By Dan E. Nino
It was moving. It was touching. There was a civic and patriotic pride among the Filipino Americans who celebrated for the first time the proclamation of the Philippine Independence Day in front of the well-manicured lawn of the Cerritos Civic Center under the blazing sun on June 14.
Despite the late Spring noon-day weather, the festivities encapsulated all the patriotic fervor of the Filipino community who were embraced by their adopted country, the U.S.A.
Aside from the formal ceremony, historical and musical presentation and cultural entertainment, it was doubly fitting filled with Filipino pride when five Filipino American elected officials across town witnessed the 116th Independence Day celebration. Cerritos Mayor Mark E. Pulido, Bellflower Mayor Sonny Santa Ines, former Artesia Mayor and current Councilman Victor Manalo, Carson Mayor Pro Tem Elito Santarina and former ABC Unified School District Board President and current Board Member Armin Reyes together with Philippine Consul General Leo M. Herrera-Lim to Los Angeles, beamed with pride. Captain Keith Swensson of the Cerritos Sheriff’s Station joined in the celebration and introduced Lieutenant Eduardo Arnaldo from the station, who is of Filipino ancestry.
The Filipino American community representing various civic and business sectors in the Cerritos area came in full circle with attendees served with light snacks and refreshments.
A touching tribute filled the air when three descendants of the Philippine revolution were honored for the heroism of their forefathers. Mayor Pulido and Consul General Herrera-Lim presented plaques to Renato Rizal, grandnephew of Philippine National Hero Dr. Jose Rizal; Marvin Diwa, great grandson of Ladislao Diwa, one of the three founders of “Katipunan,” which waged war against Spain; and Romeo Ricarte, Sr., grandson of Gen. Artemio Ricarte of the Philippine Revolutionary Army.
Mayor Pulido also recognized and thanked the team of organizers who staged successfully this historic event for the first time despite the short period of preparation. He said, “As Mayor of Cerritos, I want to commend the Filipino American community of Cerritos, especially the Organizing Committee and generous event sponsors, food donors and talented performers for presenting the first celebration of Philippine Independence Day in Cerritos.”
He made special mention of Pangasinan Brotherhood-USA which served as the fiscal sponsor.
“Cerritos is a diverse and vibrant community of people from all over the world. It is heartwarming to see a celebration – commemorating the declaration of independence from colonial rule – be held in our community, which is a shining example of equality and inclusiveness.”
“I thank the new Philippine Consul General Leo M. Herrera-Lim and actor Dante Basco who grew up in Cerritos, for joining us in this historic celebration.”
The young Basco who served as master of ceremonies is a pioneering Filipino American actor, poet, writer and producer whose career has spanned over the last two decades and brought to life iconic characters such as Rufio in Steven Spielberg’s “Hook,” starring alongside Robin Williams and Dustin Hoffman; as Prince Zuko in Nickelodeon’s phenomenal series, “Avatar: The Last Airbender”; and as Ben Mercado in the Filipino American independent film classic, “The Debut.”
Basco was born in Pittsburg, CA, and comes from a Filipino American family of five talented siblings who were raised in Cerritos, CA and attended Tetzlaff Middle School here in the ABC Unified School District. The audience gave him a warm welcome for his return home to Cerritos.
Current and former State and local officials were also on hand to grace the event among them Artesia Mayor Pro Tem Miguel Canales, Artesia Councilman Ali Taj, Bellflower Unified School Board President Debbie Cuadros, Cerritos College Board Trustee John Paul Drayer, former Assemblyman Tony Mendoza and former Cerritos Mayor Laura Lee.
Several candidates to the Miss Philippines-USA, Miss Young Philippines-USA and Binibining Pilipinas-USA beauty pageants were also in attendance as volunteer ambassadors of goodwill.
Consul General Herrera-Lim in an upbeat speech expressed his pleasure for being assigned to Los Angeles not only for its pleasant weather but takes pride of the estimated 800,000 Filipino Americans that reside in Southern California out of 3 million nationwide. He quipped, “I hope that Mayor Mark Pulido or any other Filipino Americans can be elected to the U.S. Congress someday.
Prominent Filipino heroes of the Philippine’ quest for independence from Spain – Dr. Jose Rizal, Andres Bonifacio, Apolinario Mabini, Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo, Gabriela Silang and Tandang Sora – were also honored when their huge portraits were paraded proudly then hoisted towards the center stage by six men in their resplendent Barong Tagalog which is the Filipino national costume.
Cerritos area talents were tapped by organizers to participate in the ceremony, render patriotic songs and musical tributes to the festivity: A Filipino American Musical Ensemble rendered a rondalla musical prelude; the Filipino American Law Enforcement Officers Association marched in a Parade of Colors; Ruben Cuatrona, Jr. sang the U.S. National Anthem while the Filipino Seniors of Cerritos Chorale performed the Philippine National Anthem. A song invocation was performed by the Holy Family Church Mass Harmony Choir.
Maaikee K and Samantha Murray performed a duet of “Ako Ay Pilipino” (I Am A Pilipino); the Filipino Cultural School Students performed the “Silong Sa Ganding Folk Dance”; the Whitney High School Club Kaibigan, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary year, wowed the crowd with their intricate Tinikling and Bulaklakan Folk Dance; 10-year-old Reneese Velez sang “Dahil Sa Iyo”; The Filipino Seniors Chorale of Cerritos sang “Sa Libis Ng Nayon”; the Get Back Band played a medley of English and Pilipino danceable music; a chorale group of Filipino students from the ABC Unified School District led by Ruben Cuatrona, Jr., Maaikee K., Michael Keith, Reese Valdez and Samantha Murray performed “Heal the World”; Erwin Andaya evoked nostalgia while dishing out patriotic and love songs.
The festivity was capped by a community singing of “Bayan Ko (My Country) which drew misty eyes from the audience who were mostly clad in their Filipino attire.