A Fiesta without Mila

Korean dancers perform at Fiesta in America. Photos by Elton Lugay

Korean dancers perform at Fiesta in America. Photos by Elton Lugay

By Elton Lugay

Anger over the P10-billion pork-barrel scandal was momentarily brushed aside as Filipinos in the New York Tri-State celebrated Fiesta in America on August 17 and 18 in New Jersey.

The late Mila Mendez

The late Mila Mendez

But the mood was not entirely merry. Guests and performers paused for a moment of prayer to remember Philippine Fiesta founder Mila Mendez, who passed away in September after a lingering illness. The Philippine Fiesta, founded by Mila and Nanding Mendez 15 years ago, was renamed Fiesta in America this year by Nanding to “embrace our neighboring Asian and Latino communities.”

“I think it’s about time to join forces and make this event into one big celebration of diversity and that is really what America is all about,” the Fiesta CEO told The FilAm.

The Fiesta will continue Mila’s legacy, said the organizers.

“One of her dying wishes was to make sure that the Fiesta will continue the tradition of coming together in the community,” said festival director Ogie Afable.

And so for two days, the Meadowlands Exposition Center in Secaucus rocked the music and the dances and showcased the cuisine of various ethnic communities around the Tri-State. There was a big number of Asian and Latino booths selling food and trinkets and offering health services, which the Filipinos welcomed.

Actor Piolo Pascual was brought in from the Philippines to give the event the dazzle of showbiz. He performed five songs to riotous applause. He was joined by pop singer Angeline Quinto.

“Ako’y Isang Pinoy’s” Florante, folk singer of the 70s, was a hit for his nostalgia music.

“Sabayan ninyo ako,” he urged the crowd. “Alam ko palagi ninyo itong kinakanta sa karaoke. But today, ang composer mismo ang mag-gigitara para sa inyo.”

The homegrown Sounds of Manila, led by vocalist Suzanne Lansangan Sabangan, matched the popularity and verve of the visiting artists with their selection of Original Pilipino Music hits. Performers from the Chinese, Korean, Latino communities were on stage to entertain and introduce themselves to the predominantly Filipino audience. JR Lavarro, who lost his voice towards the end of the program, was the emcee.

Rows of food booths offering the usual fare of ‘pancit,’ pork barbecue and ‘halo-halo’ refreshments sustained the visitors and replenished their energy.

The celebration was not complete without the People’s Ball held at the Double Tree Hotel in Newark to kickstart the Fiesta weekend. Attended by nearly 500 people, 10 prominent FilAms, led by Jersey City Council Member Rolando Lavarro, were bestowed with empowerment awards. Lavarro is the first Filipino and first Asian to become a member of the council.

“Mila may be gone but I’m sure she’s happy to see her baby is growing strong,” said Mila’s confidante, Ludi Hughes, who chaired this year’s awards event.

A moment of remembrance led by Nanding Mendez (second from left), with Rose Javier,  Nathan Mendez and Ludi Hughes

A moment of remembrance led by Nanding Mendez (second from left), with Rose Javier, Nathan Mendez and Ludi Hughes

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One Comment

  1. This year’s Fiesta brings back memories of Mila but many who never attended in past events came to support Nanding to cheer him up and to make sure that despite Mila’s absence, the show must go on! What a great feeling to see Asians mingling with other Latino and Hispanic groups of entertainers and exhibitors for two days. This is, indeed, a good sign that the Fiesta is here to stay!

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