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Fiesta Pilipinas Comes Full Circle

By Ricky Matthew

AUCKLAND – The distance between New Zealand and the Philippines is nearly 8000km, but what separates Filipinos from their homeland is more than just a 16-hour flight or a 900-hour jeepney ride.

Filipino migrants in New Zealand find themselves so far from their homeland that it can be difficult to find a space to immerse themselves and their children in the Filipino culture.

The longing to connect with their cultural roots shines a light on the importance of community events to help keep patriotic spirit burning.

“An event commemorating Philippine Independence Day can help reignite patriotism,” says Sheila Mariano, the publisher of Filipino News.

“There are few big events like the one we organise annually, because we are so far away from home,” she explains.

Sheila refers to the grand annual Fiesta Pilipinas, an event that has changed its structure over the course of 24 years. 

This Auckland mega-event began as a cultural festival and trade show held at the Auckland Showgrounds, but has morphed into something much bigger.

“The cultural festival and trade show has progressed over the years. It first became a Philippine Independence Day event, held annually. Later, the Filipino Kiwi Hero Awards and the first ever Filipino cultural pageant featuring both males and females were incorporated into the event as well,” explains Mel Fernandez from Filipino News.

“The event was very big pre COVID, but during the COVID period we downsized into a barrio fiesta feel. Then in 2022 it became a formal sit-down dinner event. This year, however, due to a revival of demand for events, we are bringing back a lot of different aspects like the Hero Awards and up to 4 cultural pageants. The Filipino Kiwi Music Awards will also make an appearance.

“Our awards recognize Filipinos who have gone above and beyond – from outstanding community leaders and migrant advocates to business achievers and sports heroes and there is also a special focus on the praiseworthy achievements of our youth.

“With so many talented Filipino chefs in New Zealand, our Chef of the Year Award is one of our most coveted awards. In the past we’ve had the likes of Leo Fernandez, a NZ Masterchef runner-up and celebrated vegan chef Angel Apun, who is pioneering plant based Filipino food and this year our awardee does not fall short of excellence.”

The growing demand for Filipino events can be put down to the rapid rise of the Filipino population over the last few years, as Mel explains. “When we launched Fiesta Pilipinas there were around 20,000 Filipinos in New Zealand. Now the number exceeds 100,000. That’s why the scale of our Fiesta this year has to match the size of the population. Responding to the need for expansion, we have gone back to where it all began at the Auckland Showgrounds.”

Past iterations of the event have always been community and culture focused and Mel says that this year’s event will not stray away from that.

“One of our objectives is to provide a space where Filipinos can appreciate their culture and reinstate their sense of pride. For the youth it is an ideal opportunity to learn about their culture and to participate in the traditions of their parents and grandparents.

“Our Fiesta Pilipinas Independence Day Commemoration will be held on the 8th of June at Auckland Showgrounds. This FREE event, with lots of parking, will run between 10am and 4pm, with special events and entertainment running at different times of the day. Look out for a huge display of Filipino food, Filipino businesses, community groups, information stalls and cultural displays.”

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