A FilAm gala at The Plaza

The Philippine Ballet Theater dances to Jose Mari Chan ditties. Photos by Lindy Rosales

By Lindy Rosales

Filipinos love a good party.

Especially if that party meant dressing up in traffic-stopping Ternos and Barongs and the venue was a hotel known to be frequented by the moneyed and the mighty.

On October 17, some 300 Filipino Americans trekked to the grand ballroom of The Plaza on Fifth Avenue for an evening of dancing, stepping out with friends they haven’t seen for more than two years of pandemic-imposed hiatus, and just listening to good old fashioned Filipino music.

“It was well-attended,” raved a New Jersey doctor who attended the $550-a-plate gala organized by the Hiraya Foundation for Filipino-American Heritage Preservation and the Philippine Consulate General.

The cultural program featured the Philippine Ballet Theater dancing to Jose Mari Chan’s pop songs, followed by a Rigodon de Honor where partnered members of the community danced to 15th-century Spanish-era music before breaking out into more modern moves. “Baile Filipiniana” was the theme of the evening.

Dr. Romulo Aromin, chairman of the board and one of the founders of Hiraya Foundation, explained the concept behind the gala was to support the Philippine weaving industry.

Women dressed in flamboyant Filipiniana Ternos

“Sininglahi is one of the prime events of the Hiraya Foundation for Filipino-American Heritage Preservation. In this particular event, we are zeroing in on really underlining the natural weave because we will be supporting their sustainability and viability,” he said. “The Sininglahi will be happening every year. The support of the weaving industry is going to be an ongoing project.”

For this reason, he said, the foundation invited two prominent designers from the Philippines, Cora Manimbo and Ulysses King, known for using natural fibers in their creations. He said Cora uses Pina textile from Aklan while Ulysses’s handpainted Barongs are made of Pina cloth from Lumban, Laguna.

“We are what we wear,” said Nora Galleros, a member of the foundation, and dressed in a Manimbo creation.

In consideration of the younger generation, Aromin said the foundation decided to headline the Philippine Ballet Theater. “The main feature is how to celebrate another aspect of what we do, and that is really looking at the young generation, at how they can project their loves and hope, through the skill of ballet,” he said.

The menfolk wear handpainted Barong made of Pina fabric.

“Hiraya is actually doing a cultural promotion and preservation. So makikita nila dito ang ating mga sariling kultura,” added Aromin.

The other members of the foundation, aside from Aromin, who is chairman of the board, are nursing educator and administrator Dely Go as president; CPA Nora Galleros as treasurer; lawyer Lawrence Safran as secretary; and architect Jovito Rabelas as public relations officer.

Aromin described the members of the foundation as selfless individuals who are doing the work for the love of the Motherland.  “Yung tinatawag nating pagbibigay sa ating Inang Bayan without expecting anything in return.”

Emcee Cher Calvin echoed Aromin that Sininglahi “aims to be an annual fundraising event for the various efforts of heritage conservation here and in the Philippines.”

Permanent Representative to the United Nations Antonio Lagdameo delivered the keynote address. “It is always a pleasure to be among kababayans. I believe there is no country in the world today without Filipino migrants,” he said.

A lovely night of music and catching up with friends.

Deputy Consul General Arman Talbo’s message was a ringing salute to the number and strength of the Filipinos in New York State: He said, “120,000 Filipinos live in NYS. Tonight, let us celebrate you.”

The Philippine Ballet Theater dance series impressed many in the audience. CEO and community leader Loida Nicolas Lewis said approximately 30 dancers from the PBT flew to NYC for the gala and that their performance was “beautiful and breathtaking.” 

Co-chair of the event Deli Po-Go gave a pre-recorded message where she spoke about the objectives of the Hiraya Foundation.  “The aim of Hiraya is really to unite all of us, and to really preserve our culture and heritage. Heritage is the hallmark of the Filipinos, and for our country the Philippines, and its history.”

The Rigodon de Honor with a hip hop twist was choreographed by Shiran Ybanez. Halfway through the square dance, the men exited and left the women to break into their own moves to pop music.  People hooted and cheered their friends doing their thing on the dance floor.

“They murdered the Rigodon,” someone was heard muttering as a joke.

© The FilAm 2022

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