Para Sa Bayan. For my Motherland.
Reflections & images by Stella Sait, UK When does one become patriotic? During war? During disasters? Or when you are away from your home country feeling homesick and missing everything you grew up with? Celebrating Philippine Independence Day in the Philippines meant a beach holiday for me, a school holiday and just a typical day off at work hanging out with friends. I watched the commemoration on TV, but this never meant anything to me. I joined the school parades when I was young, but I didn’t feel any attachment to the celebration at all. When I moved to the UK some 25 years ago, I noticed that it was such a big deal with Filipinos in different parts of my new country. There were barrio fiestas, a delayed Santacruzan, or even simple get-togethers with fellow Pinoys. The weather was starting to heat up in mid-June so barbecue parties were in fashion and who would like to miss a Filipino barbecue (grilled chicken, liempo, pork belly, pusit or squid) with aubergine salad and bagoong and finished off with our famous halo halo. It felt like home…and it felt patriotic remembering everything about your home country. After a few years in the UK, I was requested to be an officer for AngloFilipino UK, a not-for-profit organisation that would foster brotherhood between Filipinos and the Brits, promote our culture in the UK and help our fellow kababayans in times of need like disasters, consul advice. Philippine Independence Day was a key date to celebrate. I was inspired by my invitations to previous Barrio Fiestas and Filipino parties and we at Anglo Filipino vowed to share these events on a bigger scale. Our first year saw us organising a charity ball where we were asked to wear Filipiniana themed outfits. The ballroom was packed with Filipina ladies dressed in the traditional terno, Maria Clara inspired gowns and the men, Brits and Filipinos were in Barong Tagalog. It was a sight to behold giving me goosebumps and making me feel patriotic at the same time. The very first time I felt it in my heart. A group of ladies from the Gosport and Portsmouth, including myself were then requested to dance the Pandanggo sa Ilaw in front of a large crowd of British and European guests and their Filipino families. This performance paved the way for more Filipino folkdance performances in succeeding Barrio Fiestas, charity events and private parties. The dance group called The Filipino Cultural Group of Gosport and Fareham was then formed and costumes were shipped from the Philippines, folk dances like PayPay de Manila and a Muslim inspired fan dance were choreographed and added to the existing repertoire. Regular practices were also scheduled.It became the official dance group of AngloFilipino UK.All of us felt proud of our Filipino heritage and culture. We enjoyed every minute of our practice sessions and performances, explaining the history and meaning of our performances to our British and European families and friends. This is patriotism for me.