A Fiesta like no other

Philippine Fiesta organizers Nanding and Mila Mendez. Photos by Elton Lugay

By Elton Lugay

Amid the heavy downpour, hundreds of guests streamed into New Jersey’s Sheraton Hotel August 20 looking their best in ternos and barong for the People’s Ball that kicked off the annual celebration of Philippine Fiesta’s cultural festival and trade exhibit.

The exhibit, now on its 13th year, is “a celebration of what it is to be Filipino in America, our second home,” said organizers Nanding and Mila Mendez. It was held August 20 and 21 at the Meadowlands Exposition Center in Secaucus, New Jersey.

The glitzy People’s Ball was organized to raise funds for Fiesta’s many causes. One of them is the Knowledge Channel Foundation which provides educational cable TV to classrooms in Philippine provinces. This is in line with Fiesta’s support for early-start literacy among disadvantaged Filipino children, said Mila.

Though the main objective of the gala was to set the stage for the annual festivities that followed over the weekend, important events have been added to make the celebration much more meaningful.

“This is also the second year that we highlight the support of private institutions for empowering the lives of Filipino Americans,” said Nanding. Four individuals were named Fiesta Empowerment awardees: Suellyn Ellerbe, EVP and COO of St. Clare’s Health System; Jake Kahen, general manager of Hudson Toyota; Anthony Paredes, founder and managing partner of AF Paredes and Co., LLC; and Emmanuel Moya, CEO of Fluidyne International Corporation.

To coincide with the 400th founding of the University of Santo Tomas in Manila, Rev. Gary Villanueva and Francine Savellano were given Outstanding Tomasian awards recognizing their dedication to their vocations and their service to the community.

The US Pan American Asian Chamber of Commerce (Northeast) honored as Rising Stars Erwin Santos, general manager of Phil-Am Merchandising; and Rafael Lopez, COO of ABS-CBN International. Reporter Don Tagala received the trophy on behalf of Lopez. The award is part of the chamber’s community outreach to encourage the FilAm business community to participate in the Supply Diversity Corporate Program.

Consul General Mario de Leon lauded the efforts of the Mendez couple for their dedicated work “in putting together yet another tapestry of Filipino food, song and dance at its finest.”

To cap the evening’s entertainment program, Teresa Palencia presented the finalists for the Fiesta’s beauty pageant competition: Jessica Anne Gabat, Lara Hirshenson, Marison Munoz and Melissa Pianin.

Emceed by JR Lavarro and directed by Ogie Afable, spectacular performances throughout the night were rendered by musical talents Alyssa Shoemaker, April Talangbayan and Michael Young, a Michigan-born saxophonist who is now a music teacher at UP.

Elton Lugay is a journalist, publicist and community events organizer from Queens.

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