On December 30, 2021, the Philippines’ National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) inaugurated a new Sentro Rizal in New York City. The 36th center to be opened since the first was established in Manila in 2011, it follows the opening of another center in Honolulu on August 26, 2021. The Sentro Rizal’s primary purpose is “the promotion of Philippine arts, culture and language throughout the world.” This makes it comparable to other government-funded cultural institutions set up across the globe, including China’s Confucius Institutes, Spain’s Institutos Cervantes, and South Korea’s King Sejong Institutes.
While Sentro Rizal New York seeks to focus especially on events that connect the Filipino population in the New York City metropolitan area, it is by no means limited to just this group. By providing resources on the Philippines, including a language learning center and a library holding a diverse collection that covers topics such as tourism, investment, and culture, the Sentro Rizal also seeks to attract the attention of interested Americans of non-Filipino descent.
The Sentro Rizal is named after Dr. Jose Rizal, a national hero whose writings advocated for the reform of Spanish rule in the Philippines. Specifically, he sought greater integration of the Philippines into Spain, Philippine representation in the Spanish parliament, the replacement of ethnically Spanish priests with Filipino priests in the Philippines, greater freedom of expression, and legal equality between Filipinos and Spaniards. Though he was never actively involved in the Philippine Revolution, his writings directly inspired the movement. He was executed by the Spanish colonial government, making him a martyr for Philippine freedom. To highlight his importance as a national figure of the Philippines, two of his descendants joined Sentro Rizal New York’s inauguration with NCCA president Arsenio Lizaso to reflect on Rizal’s legacy and its relevance in modern times, especially to Filipino youth.
New York City has a robust Filipino American community, at over 85,000 as of 2015. About 65% of the population is foreign-born, while most New York City Filipinos live in Queens. As New York City is a hub of the Filipino American population on the American East Coast, Sentro Rizal New York reflects both the Philippine government’s interest in better connecting the Filipino American diaspora with its roots and the growing prominence of Filipino culture in the Eastern United States. More and more Filipino restaurants are being opened across the country (especially in major cities such as New York City and Washington, D.C.), while Filipino films have been consistently at the New York Asian Film Festival, including its 20th iteration in 2021. As Filipino culture gets more exposure in cities with large Filipino American populations, Sentro Rizal New York reflects a burgeoning US-Philippines cultural exchange that remains vibrant for all.
Michael Di Girolamo is a participant in the Young Professionals Program at the East-West Center in Washington. He is currently a first-year graduate student at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies.