Catering trays of Pancit and Lumpia on display, which are classic foods at any Filipino-American household. [Image: Gary Stevens / Wikimedia Commons (CC-BY-2.0)]

The Fiesta Filipina of Greater Kansas City: Celebrating Culture Throughout the COVID-19 Pandemic

ASEAN Asia Philippines

In June 2021, the Filipino Association of Greater Kansas City (FA-GCK) hosted its 44th Fiesta Filipina virtually, taking their decades-long tradition of celebrating Philippine Independence Day by bringing together the community through food, dance, art, and highlighting local artisans and business owners. In 2000, the FA-GCK inaugurated the Filipino Cultural Center of Overland Park as a host to cultural practices such as the Sinag-Tala Dance Troupe, where folkloric traditions survive into the modern day. Tinikling Exhibitions, the Sampaguita Choir, and their monthly Tambuli newsletter are all vessels through which this community can share and preserve the valuable traditions that have shaped Filipino-American experiences. According to the US Census Bureau, in 2019 there were 6,203 Filipinos in the Kansas City Metropolitan area, and 3,909 identified as being native to the Philippines.

In an interview conducted with the East-West Center in Washington’s Young Professional Ryan Roden, Lilian Pardo, one of the founders of the FA-GKC, had this to say on the organization’s goals. “Filipinos are like everyone else. We contribute to society. It’s [the FA-GKC] tackling that ignorance and giving an idea of what it means to be American, what it means to be Asian, and what it means to be Filipino. It’ll help spread the world about pinoy culture, and fight ignorance. And it’s fun too!” 

In 2020, the FA-GCK had to cancel the festival because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and in the following year moved virtual in a two-hour Facebook Live stream, which included historic videos of previous performances, celebrated the construction of the center, and focused on the strength of the community’s past, and why it matters to keep it close. In addition, the Association hosted a pop-up food program where curb-side pickup was offered with classic pinoy foods, such as chicken adobo, pancit bihon, lumpia, and turon. The purpose of the event was largely as a fundraiser so the FA-GKC can continue its community service opportunities. One of these community service programs is in partnership with the Philippine Nurses Association. The partnership provides health service screenings and testing for the community. In 2021, the online event was successful enough to help the organization pay its yearly bills, with only $7 to spare after all expenses. Now, 2022 provides its own questions on how to proceed, and what the community will do in anticipation of the event this year.

Luz Conde, the current president of the FA-GKC, shared that, “We are optimistic, and we have a lot of plans coming. We’ll start back with Pinoy Breakfast where people dine-in called Tapsilog. We are going to make it dine-in for vaccinations only, and have a curbside pickup for those who are not comfortable coming in. Other activities, include our Famous September Affair, had about 400 in-person guests, and planning again to do it this year. We’ll have more activities, and we hope to accomplish it despite the situation of the virus.”

Ryan Ahn Roden is a participant in the Young Professionals Program at the East-West Center in Washington. He is currently a first-year graduate student at American University's School of International Service.