In wake of typhoon, Filipino celebration takes on special meaning


Members of East Hawaii’s Filipino community gathered at the Edith Kanaka‘ole Multipurpose Stadium on Saturday to welcome the Christmas season, as well as to revel in their shared cultural traditions, in a barangay, or village-style, celebration.

Known as “Pasko Sa Ating Bahay” or “Christmas at Our House,” the event features the songs, the dance, the games, the clothing and the food of the Philippines as attendees of all ages were invited to participate.

Demonstrations included hands-on instruction on making a parol — an intricate star-shaped Christmas lantern made from bamboo and brightly colored paper that represents the Star of Bethlehem.

There were also plenty of handmade crafts and goodies available at a number of booths, as well as information on traditional Filipino tattoos.

Held from 10 a.m.- 2 p.m., the annual event took on a special significance this year, in light of the November typhoon that rocked the islands, leaving death and destruction in its wake, said Anna Joaquin Matsui.

“We need to nuture our relationships and our culture,” she said. “There’s a lot of people here (in East Hawaii) who are second, third and fourth generation, already, who are no longer connected to the motherland. Especially at times like these, it’s important to celebrate, and realize that life goes on. … To say ‘We will weather this.’”

A member of the Hilo Visayan Club, Matsui played a central role in organizing Big Island relief efforts after Typhoon Haiyan.

“I went over there the week after it hit,” she said, “although I didn’t get to go out to the sites, because I got sick right after I arrived in Manila.”

Matsui is no stranger to relief efforts, having also organized relief following Typhoon Ondoy in 2009.

This time around, she was impressed with how much more organized and generous the Big Isle’s Filipino community was in its response.

“I was really surprised, just how generous everyone was. … One small church just sent us a check for $2,000. And it wasn’t even a Filipino church. Everyone in the community has come together and responded,” she said.

Members of the Hilo Visayan Club manned a large booth off to the side of the stadium, asking for donations and selling T-shirts for $20 apiece that would help fund relief efforts.

“Last month, we shipped clothes we collected, about 12 pallets of clothes, total,” said Visayan Club member Oliver Parenas, whose company Bayan Ko specializes in, among other things, sending Balikbayan boxes — gift boxes sent home to family and friends by Filipinos living and working abroad.

“An event like this (the typhoon) binds us together. It’s more of a call for us,” he said.

Email Colin M. Stewart at cstewart@hawaiitribune-herald.com.