The ‘Barrio Fiesta’ is something everybody looks forward to. It means literally ‘neighbourhood-party’ and is something that happens in every town and area in the Philippines. Outside of the Philippines it is a chance for Filipinos to celebrate Philippine culture, find out more information about Filipino TV, music, food, property, balikbayan boxes, remittance, etc, find out what Filipino businesses exist in the community and catch up with old friends. The biggest date for many in the UK Filipino community is the Barrio Fiesta sa London. It is in its 26th year and is managed by the Philippine Centre and held in Lampton Park, Hounslow. It is by far the biggest gathering of Filipinos you will see outside of the Middle East, United States and of course, the Philippines.
When I was a child I used to travel to the many Barrio Fiestas with the Rondalya as my mother played the bamboo instrument and made some of the outfits and I played the maracas. I also remember acting as chaperone for many little Miss Philippines pageants during the Fiestas. It was all fun, the atmosphere, the food and the fact I saw so many brown people like me! This had a massive affect on me personally as during the Barrio Fiesta, I did not feel out of place. As I got older and going to Barrio Fiesta became more of a social activity, the feeling of excitement was a little lost. As a teenager I had very little interest in the artists flown over to sing for me, the food was always so expensive it was always a good idea to bring some baon and many of the exhibitors and stalls advertised crates and boxes, house and lots, apartments, remittances and phone cards; all things I didn’t need and I was not interested in. The highlight for me were, sticks of barbecue, Halo Halo, who I would see that I already knew, the girls I didn’t already know and the funfair, which is where everything happened. For many, little has changed.
On a much broader note, when I was younger even the community was different. I remember my mother would meet a Filipino lady on the bus and the next day she’d be in our house eating as if she was family! I remember being excited when I met new Filipinos, so many times my mother would start a conversation with another Filipino and then make me talk to their child. I remember seeing an older Filipino gentleman on the bus everyday on my way to school as a child along Sloane Street, I’d say hello as that was what I was taught to do and now as a man, I see this gentleman at Filipino events as like me, he is involved in the community. This was how the community was built. Now I see a young Filipino in the street and they give me a bad look as if I’m somehow offending them. Perhaps it’s because there are so many Filipinos in the UK, the novelty of meeting a Filipino is lost?
Many of my generation comment that Barrio Fiesta is no longer relevant. Gone is the community building and celebration, instead it is all about selling cable TV, property back home, crates and boxes to fill the home you’ve bought, telecommunication to speak to those looking after the home and tour operators who will fly you to your new home. Unfortunately, the biggest issue is the cost of food. This is something that is inevitable, the cost of holding an event as large as this is massive! This passes onto the stall holders who pay for a stall and then onto us who buy food from the stall. I love sticks of barbecue, and so does my daughter. I spend at least an hour every year tracking done the best value stall…and it is different every year! It’s the same story with Halo Halo.
However the Barrio Fiesta is rightly positioned as important for the community, as it serves as a focal point for Filipino businesses and community groups. This year in 2010, rumours are that there is far greater community involvement and cohesion, which is long overdue. Granted the love teams will still be flying over, but this attracts the TFC viewers who watch regular Filipino TV. This year is ABS-CBN led, whereas last year was GMA. Ideally Barrio Fiesta would include all that is Filipino, not just one network but both, so ABS-CBN and GMA. Both networks have a raft of stars in the public interest. Personally Manny Pacquiao is one of few Filipinos I would pay to go and see / meet and he is GMA so would contractually not be able to come.
Now that I run Philippine Generations, Barrio Fiesta has a bit more meaning, it is a chance for us to meet many of the people who interact with us through our Facebook, website and twitter. It also enables us to meet new people who had no idea we existed and there are groups who listen to the children of Overseas Filipinos. The nature of Barrio Fiesta is that size is irrelevant, as long as a community is given a chance to celebrate. Over the years we have seen many smaller Barrio Fiestas serving small communities such as Mitcham, Bournemouth, Milton Keynes, Bradford, Dublin, Morden, Wales…the list could go on forever! I remember there used to be a Barrio Fiesta in Holland Park and in Philippine Village in Kent.
Although Barrio Fiesta has turned into something of a commercial machine, so has everything else in the world. So more should be done to support these smaller Barrio Fiestas as they should not be seen as competition. The more people getting involved in Filipino projects and talking about the Philippines, the more we as a people will be acknowledged and heard. This is why Philippine Generations does not try and compete with other Filipino groups and organisations, instead we try and work with them, as that is the true nature of Bayanihan that was taught to us by our parents and we in turn try and teach our children.
Whether you are a fan of Barrio Fiesta or not, Philippine Generations will be there on the 17th / 18th July in Lampton Park for the 26th Barrio Fiesta so London.
By Adrian Williams