The many faces of Philippine Independence Day in Melbourne

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The faces of older Filipinos
The faces of older Filipinos

The faces of older Filipinos
The faces of older Filipinos

By Mila Cichello

Saturday June 12 dawned early for many Filipino Australians in the winter grey of Melbourne.

For the new Philippine Honorary Consul Gigi Kalong, it was an 8am start for her first Filipino flag-raising ceremony at Federation Square. Consul Kalong is a popular travel agent and generous sponsor to Victorian community organisations – we welcome and we look forward to working with Consul Kalong!

For Tita Leonie, a much loved Volunteer Driver, it meant steering her mini-van early through the Southern suburbs to pick up frail elderly Filipinos from their Footscray homes to the Knox Fiesta organised by the Centre for Philippine Concerns Australia- VIC (CPCA) and Filo seniors clubs.

Hiyas Dancers and Sam Afra (ECCV) and Mayor Joe Corsari (Knox City)
Hiyas Dancers and Sam Afra (ECCV) and Mayor Joe Corsari (Knox City)

For the elderly members of Australian Filipino Golden Age Seniors in the West, 8am meant meeting time at the Angliss hall to hitch a ride in the Council van with co-members Luisa and Orly to attend the Filipino Ageing Well Forum at Knox.

For dozens of young, baby boomer and senior Filipino and Australian volunteers in the South East Region, it meant getting up by daybreak to set up St Jude’s Parish Hall for the first Filipino Fiesta@Knox. Many volunteers gave up countless hours preparing for the fiesta – there were the artistic Lucy Tesoro field canvas backdrops impressively onstage, vivid flores de mayo floral props, dazzling dance costumes, choreography, bamboo poles, flags, hanging buntings, DJ sound system, angklung instruments, kundiman melodies, boxes of brochures for the information tables, seniors to transport, drinks and food, food, food to cook.

Hiyas dancers with choreographer Ms Ludy Dellamas, in prink costume
Hiyas dancers with choreographer Ms Ludy Dellamas, in prink costume

AND the Fiesta proved to be far more than anyone expected! Over 480 people registered to attend the fiesta. Mayor Joe Corsari who worked closely with Nanay Ching Chavarria and Norminda (from CPCA) opened the fiesta with his own story as a young Italian migrant in 1956. Sam Afra, Chair of Ethnic Communities Council of Victoria (ECCV) and stalwart supporter of the Filipino community in the South East, mingled happily with the crowd. Marion Lau OAM, JP (ECCV Chair, Aged Policy), a respected ethnic community advocate, proudly launched the inaugural Filipino Advisory Council of Elders (FACE), a Working Group convened specifically by seniors for seniors- as the face and advocacy voice for older Filipino Australians.

Judith Capsis and Kriz Aguilar on Angklung
Judith Capsis and Kriz Aguilar on Angklung

Besides listening to the 1898 Declaration of Philippine Independence by General Emilio Aguinaldo and tasting popular Filipino dishes, the crowd of Filos and Aussies also accessed loads of information on topics important to many families: banking, budgeting, youthsaver accounts, Alzheimer’s dementia, aged care programs, carer services, remittances, TFC and others. The 4th Regional Aged Care Forum was jampacked with presenters: Nanay Metring Reyes spoke about the needs of Filpino elders and the activities that they prefer. The Hon Consul Gigi Kalong took time out from her busy day and arrived without fanfare to introduce herself to the seniors groups. Consul Kalong was warmly welcomed by the crowd.

Andy Shome spoke about the successful partnership between his organisation Wesley DoCare and Filipino seniors in the Region. Leti Lorenzana (an accredited NAATI Interpreter) cited examples of the language service needs of Filipino families. Lyn Garcia shared her moving story as carer for her 92-year old mother with dementia who eventually had to go to a nursing home, where nursing staff still had to rely on Lyn for the mother’s communication and care.

From Knox City, the day’s events took a group of us Melbournites to regional Geelong where the Filipino Australian Friendship Association of Geelong Inc (FAFAG) had organised the traditional Philippine Independence Day Dinner Dance for rural families. Filipino and Australian families came, filling the Clubhouse to capacity with warm chatter, laughter and dancing to Lindy’s karaoke music. The remarkable thing was watching the increasingly large number of children and toddlers on the floor, enjoying the dancing and friendly atmosphere. As usual, Fely Spikers and Irene Buckle led FAFAG volunteers in providing overflowing Filo food, Italian pasta, vegetables, bibingka, pavlova, homemade fruit and chocolate bites, cheeses and Aussie sweets to the appreciative public!

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