ON THE ROAD TO: Legacy to Filipino Expatriates in Kansai
with the Philippine Community Coordinating Council
by Neriza Sarmiento-Saito
The autumn season reminds me of a beautiful story about a leaf named Freddie. It has fascinated me through the years which in turn has given me a more philosophical view in life.
"Freddie was born on a branch of a tall tree ..." so goes the story. He was born along with other hundreds of leaves in spring. An elder leaf kept him company through the changes of seasons -- they got soaked in the rains, dried up by the sun ,and got tossed by the wind. In winter, the old leaves fell one after another until Freddie fell on the ground, too. But as he fell, he saw new leaves coming out. Freddie closed his eyes, feeling confident that these new leaves will grow and continue to give shades to people.
In the course of my life as an expatriate here, there has been remarkable achievement in the growth of the Filipino community in Kansai. From church based communities to groups that address specific needs of long-term residents and newcomers.
Exactly 30 years ago when I arrived in Japan, most community events were potluck parties, bazaars, and variety programs that I co-emceed with Danny Alvez. Occasionally, we participated in the Kobe Matsuri and the Midosuji Parade where we had a chance to introduce unique Philippine traditions to the locals and at the same time instilling a sense of national pride in us.
On rare and priveleged occasions, there were interviews I had with former President Cory Aquino for Pinoy magazine, one of the first newspapers published in the Kansai area in the early 90's, sat side by side with Joseph Estrada at an event in KDDI Hall in Osaka, emceed at receptions honoring former President Fidel V. Ramos during his official visits to Japan and at the APEC summit. On behalf of the Filipino community in Western Japan, I was tasked to present a resolution to former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo during her visit in 2002.
At that time, our group was known as the PCEC or Philippine Community Executive Council, an offshoot of the AdHoc Committee that organized the Centennial Celebration of Independence held at the Asian Trade Center. In a display of patriotism, several Filipino community groups joined the two-day event that included a Rigodon de Honor, Bb. Kalayaan pageant, drawing, singing and dance competitions, a centennial parade. A powerful cast performed an original musical tableau that I scripted "Ang Kasaysayan ng Pilipinas" with the invaluable support of the Philcongen staff and a handful of Filipino community leaders and academicians, who would later be the pillars of the present PCCC: the late Frank Catajoy, Bibiana "Mommy” Ishita, Prof. Masanao Oue, Mely Kohno, Carmen Matsushima, Amy dela Cruz, Vicky Wakiyama, Malou Sato, Noemi Itsukage, Ellen Takeuchi, Joy Yoshitomi, Henry Tabao, Roman Santos Jr. , Joey Manalang, Susan Fuchizaki, Mari Hashizuka and many more.
The need for networking among the communities in Kansai was also brought about by experiences in the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake. Another objective of the PCEC was to promote positive images of the Philippines through original musicals depicting the hopes and tribulations of Filipino expats in Japan like " The Gaijin."
In 2002, after the preparation of a new set of by-laws, I was elected as the first Chairperson, followed two years later by Sally Takashima. Noemi Itsukage was the 3rd Chairperson and Jun Silva was the 4th.
In March 2011, under a revised set of by-laws, the new set of officers is headed by Ms. Ma. Lourdes V. Sato. Even before their oath-taking ceremony May, 2011, the officers have already lined-up events like a charity concert on Aug. 21 for the victims of the Great Tohoku earthquake and the 3rd PCCC Undokai (sports event) on October 10. The performers for the charity concert are composed mainly of those who have helped PCCC since its infancy. Vicky Wakiyama will direct and choreograph the concert. Vicky graduated from the Southwestern Univ., major in Physical Education. As founder and director of the Philippine Dance Company, Vicky has introduced Philippine dances at various international and local events in Japan. Ellen Flores, of the Tanglaw Filipino Community is the musical director of the charity Concert. She is the daughter of the late comedian Nanding Flores of the famed Mr. Baltic and Co. of Philippine television in the 70s. She has also performed in all events of the Filipino Community and won
First Place in the Asian Charity Music Festival some years ago.
Another talented singer Jhoanne will be joining Ellen onstage. She has represented Osaka in the Utawit finals in Tokyo about 5 years ago. Lorna Cifra's original composition will be the concert's theme music. Another highlight of this concert will be the participation of some Japanese-Filipino children led by Miho Sato, Malou's youngest daughter. Band music will be provided by the Tardy Boys.
Decades ago, the first batch of expats in Kansai can be likened to young leaves sprouting out of branches, bravely facing the rain, the sun and the wind. We were all striving to instill pride in our identities as Filipinos. We were all undergoing experiences living on foreign soil. But, what matters most is what has become of us out of those experiences. Wouldn't it be nobler if the fallen leaves can be lighted to keep the blaze alive for their compatriots?