The Arizona Community Celebrates Filipino American History Month with a Vibrant Display of Culture and Unity
The Bayanihan Festival Dance has evolved into what has become a welcome addition to recent cultural events around the Valley of the Sun. It is colorful, energetic, multi-generational, and involves performers that represent the Filipino American community in Arizona as a whole. This unique dance was also the featured halftime performance during the match-up between the Phoenix Suns and Adelaide 36ers on October 2, 2022.
Video Courtesy of the Phoenix Suns Organization
A True Milestone for the Filipino American Community in Arizona
Appropriately, the Filipino term “Bayanihan” refers to the spirit of communal unity and cooperation. This is a fitting description of a dance that celebrates the beauty of the Philippines. Jhen Facto-Aquino working alongside Jennifer Delmar Lewis in a collaborative effort has transformed this dance into a source of community pride. The opportunity to perform in front of Phoenix Suns fans during Filipino American History Month has been especially meaningful to those involved.
“It has been an honor and privilege to be a part of our Filipino American History month activities. I take great pride in the level of recognition and visibility our community has received due to this performance. The fact that so many individuals and organizations have come together and worked diligently toward a shared vision and goal says a lot about us. This year’s celebration will remain one of my most memorable. This was a milestone for Filipinos here in Arizona because it reflects our continued growth and influence.” says Jennifer Delmar-Lewis current Chairman of the Council of Filipino Organizations of Arizona Foundation (CFO) and also President/Cofounder of the Filipino American Marriage-Group of Arizona (FAMAZ).
There was an undeniable sense of accomplishment and joy present among participants following the halftime show. Traditional Filipino values that include Bayanihan, camaraderie, and respect were all highlighted and a part of the entire process from beginning to end.
Jhen Facto-Aquino, Phoenix Asian American Lions Club Leos/Cubs Director and Vice Chairman of the Council of Filipino Organizations of Arizona Foundation (CFO), used her expertise to enhance the choreography, expand the pool of participants, and overall take the dance to the next level. She included even more cultural components and modern elements like hip-hop dance.
The performers are particularly thankful for Jhen and praise her poise, strength, and skill as a choreographer. Most importantly, they admire her effectiveness as a coach who pushed them to perform at their very best. “It takes a lot of work and a very special person to bring something like this together, especially with so many performers involved,” says Beth Haley whose two children performed during the halftime show.
Celebrating Filipino American History Month
The halftime appearance and many of the related activities surrounding this year’s Filipino American History commemoration were coordinated by the Philippine American Chamber of Commerce of Arizona (PACCA). Through the chamber, a select group had an opportunity to meet and greet Kai Sotto a rising Filipino talent who currently plays for the Adelaide 36ers. Filipino fans are definitely excited about the prospect of Sotto playing in the NBA and many speculate that he could make a move to the NBA in the near future.
PACCA also hosted a business mixer prior to the start of the game. Most notably, the program included a Proclamation of Filipino American History Month and the Commendation of the Filipino American Businesses and Professionals Month from the Office of the Governor both presented by Mr. Barry Wong, Executive Director of Equal Opportunity. The event, held inside the Tanduay Hideway at the Footprint Center, was sponsored by Tanduay, Megaworld, Flaming Pig/ Scooptopia, Orb Remote, and the Council of Filipino Organizations of Arizona.
The original sequence was performed by the Filipino American Marriage-Group of Arizona (FAMAZ) for the first time at the 2022 Philippine Independence Day Celebration of Arizona (PIDC) as a part of their Cultural Day Program. However, the dance which now includes a host of organizations & individuals, has grown from around 30 to 78 participants.
The initial inspiration is credited to FAMAZ member Sylvina Bennink and is based upon a recounting of her unique experience as a participant in past hometown celebrations. This ultimately served as the catalyst that sparked the vision and creativity of Lynerose Morris who artfully reimagined and carefully choreographed the original performance.
According to Morris, a long-time member of the marriage-group, “Building a sense of strong community through shared experiences and activities like these are a critical part of our mission”.
By design, the Festival Dance is intended to be a reflection of the unique character and cultural heritage of the Filipino American community so naturally “…it should be as inclusive as possible.”, says Morris, after the group was invited to perform and represent the Filipino community during a recent fundraiser. It was at this point that FAMAZ and the Phoenix Asian American Lions, Leo, and Cubs decided to team up.
A Heartfelt Thank You to Members of the Filipino American Community of Arizona
“Thank you to families and guests who came out to the event to support and cheer them on. Thank you again, Prince Edward and Tita Ethel Luzario from the Philippine American Chamber of Commerce (PACCA) for the invitation to perform. Thank you to Ate Jennifer Del Mar-Lewis (CFO Chair) for allowing me to organize, guide, and push the performers ‘todamax’. And a special thank you to Lynerose Morris for your beautiful creation and vision of this Bayanihan Festival Dance. And finally, thank you to all the 78 performers who joined to make this performance epic.” says Aquino in a humble expression of appreciation directed to the leaders, organizers, and participants involved with this year’s celebration and performance.
- Panyon Team: Mehlanie Punzalan, Victoria Aceveda, Maria Teresa Paredes, Teresita Dapora, Cora Simmons, Angelita Delmar, Thelma Bellomo, Lerma Angoluan, Adelaida Waters, Marilyn Tabamo, Melynna Punzalan, Syhanna Khassie Mazon, Maria Parker, and Hilda Palamos
- Flag Team: John Mark Aquino, Brent Lewis, Ashton Lewis, Robert Johnson, Arturo Nelson, Timothy Shirk, Lawrence Giacomelli, and Elijah Haley
- Majorettes: Mcquinzie Figueroa, Violet Aceveda, Shamcey Gamboa, Azalea Sweetlove Griffiths, Lauren Dumlao, Autumn Tallant, Aldrie Muelle Rivera
- Ati-Atihan: Tristen Aquino, Angel Aquino, Miquala Figueroa, Jayden Paredes, Ashley Gamboa, Jon Zaki Cacnio, Jan Dwayne Cacnio, Timothy Stevens, Justyn Aceveda
- Sinulog Queen: Vaneza Hodges
- Singkil Fans: Natividad Defrances, Minerva Huerta, Evelyn Lane, Anchelle Arciagra
- Singkils Umbrella: Gigi Gross, Mabel Gamboa, Geraldine Griffiths, Vincent Gomez
- Kasayahan Dance Troupe: Fresca Dacayo, Acacia Estanislao, Veronic Del Carmen, Rudy Pingue, Marilyn Poland, Vencelle Dacayo
- Cultural Fashion Show: Mrs. Philippines Arizona 2022 – Mrs. Karla Monic San Agustin with Thomas Constantino, Mrs. Luzon Arizona 2022 – Mrs. Jasmine Gayongala, Mrs. Visayas Arizona – Mrs.Ghiezl Cacnio, Mrs. Mindanao Arizona – Mrs. Joanne Pena, Sheryl Lara Cruz, Joanne Weiss, Raquel Riturban, Shanti Hermo, Maribel Biso, Joan Anderson
- Butterfly Team: Liesly Sosobrado, Sheila Ruiz, Leizel Anyayahan, Ailyn Shirk, Gabriella Gonzales, Annabel Delong, Mary Jane Barjose, Arlene Thompson
- Bulaklakan: Brianna Lewis, Jewhel Aceveda, Sydnee Haley, Kaila Ruiz, Alivia Dizon
Marc Garcia, an Account Executive with the Phoenix Suns, Phoenix Mercury, and Arizona Rattlers, shared his reflections on the Filipino American History Month celebrations. He stated, “The arena loved it. It was something unique but in the best way possible. Arizona is not used to the Filipino traditions and seeing it in full display as a fellow Pinoy made me proud to be Filipino.” Garcia also emphasized the significance of ongoing engagement with the Filipino community in Arizona, suggesting a focus on local Filipino restaurants and businesses as a way to further celebrate and showcase the community’s rich heritage.
About the Author
Michael is joined at the hip with the Filipino American community through family, friends, and his love for the food. Over the past 15 years+, he has been an active "behind the scenes" contributor to a variety of Filipino community groups, events, and activities. Michael is also ringleader of the FilAm FamBam crew and in his free time enjoys RV'ing and anything tech.