Tuesday, April 30, 2013


The nascent Filipino community in the Virginia heartland celebrated a coming-out-party of sorts when it organized their first fiesta at the Richmond Convention Center last Saturday (April 27).

“We don’t know how big we are,” said Rudy Bolipata, a long-time Richmond resident. “But when we have gatherings, we notice there are always a lot of new faces.” He said community leaders cooked up the Filipino Fiesta not only to showcase the Filipino’s rich cultural heritage but also partly to gauge just how large they are. And from the fiesta’s smashing success, they obviously were large enough.

The last Census suggests there are fewer than a thousand Filipinos in Richmond, the seat of the Commonwealth of Virginia, and its adjacent counties. About an hour-and-a-half’s drive from Washington DC, this old and historic city lies between the large, rapidly-growing Filipino-American communities in the national capital region and the Tidewater region which includes NorfolkVirginia Beach and Newport News, among others.

“Dati isang association lang kami,” Bolipata explained, “ngayon mayrun na ibang lumulutang.”

From parishes and neighborhoods, Filipinos are slowly showing their collective clout. Perhaps evidence of this was last weekend’s Filipino Fiesta that was attended by Fil-Am Congressman Bobby Scott (3rd Dist., Va.) and former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and former Democratic Party chairman Terry McAuliffe who will be battling for the Governor’s post in November (Cuccinelli dropped by in the morning and McAuliffe arrived shortly after his Republican rival left, according to Bolipata).

Some might be surprised that there’s been a Filipino American Association of Central Virginia (FAACV) since 1972. Romy Hernandez, another longtime Richmond resident, said one of the most active Filipino organizations here is from the Our Lady of Lourdes parish which will be holding its 8th annual Filipino festival this August.

One of those parishioners is University of the Philippines-trained educator Eddie Ilarde who volunteers to teach folk dances to 2nd generation Fil-Ams here. A math teacher by profession, he says he’s just one of about 200 Filipino teachers in Richmond and nearby Chesterfield, Petersburg and Hanover.

“You bring whatever you have and you share it,” he explained of the Kultura Pilipino, a Fil-Am cultural ensemble that includes both young Fil-Ams and their non-Filipino friends who’ve been enamored by the regal “Singkil” or the lively “Maglalatik”.

“Mga ka-klase ng mga anak namin,” Ilarde explained of their recruits, “Kapag nakikita kami mag-practice they want to join because the dances are very challenging and we encourage them to come.”

There are others helping him with the teaching, Ilarde says, some former members of the world-renown Mabuhay and Bayanihan troupes who’ve settled in the region. 

“We have a relatively young community,” Bolipata averred. “We have (Filipino) teachers, nurses and IT professionals who work for companies here. We have doctors – there are 14 of them in Petersburg. Maraming lumilitaw because of mixed marriages – you can see them now but not before.”
Some Filipinos from other parts of the country have decided to settle there. “Mas tahimik dito kumpara sa ibang lugar,” he added.

Among them is Vellie Dietrich Hall, a successful businesswoman and political activist from Butuan City, who with husband Harry sold their house in Springfield (Northern Virginia) and moved to the outskirts of Farmville (no, not the Facebook app, it’s actually the seat of Prince Edward county, west of Metro Richmond).

A longtime Republican stalwart, she’s been part of Gov. Bob McDonnell’s board of advisers since 2010. She recently opened Vellie’s Boutique and Specialty Gift Shop at Diamond Hill in Lynchburg, at the foothills of the scenic Blue Ridge Mountains. Diamond Hill is a retreat facility that offers bed and breakfast style lodging “where Southern hospitality and Asian elegance meet”.

“Sigurado next year this is going to be bigger,” Bolipata enthused, telling no one in particular that the cavernous Richmond Convention Center might be too small for the Fil-Am community’s next fiesta. “The first is always the most crucial, how you start and make it happen. With this group, you can expect it to be bigger and better.”

No comments:

Post a Comment