Pinoys in Chicago celebrate Fil Am Heritage Month
October 30, 2010

Text and photo by Ted Regencia
(Photo courtesy of Hawak Kamay cultural group)

SKOKIE, Ill — Sitting on low chairs at the Skokie Public Library, a diverse group of children gathered around book author Almira Astudillo Gilles, as she engaged them in a story about a young Filipino American boy and his unusual coin bank.

Using interactive materials, including a coconut shell, Gilles kept the children’s attention, while weaving Filipino cultural references in her story, Willie Wins, which tells of a boy’s search for identity in America.

The Sunday afternoon book reading was part of a line-up of events in Skokie this October, officially designated by U.S. Congress last year, as Filipino American Heritage Month.

Skokie is home to thousands of Filipino Americans in the Chicagoland, and it is spearheading the month-long celebration featuring cultural dances, workshops, a movie night and a cooking demonstration.

On Saturday, Oct. 2, Westfield Old Orchard hosted a parade of Filipino costumes, followed by a musical presentation and fashion show at the Skokie Public Library.

“Filipino Americans should be proud that they recognize us,” said Angeles Carandang, a long-time Skokie resident and chairman of the National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA) in Illinois.

“It’s very important that they know us, and that we should show that we care for our community (Skokie),” Carandang added.

In a statement, Philippine Consul General to Chicago Leo Herrera Lim said, the celebration highlights the economic, cultural and social contributions by Filipino Americans “toward the development of a multicultural America.”

“Our strong commitment to family and education, discipline, work ethics, as well as our cultural values, have added to the strength and vitality of American society and economy,” Lim added.

The Filipino American community is the second largest Asian American group, next to the Chinese, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

According to a California State University study, the first Filipinos called Luzon Indios crossed the Pacific Ocean, to explore and claim more lands for the Spanish king. The Philippines was then a colony of Spain.

The same study said, Filipinos arrived in Morro Bay, California on October 18, 1587, about 50 years before the first English settlement of Jamestown.
Today, more than four million Filipino Americans are spread across the U.S., according to a 2007 U.S. State Department study.

Because Filipino Americans assimilate to the mainstream society fast, however, it becomes harder especially for children to appreciate their origin and culture, artist Fred de Asis said.

“Sometimes, if you grow up here, you lose some kind of identity easily,” said de Asis, who organizes “culturally-significant” workshops for children. On Sunday, de Asis led a group of children and their parents in a Saranggola (Filipino kite) making workshop also at the Skokie Library.

As part of the effort to get Filipino Americans reacquainted with their culture, NaFFAA and the Philippine American Cultural Foundation (PACF), staged a cultural presentation at the Skokie Library attended by Skokie Mayor George Van Dusen.

The Hawak Kamay (Linking Hands) group, the performing arts group of PACF composed mainly of Filipino American students, performed folk dances that spotlighted the Philippines’ joyous and colorful festivals.

Sama-Sama (Coming Together) Project, another Filipino American group, performed Kundiman songs, a music genre that centers on relationship and romance.

Filipino dancers from St. Peter’s Parish of Skokie also performed.

Other events include the showing Monday, October 4 of the film, Magnifico, which won the Crystal Bear award at the 2004 Kinderfilmfest at the Berlin Film Festival; and the cooking demonstration on October 6.

Filipino artifacts and religious and cultural objects are also on display at the Skokie Library from October 2 to 8.
“The participation was beyond my expectation,” Carandang said.

She added events like the Filipino American Heritage Month also enrich the multicultural character of America.

“It’s our differences that make us strong. United States is strong because of the different cultures that came here,” Carandang said.

Other Filipino American events are also scheduled in different Chicago suburbs, including the first unity Gala Dinner Ball in Rolling Meadows on October 15, and the International Cultural Dance Show at Wheaton College on October 30.

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