By Marivir R. Montebon
New York – Through its challenges and triumphs, the biggest Philippine fiesta in the east coast turned 20 this year, celebrated in a gleeful, well-attended cultural fun-fare and trade exhibition that appealed to millennials and the not-so-young alike, on the rainy weekend of August 11 and 12, 2018.
The Fiesta in America 2018 at the Meadowlands Trade Exposition Center in Secaucus, New Jersey, was graced in attendance by government officials, celebrities, and the media as well. “There is always something for everyone in the family in Fiesta, hence we come here every year. It has been our fifth year now. I like to watch celebrities from the Philippines,” said Minerva Hisoler, a resident of Union in New Jersey who came on Saturday together with husband and their two children, aged 12 and 15.
“Congratulations to Fiesta for the 20th time of celebrating Filipino culture in the biggest indoor consumer exposition and cultural show of its kind,” said Jersey City mayor Steven Fulop.
Looking back from where it all began, founder and CEO Fernando Mendez said that Fiesta in America reached its 20th year because “we kept an eye on a dream – to be a mover of multi-sectoral trade and cultural exchange anchored on Filipino identity.”
For what it’s worth, Fiesta has become a network for business people and a converging point for friends and family to gather and have a reunion, a feast of Filipino foods, some games for children and the older ones such as chess.
“Here at Fiesta, I think there are some people who meet and fall in love too, or meet and fall in love again,” he said in jest.
Consul General of New York Claro Cristobal commended Mendez and his team. “Fiesta has become an institution and is fast becoming a valued tradition. I hope you never tire of working for the betterment of our community.”
Hoboken mayor Rhavi Bhalla said that events like Fiesta in America show how impactful Asians are in the US society, being the biggest indoor exposition in the east coast. “Filipinos embody respect for hard work, love for family, esteem for higher education, and active participation in the electoral process. I wish continued success for everyone attending the Fiesta this year,” he said.
The Philippine Tourism and the Trade and Industry departments were this year’s partners of Fiesta in America along with the ABS-CBN TFC and Philippine Airlines.
Star-studded Cultural Show
Singer-composer-comedian Ogie Alcasid was the featured Philippine star for the two-day cultural show, along with real-life sweethearts singer-actor Janella Salvador and Elmo Magalona for the 20th anniversary.
Gary Lewis and the Playboys wowed the crowd and sent them dancing with their 1960s music. Lewis is the son of famous comedian Jerry Lewis and was married to a Filipina, Sara Jane Suzara, with whom he has one son. Way back in the late 60s and early 70s, Gary and the original The Playboys band performed in Manila’s Araneta Coliseum.
Mendez’s decision of having Ogie Alcasid as the top featured artist for the 20th anniversary was a perfect choice. Alcasid has maintained his popularity among Filipinos here and in the Philippines because of his original Philippine compositions and refreshingly tasteful humor.
“I did not realize ang dami ko palang millennial na fans dito!,” he said to his giggling mostly middle aged audience on Saturday. Alcasid has produced 18 albums, most of which have hit high on the ratings chart. He is a TV host of ABS-CBN’s top-rated comedy and variety shows.
Showcasing Philippine-made products
Unique to the 20th year of Fiesta in America is the showcase of nine export producers directly from Cavite, Ilocus Sur, Leyte, Manila, Quezon, Naga City, Samar, and General Santos City in the Philippines. By joining the Fiesta trade exposition, these entrepreneurs have opened their businesses to the vast US markets.
The Epicurian Gourmet Foods, known for its famous Big Ben’s Gourmet Imus longganisa and Olivia’s Coffee Seed Corporation, which specializes in blended Arabica, Robusta, and Excelsea coffee, drew curious consumers, wondering if these Philippine products would ever be in the shelves of grocery stores here.
From General Santos City, the RDEX Food International Philippines have brought in delicious and healthy dried tropical fruits, chocolate bars, chips, and canned seafood which GenSan is known for.
From the Visayas, cocoshell handicrafts by Lolo Bobby Handicrafts in Leyte was quite an attraction, especially for mothers who bought kitchen utensils made from coconut shells. “These are durable and have no toxic reactions to food like aluminum and stainless steel,” quipped Linda who bought several pieces of spatula for her kitchen.
At the Eva Marie Arts and Crafts, woven mats, tote bags, and party purses using ticog weed was the main product. Owned by Eva Marie Yu, these intricate and sturdy handicrafts emerged from living traditions of Basey in Samar.
From the Psalmstre Enterprises in Manila, placenta and anti-bacterial soaps were its main offering. Its Olive C transparent soap, said Jaime Acosta, is a hot item because of its effectivity against pimples and blackheads.
As a support to the staggering capital needed to breakthrough in the US market, the Fiesta queens of 2018 have channeled the funds that they raised this year to the research and sales blitz of the Philippine exporters at the exposition.
Nemesia Vilma Munoz was crowned as this year’s Fiesta Queen, followed by Wildina Col Enjambre, and by Rose Pacia Labelle.
Total Wellness for Consumers
In response to hypertension and diabetes as the most notorious diseases of Filipinos, the trade exposition is on its third year of offering health conscious business programs and food products, and health education. Goya Foods, for example, conducted a seminar on healthy ‘cultural eating’ and ancestral diets. The AARP, on the other hand, gave free workshops for seniors on financial, mental, and physical well-being.
Empowerment Achievers 2018
Before the two-day exposition and cultural show, the traditional People’s Ball took place as the first of the wave of fiesta celebrations. Held at the Hilton Meadowlands on the evening of August 10, nine awardees were honored in the 2018 Empowerment Awards.
These were: Jersey City mayor Steven Fulop, president and CEO of the Clara Maass Medical Center Dr. Mary Ellen Clyne, regional nurse consultant Annabelle Villafuerte, retired Jersey City municipal court judge Victor Sison, Filipino Express publisher Lito Gajilan Jr., educator Ramil Buenaventura, real estate businessman Antonio del Rosario, CEO of Hudson Premiere PT and Sports Sandra Gail Frayna, and cultural organization Kinding Sindaw.
As the fervor of the fiesta subsides and what remains are happy memories, CEO Nanding Mendez is at it again: brainstorming, probing on what to do worthwhile and innovative for the next Fiesta in America. (Featured photo L-R: ConGen Cristobal, Mrs. Marilou Cristobal, Laura Garcia, and Nanding Mendez)