Nanding Mendez: The improbable journey (From Caloocan egg farm and Makati ad agency to New York holdings)

Nanding at work on his art desk in 2016  

By Len Manansala

Not many native-born Americans who dared to dream big have actually made it in New York, the United States’ financial, media and cultural capital. If the odds for success in the Big Apple are low for immigrants, the chances for immigrants-of-color to succeed in the fiercely competitive city are close to zero. But don’t tell that to Fernando “Nanding” Mendez – he has climbed over, dug under and worked around seemingly insurmountable barriers that have cowed millions of dreamers before him.

“Dreaming is one thing,” Nanding says in his midtown-Manhattan office, two blocks from Grand Central Station and Pershing Square. “Breaking one’s back to make dreams come true is another story. And who has the right to tell the story? Those who saw opportunities behind the roadblocks.”

Nanding’s trek from the Philippines to America was strewn with “Do not enter” signs from the get-go. He and his siblings were brought up in his grandfather’s poultry farm in Caloocan City, adjacent to Manila. From an early age, they helped out by cleaning the layers’ coops and gathering eggs every morning to sell in the market. But Nanding had a talent for the arts that he knew from the onset would take him as far away as possible from the smell of the chicken farm.

Majoring in Advertising, he graduated from the University of Santo Tomas in the mid-1970s with a Fine Arts degree. His stint as Art Director at Philippine Advertising Counselors (PAC) was distinguished by multiple awards for campaigns on behalf of blue-chip national and global brands. Overseas ad agencies took notice, and he received job offers in Singapore and in the United States. “Accepting a position as Art Director in Montana was the most momentous decision I’ve ever made, up to that point,” Nanding recalls. He moved to Billings, MT with his wife Mila and two sons, Nathan and Mervin, in the early-1980s. Deploying his commercial arts background, he first received recognition in U.S. advertising when he won a competition to design the logo of the city of Billings. Another “Do not enter” sign ignored.

With American Dream executive Brian Hague  

Soon after resettling in New York City with his family, Nanding and some Makati advertising colleagues landed an unlikely job producing two annual editions of the first Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi Yellow Pages. “Imagine the nerve of Pinoys writing and designing a business directory for South Asians in New York!” With not a little pride, Nanding remembers those early days of desktop publishing, as well as the groups’ arduous task of assembling directory pages in a cramped apartment in Astoria, Queens.

Ever the restless entrepreneur, Nanding followed up the directory gig by publishing a nationally circulated Filipino American quarterly magazine, Special Edition Press, in 1990. The magazine’s seven-year run built up his Rolodex of connections among ethnic-marketing experts at major U.S. consumer brands. The magazine turned out to be the precursor to his most successful venture to date, not-for-profit Fiesta In America Expo and Cultural Show. Founded in 1996 by Nanding and his late wife (Mila passed away in 2012) as the U.S.-Philippines Trade Show, the indoor festival was popularly known as Philippine Fiesta in its first decade. The expo showcased Philippine exports, tourism attractions, as well as U.S. brands with a stake in the burgeoning FilAm market of New York, New Jersey and peripheral states.

“Our mission back then was to connect Filipino entrepreneurs with mainstream business and Fil-Am consumers through a festival that highlighted immigrant-centered services, Filipino products, heritage and talent,” said Nanding. “The event has grown so much that it has become one of the most effective platforms to promote micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) as well as Philippine tourism in the greater New York-New Jersey area.”

Fiesta In America, as the event has been known since 2013, is now recognized as the biggest annual indoor Filipino event on the East Coast. “Our mission,” Nanding says, “has evolved into serving as the hub of Filipino and multicultural engagement by staging events that enhance the well-being of attendees, their families and their communities.”

Nanding with life partner Laura Garcia  

Apart from Fiesta In America, Nanding’s business interests have expanded into areas that no Caloocan chicken farmer could have predicted: large-audience staged events such as concerts in Atlantic City and New York headlined by icons including Sharon Cuneta, Rico Puno, Nora Aunor, Apo Hiking Society, Dolphy and Zsa-Zsa, plus a host of other luminaries and rising talents from the New York-new Jersey area; residential real estate investments in the two-state area and in the Philippines; graphic design and photography; as well as commercial printing.

Though his path from the Philippines to the Big Apple has been forked with many byways and detours, Nanding remains rooted to his past as graphic artist. Taking time from his various business holdings, he has designed logos for Insular Bank of Asia and America, City Seal of Billings Montana, and won the logo competition of the Philippine Independence Day Committee, Inc. (PIDCI).

In addition to his graphics design success, Nanding has also recently completed a remarkable large ceiling painting in 2021 measuring 12 feet by 9 feet. The artwork is an allegorical representation of angels inspired by the works of selected early Renaissance painters. It was created as a tribute and prayer for those affected by the COVID-19 pandemic during the grim period of 2020-2021. Nanding’s painting serves as a collective replica of angelic images, symbolizing hope, healing, and solace for the individuals who faced the challenges of the pandemic. Visit:

Profiled several times in the Fil-Am Who’s Who, he is the recipient of numerous awards for his civic engagement, including the 2016 Phoenix Award from the Jaycees Philippines-New York in recognition of Exemplary Community Leadership by Jaycee Alumni, and Outstanding Thomasian hosted by University of Santo Tomas Alumni Association.

American Dream in East Rutherford, N.J.,  the home of Fiesta In America since 2022  

Fiesta In America’s 26th Anniversary edition will be staged on Saturday, Aug. 19, 2023 in the stunning Court A of American Dream in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The mall boasts four sprawling theme parks and more than 400 brand-name department stores and restaurants. Due to the success of Fiesta In America 2022, American Dream management predicts a much larger audience turnout this year of more than 10,000 Fil-Ams, aside from the venue’s built-in summer weekend foot traffic of 50,000+ consumers of all cultures.

Recognized as the biggest annual indoor Filipino event on the U.S. east coast, Fiesta In America is a one-of-a-kind cornucopia of Philippine music and dance; local products; tourist attractions; real estate for investment and retirement; native cuisine; and financial, health as well as other immigrant-tailored services. It has been attended by more than 220,000 mostly-Filipino consumers since its inception in 1996. The festival has been supported by hundreds of Philippine, U.S. and international brands eager to tap into the lucrative Filipino American market of the New York-New Jersey area.

For this summer’s edition, the producers invite companies to sponsor, exhibit, advertise and attend. For more information, call 212-682-6610, email or visit

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