For Filipinos, the month of June signifies an important time of the year.
As the first of June rolls in, we begin to look forward to June 12 — the anniversary of the Declaration of Philippine Independence.
While the anniversary itself falls on the 12th, the rest of the month is often peppered with various celebrations organized by various community and government groups in the US.
For example, our kababayans in New York celebrate their Philippine Independence Day parade on the first Sunday of June. Meanwhile, Filipinos in California (in the cities of San Francisco, Los Angeles, Cerritos and Carson, among others) have their own celebrations in the weeks prior to, or directly after June 12.
Many of these events incorporate elements of Philippine culture in their presentations and performances, as a way of promoting the Filipino way of life.
In some others, local government officials present city proclamations or resolutions that declare their support for the celebration of Philippine Independence.
No matter what format it takes or what platform it is held upon, the celebration of Philippine Independence is truly an annual milestone for Filipinos in the US.
Continuing search for meaning
According to Consul General Leo Herrera-Lim of the Philippine Consulate General in Los Angeles, the Filipino diaspora in the US continues to evolve, in terms of how it celebrates Philippine Independence Day. He said that it has “gone from protest gatherings during the Martial Law years, into a showcasing of the culture and achievements [of the Philippines] in the recent years.”
ConGen Herrera-Lim said that considering the sizable number of Fil-Ams in the US (as compared to the number of Filipinos in other parts of the world) the Philippine Independence Day celebrations in the US are spread out — from the East to the West Coast — and they are held in the whole month of June.
“In a sense, the defining aspect of the Independence Day celebrations in the US is our community’s continuing search for meaning of the Filipino presence in the US,” Herrera-Lim said.
For Fil-Am youth advocate Krystal Meñez, PH Independence Day is defined by big community gatherings, and coming together as a family to celebrate our people, “where we’ve been, where we are now, and where we’re going.”
When she was a child, Krystal found the Independence Day events as a place where she could relate to her fellow Filipinos.
“I grew up in Orange County, and there were few Filipinos that lived in our area. These events helped me recognize that I come from a people that are rich in history and culture. Although I felt like one of the [few] Filipinos in my usual environment, there were actually more people in the area who could relate to the same culture, ideas, and lifestyle,” Krystal said.
Today, Krystal has become not just an active participant, but also an engaged individual, who helps organize and promote the events.
For Krystal, Philippine Independence Day is not only a means of celebrating her Filipino heritage, but also a reminder of who she is and of her responsibility in carrying on the legacy of her ancestors.
For Steve Angeles, Fil-Am reporter for ABS-CBN News, June 12 has a special meaning for him and is more than just a Filipino holiday. “I need to recognize my homeland and enjoy the great progress and ongoing moves the country is making,” Steve said.
He also added that there is a special meaning because “it’s our version of 4th of July.”
“We should take great pride in the steps we’ve made, since we gained our sovereignty,” Steve pointed out.
In the end, Philippine Independence Day is more than just a celebration of our sovereignty and culture. ConGen Herrera-Lim points out that it is also a celebration of shared values with our host country.
“Freedom, democracy, and right of self-rule are values that Filipinos share with Americans. It is essential that our communities continue to reflect these shared values and manifest our joys in harvesting the fruits of such values,” he said.
ConGen Herrera-Lim also added that as we continue to commemorate the Proclamation of Philippine Independence, we must also realize that “there is still work to be done to liberate many of our people from poverty, injustice, and despair.”
“Some of our people, hosted in countries not our own, continue to face abuse discrimination and injustice. We look forward to the day that they will find meaning in the global celebration of Philippine Independence Day.”
Heroism towards lasting change
According to the National Historical Commission of the Philippines, this year’s Independence Day Theme is Pagsunod sa Yapak ng mga Dakilang Pilipino, Tungo sa Malawakan at Permanenteng Pagbabago (Following the Footsteps of Great Filipinos, Towards Widespread and Lasting Change.)
ConGen Herrera-Lim said that this year’s theme is “truly aspirational” for all Filipinos, whether they are in the Philippines or in other countries. The Consul General quoted the words of Philippine President Benigno S. Aquino III: “Let this commemoration of our ancestors’ heroism be not just a portion of our country’s glorious and exciting narrative.. May we remain united, like our forbears more than a hundred years ago, in working for an even more robust, equitably progressive Republic. And as we move forward, let us ensure that no Filipino is left behind as we journey on the straight and righteous path.”
ConGen Herrera-Lim said that Filipinos in the US may find the theme and the words of President Aquino as a welcome challenge in finding other ways to re-connect with the motherland and in expressing our pride in our people.
The Consul General also highlighted some groups and individuals, who embody the theme that speaks of carrying on the legacy of Filipino heroism in working towards our aspirations as a nation.
ConGen Herrera-Lim mentioned the following groups for their noteworthy work, in furthering the Filipino cause: Aquilina Soriano-Versoza and the whole team behind Pilipino Workers Center in helping Filipinos in the US grapple against discrimination and inequality, and in carrying on the inspirational legacy of Larry Itliong; the group of Tony Olaes, Mia McLeod, Francine Maigue, Mike Leelin, Christina Oriel, and other next generation Filipinos, who have started a movement towards a ‘OneFilipino’ online portal that can help connect people with each other in learning and understanding more about the motherland in real time; Mark Pulido and Alex De Ocampo for “showing up in the political upstream for the next generation of leaders;” and the Filipino vets of World War II and other wars, who show what ‘shared values with America’ means in times of peace and in times of war.
The Consul General said that these “present-day heroes reflect deeply, understand, embrace, and build upon the gains of our previous generations of heroes.”
“I mentioned some names, but they are not the only ones moving our people and our community,” Herrera-Lim added.
Education from celebration
Joel Jacinto, executive director for Search to Involve Pilipino Americans (SIPA), said that while organizations and communities do noteworthy work in celebrating Philippine Independence and Philippine History, he said that there is still room for growth in terms of educating our kababayans, who grew up here in America.
He said that the celebrations should be a platform of education about the context of our Independence and cultural heritage as a nation.
“ I don’t think events are [in themselves], what we’re about,” Jacinto said.
He said that the goal should be the transformative education that these Independence Day celebrations bring about in individuals and the community in general.
(LA Midweek June 4, 2014 MDWK pg.2)