Filipinos are a religious bunch. After the Easter celebration in the spring, Filipinos gather in their hometown for their town fiesta–usually on the feast of the town’s patron saint. Folks from the city or ili, return back to their barrio to reconnect with families and friends.
Here in Hawai‘i, it’s no different. Filipinos statewide celebrate the month of May as Fiesta month. Although there are certain Philippine fiestas that predate the Spanish conquest of the Philippines, many of the fiestas have become Filipino Roman Catholic feasts.
In the Philippines, Flores de Mayo, translated as “Flowers of May,” is celebrated during the whole month of May. Flores de Mayo is a religious festival in honor of Mary, the mother of Jesus, and marked with offerings of flowers to the Virgin Mary.
On the last day of the Flores de Mayo, a religious procession—the Santa Cruzan—is held. The Santa Cruzan depicts the finding of the Holy Cross by Queen Helena, the mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine, who ended the persecution of Christians. The Flores de Mayo is celebrated throughout the Philippines including Batangas, Bicol, the Ilocos regions, and even the Western Visayas.
While some of Hawai‘i’s Filipinos try to be politically correct and downplay the Fiesta’s religious connections, one cannot escape the religious history of the Fiesta, especially when it’s celebrated in May.
O‘ahu’s Filipino Fiesta
On O‘ahu, the Filipino Community Center will celebrate its 25th Annual Filipino Fiesta. Except for 2014, the Filipino Fiesta is always celebrated at Kapi‘olani Park. This year’s Filipino Fiesta will be held on Saturday, May 6 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Themed “And the fun continues…,” the Filipino Fiesta began in 1993 when Eddie Flores, Jr. of L&L fame, decided to create a Filipino Fiesta to build awareness for the yet to be built Filipino Community Center. “We are very proud of the Filipino Fiesta because it showcases our Filipino history and culture. We want everyone to know that Filipinos come from different regions and every region has a different culture. Many locals think Filipinos are all alike but we come from a country of over 7,000 islands and over 70 dialects,” said Flores.
The start of
the Barrio Fiesta
Maui’s Barrio Fiesta started as a one-day affair (10 a.m. to 6 p.m.) on Sunday, May 31, 1970, as part of the Maui Filipino Community Council’s Fiesta Filipina, whose general chairperson was the late Raquel “Nancy” Andres.
Andres and her co-chairperson, Greg Peros, with Maui Filipino Community Council president Paul Pladera providing oversight, set out to, as written by Andres, “bring Philippine culture and portray Philippine life in all its forms: traditional dances, enchanting music, and festive atmosphere. What are featured during the Fiesta give others an insight of what the homeland is like—full of gaiety, action, and color. For truly Hawai‘i, as the melting pot, is composed of many cultures and Filipinos here in Maui should all be proud to give their contribution to the fullest extent.”
“Manang Nancy wanted to spread the Filipino culture. She was the brains behind the Barrio Fiesta and asked me to be part of it,” said Peros. “I was fresh out of the U.S. Army and I wanted to contribute to the Filipino community, which was at a crossroads with the influx of many immigrants from the Philippines. We wanted to share our rich culture with everyone, including the local Filipinos.”
The event was advertised as a “Filipino Barrio Fiesta” and was co-sponsored by the State Foundation on Culture and the Arts. The committee purchased two advertisements (on page A2 of the May 23 and May 27, 1970 issues of the Maui News) and listed the events which would be held:
- Filipino Folk Dancing
- Philippine Handicrafts
- Simulated Cock Fighting
- Singing Contest
- String Band Contest
- Filipino Costume Contest—Ternos, Kimonas, and Barong Tagalog
- Sports Event—Sipa Sipa and Greas-ed Pole Climbing
- Booth Contests
- Selection of Miss Barrio Fiesta 1970
The May 27, 1970 issue of The Maui News reported “A Barrio Fiesta is a celebration offering thanks to the patron saint of a particular ‘barrio’ or district for a bountiful harvest. It is a week long celebration in which there are sports events for the young and old.” A demonstration of roasting pig (lechon) Filipino style, was being undertaken by the Filipino Cultural Club, according to the Maui News.
The first Barrio Fiesta was held at the War Memorial, on the grounds next to the War Memorial pool. Shirley Evangelista was crowned the Miss Barrio Fiesta and yes, there was a cock fighting demonstration. Participating organizations included Council of Political Action (COPA), Filipino Cultural Club, Kahului Catholic Club, and the 6th–11th Increment Filipino Association, among others.
In 1971, the Barrio Fiesta became a two day affair (Saturday, May 15 and Sunday, May 16) at the War Memorial gym grounds. The Santa Cruzan procession began at the War Memorial baseball fields. “Dios te salve, María, llena eres de gracia, el Señor es contigo” was sung by participants during the Santa Cruzan.
By 1974, the Barrio Fiesta became a three day affair and the competition between the participating organizations increased. Elaborate booths depicting bahay kubos were created, with art displays in an entire room of each booth, the Miss Barrio Fiesta contestants raised thousands of dollars, and several Filipino folk dance troupes participated in a dance competition.
The fiestas in the 1960s
But even before the 1970 Barrio Fiesta, several Filipino associations held a variety of fiestas. The Maui News’ archives lists Flores de Mayo festivals in 1960, 1961 (held in Lahaina; Carmen Hufalar crowned Flores de Mayo queen), 1964 (Gloria Calma crowned Flores de Mayo queen), 1965 (held at St. Anthony), 1968 (held in Kahului), and 1969.
A Pista Sa Santo Niño was celebrated in Pu‘unënë in 1965 while the first Filipino Fiesta was reportedly held at Kā‘anapali Beach Hotel in 1968. In 1969, the Filipino Cultural Club initiated a Filipino Fiesta night.
But it was the desire to bring all unit organizations of the Maui Filipino Community Council together that was the impetus behind the Barrio Fiesta. Andres, who arrived on Maui in 1969 after marrying Rev. Justo R. Andres, the associate rector of Good Shepherd Church, was a member of the Saniatan ti Amianan Philippine Folk Dance troupe that toured California and Hawai‘i in 1964. Andres, who was a talented musician, became involved in Maui’s Filipino community and had bright ideas but knew she needed the support of the old-timers. “It was Nancy’s idea to start the Barrio Fiesta. She developed the concept and because she was new on Maui, she worked through some old timers to get it done,” said Agrifina Cabebe, who would collaborate with Andres on many projects and activities.
48 Years of History
While the Honolulu Filipino Fiesta claims to be the largest, Maui’s Barrio Fiesta has been in existence for forty-eight years. Flores admits he actually traveled to Maui to get some ideas for the O‘ahu Fiesta. “I came to Maui to see why Maui’s Barrio Fiesta was so successful. I learned Maui’s Barrio Fiesta was very successful because it had the support of Maui’s Filipino community and they were very proud of the Barrio Fiesta, ” said Flores.
Maui’s Barrio Fiesta had a real cultural village atmosphere because each participating organization created miniature nipa huts. O‘ahu’s Filipino Fiesta, however, rented tents for their food booths and sponsors.
Over the years, however, Maui’s miniature nipa huts disappeared for a number of reasons—the fire code, the inability to harvest bamboo, and the lost art of nipa hut-building that the Sakadas brought with them. In 2006, the year of the Filipino Centennial, the booths from the Maui Fair were used and bamboo façades were placed over the booths. “We wanted to make the 2006 celebration a very grand affair” said Florante Garcia, who chaired the Barrio Fiesta in 2006. “So we rented the booths from the Maui Fair and brought in a singer from the Philippines. The following year, we continued with the fair booths and the food vendors were happy with it.” The old timers said it was nice but not the same as the good old days. For tax reasons, in 2006, the Barrio Fiesta was transferred from the Maui Filipino Community Council to Binhi at Ani, which held a 501 (c)(3) tax exempt status. In 2012, the Barrio Fiesta would be reduced from a three day affair to a two day affair.
But the costs of staging the Barrio Fiesta—rental of facilities, booths, tents, stage, etc.—led the Binhi at Ani Board of Directors to make a difficult decision. “We analyzed our expenses and found that we would save approximately $5,000 in expenses if we moved the Barrio Fiesta,” said Garcia, who became president of Binhi at Ani in 2014. So in 2016, the location of the Barrio Fiesta moved from the War Memorial soccer field to the Binhi at Ani Center in Kahului and held on only one day. To some, the 2016 Barrio Fiesta was a bit disjointed—with the entertainment inside the hall and the food booths outside—and spacing was not at its best. But financially, it made sense. “In 2016, our revenues were positive,” explained Garcia “compared to significant losses in 2014 and 2015, so it was the correct decision by the Binhi at Ani board.”
emphasis on culture
The 2017 Barrio Fiesta will return to two days on Friday, May 26, from 5 to 10 p.m., and Saturday, May 27, from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. The main stage will be outside near the Jehovah’s Witness boundary, with food booths located outside.
“This year, the Board of Directors of Binhi at Ani is very excited about the Barrio Fiesta,” said Nora Cabanilla Takushi, the new president of Binhi at Ani. “We have reconfigured the layout so the main stage will be outside so those who are purchasing food from the food booths can also enjoy the program.”
Hungry folks will be able to feast (or take home) adobo, balut, bangus (marinated boneless), cascaron, chow fun, lumpia, miki, pansit, and more. Participating organizations include Alcalanians, Good Shepherd Episcopal Church, Ilocos Surian, Lahaina Filipino Catholic Club, Magsingal, and Maui High School ELL. Along with the food booths, there will be a farmers market ready to sell fresh vegetables and produce.
“The committee has worked hard to develop a great program,” said Takushi. “The Barrio Fiesta will begin on Friday at 5 p.m. with the Opening Ceremonies, followed by a procession with the queens, a Flores de Mayo presentation, opening remarks, our Guest Speaker, Lt. Governor Shan Tsutsui, and remarks by Mayor Alan Arakawa.” Friday night’s entertainment will feature Good Shepherd Episcopal Church Filipino Folk Dance troupe, an International Fashion Show presented by Madelyne Pascua, the International Housekeeping Awards, entertainment by hotel employees, the introduction of the Little Miss Barrio Fiesta participants, and a Karaoke contest, with $300.00 awarded to the first place winner.
“On Saturday, the Barrio Fiesta opens at 10 a.m. and the morning entertainment will begin with Tekniqlingz from O‘ahu, followed by a Barrio Fiesta costume contest, with $100 for first place and $50 for second place for both males and females. The Veterans Memorial Service will be held at 12:00 noon with the Grease Pole contest at 1 p.m. The Grease Pole contest winner will receive $300, with other qualifying participants sharing in the $200-plus pot,” said Takushi. “The Little Miss Barrio Fiesta will begin at 3 p.m., and the evening’s entertainment will feature Dance International Foundation, Escrima, the crowning of the 2017 Miss Barrio Fiesta, the presentation of the 2017 Binhi at Ani scholarship awards, Tekniqlingz, and Zumba.”
The Barrio Fiesta basketball tournament featuring twelve teams from Maui, and teams from O‘ahu, Big Island, Kaua‘i, and Lāna‘i, will be run simultaneously, with games at both the Wailuku gym and the War Memorial gym, according to Donnie Dadiz, the director of the basketball tournament.
The Barrio Fiesta
“But the committee is very excited about what’s dubbed as ‘The Barrio Fiesta Experience’,” said Takushi. “Inside the Binhi hall, those who enter will be exposed to the various cultural groups within the Philippines. The ‘Barrio Fiesta Experience’ will feature a replica of a Bahay Kubo, built by the Bahay Kubo Heritage Foundation, which is the organization leading the restoration efforts of the Bahay Kubo at the Heritage Gardens in Kepaniwai. And there will be seven cultural villages from some of the regions/provinces in the Philippines.”
Those regions and the coordinators are:
- The Cordillera (Abra, Apayao, Benguet, Ifugao, Kalinga, and Mountain Province) village will be coordinated by Zaldy and Nita Ugalino.
- The Ilocos Norte village will be coordinated by Melen Agcolicol.
- The Ilocos Sur village will be coordinated by the Ilocos Surians, under the presidency of Romeo Guzman.
- The Pangasinan village will be coordinated by Telly Urban.
- The Metro Manila/Quezon village will be coordinated by the Maui Filipino Chamber of Commerce Foundation, under the presidency of Sharon Zalsos.
- The Cebu village will be coordinated by the Sto. Nino Association, under the presidency of Leizl Oandasan.
- The Mindanao region will be coordinated by La Galería: Compañía Baile Filipino, under the leadership of Lawrence Pascua.
“We will also have a Philippine Art display coordinated by renown artist Philip Sabado and his wife Christine. They will also host an art party for youth on Saturday afternoon and an art party for adults on Sunday evening” said Takushi.
“We’re very excited about this new feature of the Barrio Fiesta,” said Takushi,” and we couldn’t do it without our Barrio Fiesta Experience sponsors: HMSA, Monsanto, Alexander & Baldwin Foundation, McDonalds, and Philippine Airlines, who will be donating a number of airfares to the Philippines.”
In just two years, the Barrio Fiesta will be 50 years old. Though it has faced many challenges, externally and internally, the Barrio Fiesta has survived. Maui’s diverse community, including Filipino immigrants and local Filipinos, appreciates the multi-faceted culture that only a nation with 7,000 islands and over 70 dialects can offer. The Barrio Fiesta—the longest running Filipino Fiesta in the United States—continues to be the standard of sharing the rich Filipino culture.
Welcome to the Barrio Fiesta. Photo courtesy Maui Filipino Community Council
25th Filipino Fiesta. Poster courtesy Filipino Community Center, Inc.
1972 Art display of Christ the King Catholic Club. Photo courtesy Maui Filipino Community Council
Basketball Tournament info for the 48th Barrio Fiesta on Maui.
2009 Santa Cruzan. Photo courtesy Alfredo Evangelista
2011 Barrio Wear contestants. Photo courtesy Alfredo Evangelista
In the 1974 Good Shepherd display booth, Catalina Evangelista demonstrates the art of spinning cotton while Raquel “Nancy” Andres looks on. Photo courtesy Good Shepherd Episcopal Church
Portions of the nipa huts were transported by truck. Photo courtesy Good Shepherd Episcopal Church
Santa Cruzan. Photo courtesy Maui Filipino Community Council
These participants pose for a shot during the 1970 Barrio Fiesta. Photo courtesy Maui Filipino Community Council
Cockfight demonstrations were a part of the 1970 Barrio Fiesta. Photo courtesy Maui Filipino Community Council
Many games for the kids were a feature at the 1970 Barrio Fiesta. Photo courtesy Maui Filipino Community Council
Shirley Evangelista—the first Miss Barrio Fiesta. Photo courtesy Maui Filipino Community Council
The 1973 Good Shepherd Church Youth Choir booth. Photo courtesy Maui Filipino Community Council
The 2013 Lahaina Filipino Catholic Club booth. Photo courtesy Elizabeth Whitehead
The 1974 Good Shepherd Church Youth Choir booth. Photo courtesy Good Shepherd Episcopal Church.