New Jersey’s ‘Fiesta in America’ honors late founder, other Filipino achievers

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07:29 AM August 22nd, 2013

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By: Elton Lugay, August 22nd, 2013 07:29 AM

A moment of remembrance for the late Mila Mendez, led by Nanding Mendez (second from left), with Rose Javier, Nathan Mendez and Ludi Hughes

SECAUCUS, New Jersey—Anger over the P10-billion pork-barrel scandal was momentarily brushed aside as Filipinos in the New York Tri-State celebrated Fiesta in America on August 17 and 18 in New Jersey.

But the mood was not entirely merry. Guests and performers paused for a moment of prayer to remember Philippine Fiesta founder Mila Mendez, who passed away in September after a lingering illness. The Philippine Fiesta, founded by Mila and Nanding Mendez 15 years ago, was renamed Fiesta in America this year by Nanding to “embrace our neighboring Asian and Latino communities.”

“I think it’s about time to join forces and make this event into one big celebration of diversity and that is really what America is all about,” the Fiesta CEO told The FilAm.

The Fiesta will continue Mila’s legacy, said the organizers.

“One of her dying wishes was to make sure that the Fiesta will continue the tradition of coming together in the community,” said festival director Ogie Afable.

And so for two days, the Meadowlands Exposition Center in Secaucus rocked the music and the dances and showcased the cuisine of various ethnic communities around the Tri-State. There were several Asian and Latino booths selling food and trinkets and offering health services, which the Filipinos welcomed.

Actor Piolo Pascual was brought in from the Philippines to give the event the dazzle of show biz. He performed five songs to riotous applause. He was joined by pop singer Angeline Quinto.

Folk singer of the ’70s Florante of “Ako’y Isang Pinoy” fame was a hit for his nostalgia music.

“Sabayan ninyo ako,” he urged the crowd. “Alam ko palagi ninyo itong kinakanta sa karaoke. But today, ang composer mismo ang mag-gigitara para sa inyo.”

The homegrown Sounds of Manila, led by vocalist Suzanne Lansangan Sabangan, matched the popularity and verve of the visiting artists with their selection of Original Pilipino Music hits. Performers from the Chinese, Korean and Latino communities also entertained and introduced themselves to the predominantly Filipino audience. JR

Lavarro, who lost his voice toward the end of the program, was the emcee.

Rows of food booths offering the usual fare of pancit, pork barbecue and halo-halo sustained the visitors and replenished their energy.

The celebration was not complete without the People’s Ball held at the Double Tree Hotel in Newark to kickstart the Fiesta weekend. Attended by nearly 500 people, 10 prominent Fil-Ams, led by Jersey City Council Member Rolando Lavarro, were bestowed with empowerment awards. Lavarro is the first Filipino and Asian to become a member of the council.

“Mila may be gone but I’m sure she’s happy to see her baby is growing strong,” said Mila’s confidante, Ludi Hughes, who chaired this year’s awards event.

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