The heat is on in Tampa

Krista Kleiner with a cart of dirty ice cream. Photos by Elton Lugay

By Elton Lugay

It was like coming home to a barrio fiesta in my native Cebu. The weather was warm. Everyone was dressed in short pants and cotton shirt, slippers on their feet. The smell of grilled pork barbecue filled the air.

No, I was not on Madison Avenue, but in outdoorsy Tampa, Florida for the annual Philippine Fest where GMA artists JayR and Krista Kleiner pumped up the three-day festivities from March 30 to April 1 with their high-energy performance.

“I got so excited that even before I came out of the backstage, people in the audience were already screaming and dancing,” said singer and record producer JayR. “The energy was higher than 10.”

Tampa is home to about 25,000 Filipinos, and the annual fiesta is the largest event of its kind, according to founder and organizer Rudy Bautista. He is the administrator of the Bayanihan Arts Center where the festival was held.

“Good weather is an important factor,” said Bautista, a retired Amtrak employee. “This is a perfect weather; (80 degrees) for us, not too warm.”

Bautista and his wife Lucy run the center for the community, making sure they are in great condition for events like this but also preserving it for the younger generation. The center, which hosts various cultural programs all year long, is all of 10 acres and can accommodate both indoor and outdoor activities. It is partially funded by the state government, Bautista told The FilAm.

“Our community was instrumental in the completion of the center,” he said. “There were donations from private companies but mostly from various Filipino families all throughout Florida.”

For Carolina Lugay-Lacson, a former board member, who drove more than four hours from Tallahassee, “one of the moving factors why we keep on doing this is that when you move away from your country there’s always some part of you that wants to reach back.”

“We have young people born here and some of them are curious about their roots and some of them don’t know, this event is especially for them,” she said.

San Diego-based Michael Pablo, a t-shirt designer, said it’s his third year participating as a vendor. “This is the best festival in the nation,” he said. “It’s the most organized, the friendliest, hospitality is the best, food is great and people are awesome.”

High school student at St. Petersburg Desiree Dolores said she wants to get in touch “with my
roots, it makes me feel closer to home.” She is a dancer at the Philippine Performing Arts Company.

Krista who opened for JayR was the ultimate entertainer. Singing mostly upbeat songs like J Lo’s “On The Floor” made kids and lolas dance with her.

“They’re so fun, so warm, so welcoming,” she said. “I really enjoyed myself.”

Sporting a skimpy neon green skirt, the beauty-queen turned singer-actress didn’t mind reaching out to the audience. “Nakaka-inspire,” she said.

JayR gets crowd on its feet

JayR, a regular host of Party Pilipinas, regaled the crowd with OPM ballads, including his award-winning “Bakit Pa Ba.”

JayR and Krista are a couple on and off screen, both Americans born to Filipino parents in Southern California. Call it serendipity that they’ve crossed paths in Philippine showbiz and not in L.A.

The Philippine Embassy was represented by Consul Arlene Magno. She said it is part of the embassy’s continuing effort to bring consular services closer to the communities across the nation.

GMA Pinoy TV is the exclusive media partner for the festival’s opening day. East Coast representative Grace Hufano-Labaguis said she’s grateful for the opportunity the foundation gave GMA as “they are one in heart in bringing Filipinos abroad closer to home.”

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