By Deanna Tamayan
In the Philippines, fiestas are attached to a religious celebration which usually coincides with the feast of the patron saint of the province or barrio. This is usually followed by a religious ritual of some kind, to include a procession or a parade with a marching band, non-stop entertainment and gastronomical delights. The event culminates in the crowning of the village beauty queen, the highlight of the night.
Needless to say, migrant Filipinos have yearned for what they left behind and fiesta celebrations were introduced in Australia in the mid 80s – first in Melbourne followed by Sydney. Brisbane followed, then Perth and most recently Adelaide has jumped into celebration mode too. And all was good for awhile as people flocked to the event.
However, lately, and judging by the dwindling crowds at fiestas in the last few years, one can’t help but wonder if they’re fizzling out. Except for the barbecues, fiestas no longer sizzle! The age-old formula of food, entertainment and beauty queens no longer seem to attract crowds despite the fact that the Filipino population has more than doubled since its original inception in Australia. Year in, year out, it’s the same old thing! The fiesta organisers have failed to factor in the changing times and continue with the same tired formula that is passé. And crowning glories are multiplying.
“Nakakasawa na, kasi!” is a comment often made by Filipinos who no longer attend. And to that statement, organisers retort by boasting of their years of experience. As one member of an organising committee snapped back: “Haay, 35 years na kami, dapat magpasalamat.” Surely, Filipinos are appreciative and realise that efforts are all on a volunteer basis or so most of us would like to think so. However, we do not need to suffer the pains of attendance. They have failed miserably at generating excitement. At a recent fiesta, the crowd was even excluded from the pleasure of watching the main guest.
Unbelievable! It’s been a case of diminishing returns and club organisers continually complain about the loss of profit. But forget not that for some it’s all about the dollars with government grants to boot for unfulfilled community projects.
In the past few years, some have tried desperately to rejuvenate the event by adding attractions – the inclusion of export displays, exhibits, paintings of the weirdest kind and other what-nots. But they still fail to understand the very essence of fiesta or they have forgotten what it’s like. Some have made it so clinical that one wonders why it isn’t part of a hospital fete. They fail to inject the unique spirit embedded in our culture that is the true fiesta back home.
These fiestas are usually run by a committee comprised of closely knit individuals and volunteers. Rather than reaching out to new members for fresh new ideas, some arrogantly remain closed and trapped in their own thinking. Exasperated and as expected of the Filipino culture, some decide they can do better and stage their own fiesta type event.
Although for others it is simply the desire for their “legacy” and for others, the lure of the dollars. Hence, other fiestas have sprouted, without even consideration of the conflict in schedules. In Sydney alone, there were three in a span of a month – yet all failed to deliver, although they all think they did. One called it “Pasko” but forgot what Christmas is all about back home.
In the eighties, retail stores were scarce. People would go to a fiesta if only to obtain their favourite delicacies and bring home a taste of the Philippines to munch on for a week.
Nowadays, there’s a store in almost every suburb. People no longer have to battle the crowd for an overly priced “halo-halo”.
The participation of most regional clubs at the fiestas have provided a slice of the Philippines and added extra colour to the fiesta. However, with much infighting over the past few years, people have opted out than in. Furthermore, and perhaps more importantly, organisers are not marketing savvy. They fail to promote the event effectively.
Most think, that they can do without the media and rely on Facebook to spread the news which has not been as effective as they’d like to think it was.
With inflated entrance fees, the high cost of food, the lack of something new annually, the inability to promote effectively, and no transparency for the financials, and they sure have found the recipe for a disaster. Some have offered free entrance but still lack the insight for the right ingredients for a successful fiesta.
So who knows when fiestas will last? It’s time for organisers to evaluate and face up to reality. Someone had better come up with something new and creative – and fast. Otherwise, sadly, fiestas may simply fizzle out.