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Biggest Filipino American festival in U.S. marks 30 years in San Francisco

The national flag of the Philippines is displayed on Market Street during the 30th annual Pistahan Parade on Saturday. | Source: Joel Umanzor/The Standard

Hundreds of Filipinos gathered in Downtown San Francisco Saturday for a celebration of the city’s Filipino American community at the 30th annual Pistahan Parade.

Organized each year by the Filipino American Arts Exposition (FAAE), the event is the largest celebration of Filipino culture in the country, according to the organization’s president, Al Perez.

Entering its fourth decade, this year’s theme for Pistahan aimed to take a look at both the past and empower the future of Filipino culture in San Francisco and the Bay Area.

“Let’s not forget the FAAE worked very long and hard for this project, but most importantly, we also have to dedicate and acknowledge all of the Filipino Americans who were displaced by the development of the Moscone Center and the Yerba Buena Gardens,” said Maria Luisa Escalambre, one of the original five founding members of the event.

Dozens of Filipino indigenous dancers, members of various Filipino motorcycle clubs, marchers and lowriders lined Market Street from City Hall, waving the national flag of the Philippines and singing karaoke.

Rollerskaters dance down Market Street during the 30th annual Pistahan Parade and Festival on Saturday. | Source: Joel Umanzor/The Standard

At Yerba Buena Gardens, tents filled with vendors surrounded the performance stage, where a number of musical acts performed while those in attendance ate traditional Filipino foods like lumpia, pork sisig, chicken adobo and pancit.

For Daz Lamparas, a member of the Filipino American Democratic Club of San Francisco, the event symbolizes his community’s desire to let its existence be known to all of the city.

The significance of the event being in SoMa was not lost on Lamparas, who said the area was the original hub of the city’s Filipino culture.

“It demonstrates our existence in not just this city, but this country,” he said. “A lot of Filipinos were pioneers, working in the California farms. Many of my family members were farmworkers who then went on to serve in the military. We are showing that we are here and we’re not leaving.”

Members of the Filipino American Democratic Club of San Francisco pose in front of their banner during the Pistahan Parade and Festival on Saturday. | Source: Joel Umanzor/The Standard

Filipinos from beyond San Francisco also attended and helped organize the event.

This year’s Pistahan Hermana Mayor or Older Sister, Melanie Ramil, who serves as board director of the Asian Pacific Youth Leadership Project, said the annual event has brought her closer to her Filipino roots after growing up on the outskirts of Alameda County.

“I grew up 45 minutes down Interstate 580 where there were no other Filipinos next to me at Livermore High School,” she said. “It is this festival that brought me home to my Filipino community. This weekend gives us the chance to honor the journey of our ancestors.”

Angelo Raimundo of Union City came to support his wife, who was marching with Kaiser Permanente, and also to bring his children and show them a bit of his culture.

Raimundo, who grew up in Manteca and now lives in the Bay Area, said the parade is one that he hopes can be a fun event to teach his toddlers about the Filipino American experience while they grow up in the Bay Area’s diverse environment.

“I brought them here so that they are more aware of their culture,” Raimundo said. “California all together is just so diverse. They have all kinds of friends from different races and cultures, so having them aware of who they are and where their parents come from is super important to me.”