By Momar G. Visaya/Asianjournal.com
NEW YORK – Thousands of Filipinos flocked to two different locations in this city and the borough of Bergenfield, New Jersey to celebrate the 110th anniversary of Philippine Independence and Asian American Heritage over the weekend.
The city of New York closed down a 14-block portion of Madison Avenue from 41st St. to 27th for the annual parade that included a street fair from 26th to 24th adjacent to the Madison Square Park.
“I look forward to this event every year. I’m so proud to be a Filipino. I’m one of the proudest Filipinos you’ll ever meet,” NYPD police officer Tony Roxas told the Asian Journal.
About 30 NYPD officers of Filipino descent participated in the parade, but according to Roxas, there are about a hundred cops in the NYPD today.
“We’re here because we want to show the world that there are Filipinos in the NYPD, and that parents should encourage their children to join law enforcement when they grow up. We are a growing population here in the city, which means that we need more Filipinos on the streets of New York,” Roxas added.
Almost a hundred organizations and businesses participated in the two-hour parade. This included various tri-state community organizations, corporate sponsors, 14 floats and various marching and ethno-cultural bands.
For businesswoman and community leader Loida Nicolas Lewis, the celebration is much-needed in the community because “it encourages us to be proud that we are Filipinos.”
“I am very proud of the leadership of this group and that our fellow Filipinos flocked here today,” Lewis told the Asian Journal.
Monsignor Oscar Aquino, the highest-ranking Filipino in the Archdiocese of New York, served as the parade’s Grand Marshal.
Just as Filipinos took over Madison Avenue, yet another group of Filipinos were having their own celebration at the first Asian Pacific American Cultural & Heritage Grand Parade and Festival in Bergenfield, less than 15 miles away.
They had their own parade, which started at the corner of Washington Avenue and East Clinton in Bergenfield and ended at the Teaneck National Guard Armory where a cultural show, street fair and festival were held.
Comedian Rex Navarrete was the main act for the New Jersey event while CBS anchor Kristine Johnson shuttled between the two events. International singing sensation Charice, singer Randy Santiago and comedienne Fe delos Reyes on the other hand led the performers at the New York festivities.
New Jersey Governor Jon S. Corzine made an appearance at the festival in Teaneck and expressed his appreciation to the organizers for staging the event.
“This is a great testimony in what is happening today in the state of New Jersey. We have almost 700,000 Asian Americans in the state and is the fastest growing population in the state and you are making a difference every single day,” Gov. Corzine told the crowd of predominantly Filipinos.
Ludi Hughes, chairwoman of the board of the Asian American Heritage Council of New Jersey, was beaming with pride as Gov. Corzine acknowledged the people behind the festivities and promised that the event is going to be an annual celebration.
“This is the first time that it was done and I am proud of the people behind this successful undertaking. According to police estimates, there were 12,000 people around 2:30 pm. That’s a huge number considering that this was the first time we were doing it,” Hughes told the Asian Journal.
Aside from Gov. Corzine, other New Jersey officials who joined the festivities were Sen. Frank Lautenberg, Congressman Steve Rothman, state Sen. Loretta Weinberg, Assemblymembers Gordon Johnson and Connie Wagner, Bergen County Sheriff Leo McGuire, Bergen County executive Dennis McNerney, Teaneck Mayor Elie Katz and Bergenfield Mayor Timothy Driscoll.
“It is no longer just about parading in our barong tagalogs and ternos. It’s about how we can help the community and connect to mainstream America. We can not just be Filipinos now. It is not just about us. This celebration was not focused on Filipinos alone. We are Americans celebrating our Asian heritage,” Hughes added.
A group representing the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns (NAFCON) and BAYAN USA joined forces to protest the local commercialization of the PIDCI, carrying placards denouncing the $1000+ rental fee for a fair booth.
“Many believe the local commercialization and high rental fees for booths is another local corruption scheme by the Philippine Consulate to pocket more money out of the Filipino community,” the NAFCON statement said.
Raul Estrellado, president of the Philippine Independence Day Council. Inc., feels that the protesters were “out of place”.
“Napakasakit sa amin na maparatangan ng ganito. Kami po sa PIDCI ay nag pa-fundraising para sas mga events. Yung presyong $1100 ay para po sa mga big corporations na gustong mag-sponsor sa parade, at 3 to 5 years na na yun ang presyo. PIDCI does not have money. We’re a non-profit and we’re all volunteers here na nagnanais na mapaganda at mapabuti ang parade natin,” Estrellado told the Asian Journal.
Estrellado shared that PIDCI had to file 18 permits with the city of New York for the parade.
“They are using PIDCI as a tool of protest. That was a celebration of our independence day. They should have found other days to protest,” he said.
Over-all, Estrellado said he is happy with the outcome of last Sunday’s parade. He estimates that there were 30 to 40 thousand parade participants and watchers, “more than double than the previous years’ attendance”.
“I am amazed. The word I’d use is “Wow!”. I’m thankful that our kababayans prepared for the parade and came in full force. There were very colorful costumes and you can see that everybody enjoyed our celebration,” he added.
Hughes said that next year’s Asian Pacific American Cultural Heritage Parade and Festival will be hosted by either Korea or Taiwan.
Estrellado, on the other hand, is hopeful that different camps will come together this year to come up with an even bigger parade next year.
“It is our hope at PIDCI that the organizations which left us will return so that we can be united once more. Magsuportahan dapat tayo at hindi maglaban-laban. We hope we can talk things over and solve our problems,” he said.
Hughes, who was once a PIDCI board member herself, is open to such proposition.
“As long as PIDCI is going to be in compliance with the rules and as long as we know who is running, and we have a list of people who are voting. It should be open and transparent. I want to make sure that there are no bogus organizations there and I want all financial reports to be open to everyone. They have to show that they are changing or else, they will be losing more members,” Hughes said.