so we had a good view of the assembly and the parade. The opening ceremony was held on the sidewalk under the railroad bridge that was under repair. I was wondering why the organizers staged here when right in front of it is a large vacant lot, the Light Train parking lot that was not in use since there was no rail service. Well, probably for the shade and maximum effect to passersby. The New Jersey City police closed one lane of the road and for the parade closed the traffic along Clairmont Street. However, once the tail end of the parade had passed Clairmont and Westside Avenue, the police allowed traffic in one lane.

It was just like any town parade – brass bands, “royalty” in grand attire, school kids and civic organizations in various kind uniforms. There were over a dozen motorcycles, one leading the parade with the Philippine flag braving the cool morning air under a hot sun. But as usual, while just a hundred or so that attended the Mass, there were hundreds that joined the colorful parade and waved the Philippine flag.

We just watched the parade because we had an invitation for lunch and then a series of grocery shopping – from a Chinese market (Ranch 99 Market) where we had lunch of Peking duck in noodle soup, then the Asian Food market, the American market and two Pinoy outlets for hot pan de sal and a cake.

The sorties were very informative. The Chinese and Asian markets have practically all the foodstuffs, vegetables and fishes we have in the Philippines and more. The tomatoes are bigger than two clenched fists, balunggay leaves are frozen; a sheaf of frozen banana leaf cost $2. They even have our native, small guava. A large leaf of aloe vera cost $7 while a pot of small aloe vera plant costs $17. I have them sprouting at home.

These markets have almost everything. The wide varieties of agricultural and fishery products (very expensive) are overwhelming so that Filipinos need not miss the native cuisine.