Day 347: Holidays Filipino-Style

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Last month my wife and I celebrated Filipino Arts and Culture at the FPAC 2015 event in Los Angeles. Today we were once again celebrating our heritage at the Pacific Asia Museum in Pasadena.

Every second Sunday, the museum hosts a free cultural event and today was “Celebrate the Holidays Filipino Style.” We were part of a good crowd gathered in the museum’s wonderful courtyard enjoying the music, dance, storytelling, and a fun make-your-own-parol activity.

Of course, no Filipino get-together is complete without an abundance of delicious eats and today was no exception. We munched on chicken empanadas, turon, and sumon. One kind supporter brought adobo fried rice from Gerry’s Grill, but we were already stuffed and had to pass.

As always, the highlight for me was the traditional music and dance, especially the tinikling. Just like at FPAC 2015, the dance troupe was the amazing and inspiring Kayamanan Ng Lahi. I watch with a great sense of pride whenever they perform and today was no different.

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Day 313: FPAC 2015

Tinikling at FPAC 24

Tinikling at FPAC 24

This year’s Festival of Philippine Arts and Culture was a smaller, one-day event at the historic El Pueblo building next to Olvera Street. My wife and I had planned on going when it began at 10am, but ended up sleeping in and didn’t get there until lunch time.

Thankfully, the weather was much milder than a year ago, when the festival spanned two days during an unexpected heat wave in October.

Like last year, I wasn’t too impressed with the food; it was okay, but not representative of the best of Filipino fare. I’m sure there are too many laws and/or permits needed, but it would be great to have roaming food vendors selling taho or barbecue sticks like in the Philippines.

Still, kudos to all of the volunteers who make this event happen. It’s always a terrific celebration of the best of the Filipino arts and cultural community and this year was no different; it was a blast.

We didn’t catch the morning performances, but we saw a few of the afternoon acts after we had checked out all of the booths. Some of the acts we enjoyed: the Prime Note Ensemble, Odessa Kane, the SIPA dance crew, and other outstanding musicians and dancers.

My wife and I always love the traditional songs and performances and we were thrilled to hear our favorite love song “Dahil Sa Iyo” not once, but twice. The first was a traditional rendition and the second was part of a hula performance.

The best part of any Philippine cultural event was saved for last: the tinikling. Check out my short video of this traditional dance on my youtube channel.

Day 237: Grilled Squid

Grilled Squid at Gerry's Grill

Grilled Squid at Gerry’s Grill

It’s been five years since I’ve been to the Philippines and one of the things I miss the most is the inahaw na pusit (grilled squid). Today, my wife and I happened to be in the Artesia area so we had an early dinner at Gerry’s Grill.

Gerry’s is known for its grilled squid and I loved it the Philippines. Their restaurant in Artesia is one of two in the U.S. (the other in Northern California) and I’ve had it bookmarked on Yelp for a while.

The interior reminded me of the Gerry’s I’d been to. We tore into the grilled squid as well as the tuna steak and wolfed down the garlic rice.

The verdict? While not exactly like the Philippines location, it’s close enough in flavor that I’ll be back soon.

I’ve also tentatively started to plan my next trip the mother land.

Day 168: White Rabbit Cafe

White Rabbit's sisig burrito

White Rabbit’s sisig burrito

I was in the Valley yesterday, so I had dinner at White Rabbit Cafe, the brick-and-mortar version of the famous food truck. The cafe’s been here for a few years now and it’s nice to see them growing (they just launched another store in Las Vegas).

Ever since I used to track their location via Twitter, White Rabbit has consistently served delicious Filipino fusion food. My favorite is still the pork sisig burrito; the pork is flavorful and it’s packed with garlic rice and a fried egg. It’s not the best sisig you’ll ever have, but it’s a great way to introduce people to Filipino food.

My fantasy football league has had trays of White Rabbit’s lumpia, sisig, and rice on its annual draft day potluck party a few times. I can think of no better recommendation than, “White Rabbit fed my 12-man fantasy league and the food was gone before the draft was finished.”

 

Day 166: Great Night of Blue

Dodger Stadium, aka Heaven.

Dodger Stadium, aka Heaven.

Rather than update my previous post about the Dodgers’ Filipino Heritage Night, I’m recapping that great day here.

My family and I left early so we could beat traffic and enjoy a pork BBQ plate at Bernie’s Teriyaki. We succeeded on both counts: we experienced no traffic and beat the dinner crowd at Bernie’s. We’re onto the third generation of our family who have eaten here (they opened in 1977) and the taste and quality have remained the same over the years. It also seems like they haven’t upgraded the facilities in nearly four decades of business, but if ain’t broke, why fix it, right?

Our bellies full of delicious Filipino-style BBQ and rice, we made the quick 10-minute ride to Dodger Stadium and, having paid half-price for parking online, we zoomed right to the shortest Pre-Paid Parking line and made it to Lot 1. Although it’s a trek to the Right Field Pavilion, it’s normally not a problem, especially if it means saving money (the closer Preferred parking lots cost $35 online and $50 at the gate). Unfortunately, my knee was sore from a Monday full of driving and moving, so I had to take it at a slower trek.

Once we got closer to the stadium, we noticed people at a truck handing out freebies. Normally, this thing would be swarmed by fans, but once I saw the name on the side of the truck, I knew why most fans were ignoring it: [INSERT NAME OF CABLE COMPANY THAT WON’T SHOW DODGERS GAMES TO MOST OF LOS ANGELES HERE]. The young interns were all smiles and giving away free Dodger cups to the masses. From what I saw, fans were just walking by, but I’m sure the workers got some verbal abuse as more fans walked in. For the record, I decided to take a cup, but vowed to scratch out the cable company’s name.

So, my ambivalence about taking said cup aside, I was fired up for the game. It was the first game I’d been to in a few years, after the previous non-Magic-Johnson owners nearly ruined everything great about the Dodger Stadium experience. Mainly, however, the thrill of celebrating Filipino Heritage Night with my family and my brothers’ families outweighed everything else.

We met up, collected our cool Filipino Heritage Night Dodgers shirts, caught part of the Filharmonic performing a few songs, and found our seats. The weather was sunny and mild and once the game started, we were treated to a back-and-forth affair, with the Dodgers prevailing on a walk-off single by Howie Kendrick. The highlights of the game: Yasiel Puig nearly hitting for the cycle and crushing a 3-run home run and Joc Pederson climbing the center field wall to rob the D-Backs of a homer.

Although I would’ve preferred sitting in the reserve section like we did during our last trip to Filipino Heritage Night, there’s something to be said for sitting in the Right Field Pavilion; mainly, it’s the spot where Gibson hit The Home Run. I’ll never forget sitting in my buddy’s truck in 1988, listening to Vin Scully’s perfect call on AM radio: “High fly ball to right field … she is out of here! [long pause as Gibson rounds the bases, then hugs his teammates] In a season that has been so improbable, the impossible has just happened!”

That home run is one of my favorite Dodger memories. My other favorites? All of the games I attend with loved ones.

 

Day 130: Mother’s Day

Hanging out with Mom today.

Hanging out with Mom today.

I hope you, Dear Reader, were able to celebrate Mother’s Day with your mom, stepmom, and/or the motherly figures in your life. I’m fortunate that I’m able to spend time with my mom and I’m cognizant of the moments that I share with my her. I’m grateful for every single one.

Whenever anybody asks who my heroes are, I have a simple answer: my parents. They moved to the U.S. from the Philippines a lifetime ago, giving up their homeland for the opportunity of a better life in America and they’ve succeeded on so many levels. They raised three boys in a foreign land while supporting family members back home. They dealt with their boys acting out typical teenage rebelliousness. And they did it all with dignity and class.

Never have my brothers and I felt a lack of love from our parents, especially our mother. I remember a family party a few years ago where I overheard her talking to a relative: “It’s great when I talk to Ruel now. We’re friends.”

It was the best thing I’d heard in years. From anyone. I’ll always be her son, of course, but I’m thankful for our friendship that has evolved over the years. From our unofficial mother-son book club (we share a love of Tuesdays with Morrie and talked about it for hours) to our passion for going out to eat (we love cooking, too, but finding a new restaurant is something we both enjoy immensely), I cherish the time I have spent with mom as well as the time I will spend with her.

Call me biased, but she’s the Best. Mom. Ever.

Day 126: Delano Manongs

Larry Itliong

Larry Itliong

I learned something about my lolo (grandfather) recently, after watching the Delano Manongs, a documentary now airing on PBS as part of its Asian Pacific Heritage Month programming. I mentioned this to my mom and she said that lolo had worked those same fields. This was news to me, since I only knew about the time he’d spent serving in the U.S. Navy.

As I watched the short film, I was inspired by Larry Itliong’s drive and passion for protecting his fellow Filipinos. He fought long and hard for workers’ rights and partnered with Cesar Chavez. They formed the American Farm Workers union and led the famous grape strike that eventually led to better conditions and pay for the workers.

This history of workers’ rights was interesting and was in line with what I’d learned in college. I felt silly that I never asked mom if lolo had worked there. In retrospect, it makes perfect sense: there weren’t many job opportunities for young Filipinos back then, especially ones like my lolo who only had an elementary school education.

There’s a point in the documentary where many of the manongs (the older Filipino farm workers) decide to continue their work in the fields, while others go off in search of other opportunities. What if my lolo had been one of those that stayed in the fields? Would I be here, typing away on a laptop about him?

I only have a few memories of my lolo, but they’re all good ones. It felt good to add another one today.

Day 107: Calamansi Juice

Calamansi Juice

Calamansi Juice

There’s a produce vendor at my local farmers market that I’ve become friendly with and one day I asked if he could get calamansi for me. None of the other vendors had it, but being a kababayan I had a feeling he’d be able to find some for me. He promised that he’d have some the following week and true to his word, he had a few pounds of freshly picked calamansi.

The calamansi is a small tart fruit that Filipinos use in many dishes. Healthy trees bear fruit all year long; it’s typically squeezed onto pancit or sisig, but it can be used in a variety of ways. It’s used in my favorite dessert these days, mango empanadas, and after I had made my latest batch, I had plenty of calamansi left over.

There was only one thing to do with all of that fruit, of course: juice it. My parents made this throughout my childhood, a cure for whatever illness my brothers or I had. My dad liked to serve it hot and it did seem to have magical healing powers, but I prefer the ice cold version. With the weather jumping back to the 80s, the juice on the rocks is my preferred way to keep cool.

For anyone who can find some of this delicious fruit, here’s a simple recipe for calamansi juice.

 

Day 84: Backcourt in the Front

History: Jordan Clarkson and Jeremy Lin

History: Jordan Clarkson and Jeremy Lin

I had just posted how happy I was to see more and more Filipino Americans and Asian Americans in the news, when history was made: my beloved Los Angeles Lakers starting backcourt was Jordan Clarkson and Jeremy Lin. Although these two will never be confused with Magic and Scott or Kobe and Fisher, it was A Moment due to the fact that they were the first Asian American starting backcourt in NBA history.

Lin is a Chinese American and well-known for Linsanity, the two weeks where he absolutely ruled New York and the sports world. It was the feel-good story of the year, not only for Asian Americans, but for sports geeks like myself.

Clarkson is a Filipino American who joined the Lakers this year and after stints in the Development League, made it to the big team.

Confession: I did not actually watch the game, something I could not have said just two years ago. Since the Lakers bungled the Dwight Howard signing, I’ve lost interest in my team, due to mismanagement (primarily in ownership; yes, that means Jim Buss) and a lack of talent. I support the team, obviously, but after watching a lifetime of games where the Lakers were contenders (if not for the title, then at least a solid playoff team), it’s tough to get excited about a team that has no shot of doing well in the postseason, let alone actually qualifying for it.

Still, the moment was not lost on me and it wasn’t lost on Lin, either. That’s his Instagram photo above, which he captioned with a note about the history he and Clarkson made. Here’s hoping they can somehow drag the Lakers back to respectability next year.

Day 82: Looking Back, Looking Forward

Manny Pacquiao training run

Manny Pacquiao training run

Coming of age during the 70s and 80s, I was aware of the news and happenings of the time, especially when it came to pop culture and sports. I remember the controversy of Three’s Company (a single man living with two single women *gasp*), the Lakers perpetually contending and winning NBA championships, and the revelation that Darth Vader was Luke Skywalker’s father (oops, spoiler alert). I know where I was when Reagan was shot (junior high), then later when the Challenger blew up (high school). I recall waking up one morning learning that John Lennon had been murdered.

What I don’t remember? Much of anything to do with Filipino Americans or Asian Americans. Sure, I remember when Marcos was  overthrown and the rise of People Power (and the tale of Imelda’s shoes), but it was more in the context of world news, as in the Other news that wasn’t mainstream, or didn’t really matter. Maybe I wasn’t looking hard enough then, or maybe I wasn’t as aware as I thought. I would only learn the name Vincent Chin when I was in college during the 90s.

Today, though, it’s not uncommon to see my social media feeds filled with stories of Manny Pacquiao or Jeremy Lin or Russell Peters or any other Filipino or Asian. For middle-aged Filipino Americans like myself, to be able to debate whether or not a Filipino is the greatest prizefighter of this generation is akin to seeing the yellow, blue, red, and white of the Filipino flag planted in Mars. It was absolutely unfathomable then.

And yet, here we are today and Manny is about to take part of the biggest fight of this generation. Last night, a Chinese American led the Lakers in scoring. This weekend, during the NCAA tournament, the hero of the Maryland-Valparaiso game was an Indian American. During my workout this morning, I listened to a podcast interview with one of the funniest comedians on the planet, Russell Peters, as he talked about some of the racism he encountered as an Anglo-Indian raised in Canada.

I love the fact that George Takei has had a career resurgence so late in life and that his Facebook posts are the most re-shared among my friends. I love that Filipinos are frequently seen on the music-contest reality shows, from Jessica Sanchez to the Filharmonic. I love that one of the top sitcoms on ABC is centered around an Asian American family. I love that the name of the sitcom is Fresh Off the Boat, with all of the baggage that comes with such a loaded phrase.

Most of all, I love that for every Takei, Pacquiao, Peters, Lin, Fresh Off the Boat, and more, there will be even more Fil-Ams and Asian-Ams doing similar things in the future. I’m looking forward to those days, but will always look back to remember how far we’ve come.