Friday, 15 December 2017

Francis Marte: Creating a World in Watercolour

Imagine seeing a picture frame and remarking to yourself, "What a beautiful photo." Then you take a step closer and realize that you're actually looking at a painting and not a photo, which makes it all the more remarkable! This is the kind of reaction that Francis Marte's artworks elicit.

Francis Marte is a professional watercolourist and charcoal artist, specializing in realistic landscape, cityscape, still life, figurative, and portrait paintings. Francis, during his preschool years, already showed promise as a visual artist and was strongly supported by his family. He took some formal art lessons at age 12 but was generally self-taught. He dabbled in figurative and landscape drawing in pencil and ink, and painting using poster colours and pastels. For post secondary, he studied interior design and did designs for commercial and residential sites in Boracay, Greenbelt, among others, which were featured in Philippine design magazines. His time at the Philippine School of Interior Design enabled him to explore art history, architecture, mechanical and freehand drawing, and colour rendering for perspectives work for architects and proved to be really good at it. It was in this work that he discovered his natural talent in watercolour.

Hailing from Marikina, Francis moved to Jasper, AB in 2007, working in the hotel industry, then to Edmonton where his extended family resides, in 2010. In the midst of his studies for a career move in Edmonton, he enrolled in classes at the City Arts Centre under Edmonton artist Frank Haddock to reacquaint himself with his art. Discovering that he still had the skills, finding some fulfillment in the process and enjoying the feedback from other artists, Francis involved himself into the local arts community and network. This participation provided opportunities to exhibit his works at the Lotus Gallery, Harcourt House, and the Art Gallery of Alberta, and a teaching stint at the Artelier Studios by The Paint Spot. He also provides private lessons.

Although Francis works with charcoal, he specializes in watercolour. Initially the decision to go with watercolour was dictated by economic reasons, i.e. the materials were cheaper, setup did not require as big a space. But he eventually thrived in the challenges that watercolour presents. Watercolour dries quicker, so one has to work faster. He is also fascinated with the transparency of watercolours and the challenge of achieving the cloudy but soft effect, vs oil and acrylic, which are more opaque.

Francis works mostly from photographs and tends to gravitate towards portraits, architecture, landscapes, and high contrast scenes. He spends an average of 16 hours per artwork and finds fulfillment that in every artwork he is able to stretch the boundaries of his skills and provide joy to other people with his works. These same clients have provided good references to other people who became clients as well.

Albeit still young in the arts scene (he has been doing this professionally for only two years now), Francis dreams of being able to devote full time to painting. He currently balances his commitments to teaching, fulfilling painting commissions, and his day job with Alberta Education, where incidentally, his works have not gone unnoticed and are actually utilized in ministry resources. He is cognizant about the financial risks of going full time into his painting as he is still supporting his parents back in Manila.

Francis' art journey is one that starts with what is obviously a God-given talent, and one that continually makes its presence felt in the various endeavours of his life. It is a story where his circumstances always lead him to his art, which in turn provides him a deeper appreciation of the world, through what he terms as his process of immersion involving contemplation, exhilaration, frustration, deliberation and spontaneity. The greatest lesson he has derived from his journey is to not live in fear, and to go pursue your passion.

Experience life through Francis' perspectives. Check out his Facebook page and Instagram - whether to enrol in his classes, contact him for a commission, or just view his various works. For his works evoke something in a person, may it be vitality, serenity or wistfulness. But why take me word for it? Go check it out, and I'm pretty sure you won't regret it. Francis Marte can be reached through his Facebook page, Instagram and email 

This article was published in the December 2017 issue of the Alberta Filipino Journal.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

The Sooner the Better - the Sooner Band Story

I had the privilege of seeing for the first time, the Sooner Band perform during the Ely Buendia
concert last October. There was a little bit of hype around this band, when I was asked to have them included in the Filipino Fiesta. But they had previous engagements and plans just fell through. Seeing them perform cemented the fact that there is something distinct with the band, and I set out to learn more about it.

Formed in 2015, the Sooner Band is composed of: Bob Sales - bass, who works as Shipper/Receiver;Clint Nitoral - drummer, works with heavy equipment; Dexter Jumantoc - saxophone, works at Superstore; Donnell Roxas - vocalist, manager at Tim Hortons; Jay Mamaradlo, guitarist, works in a sanitation  company; and Jimmy  Basilan - keyboard, working as a Quality Controller.

Why Sooner Band? They humorously revealed that in the early days of their organization, when members would inquire about timelines on plans, engagements and goals, the optimistic answer would always be “soon”. Since the christening of the band name, they’ve had regular stints at Panciteria de Manila, and engagements for front acts and private functions. Their musical inclination ranges from RnB, pop and OPM (original pilipino music), but are quick to state that they are willing to try any genre to challenge themselves. They do covers but put in their own twist. Not one performance is alike since they improvise on the fly.

The performance of Sooner Band that I saw gave me the impression of a well-oiled machine, a sense of maturity amongst the members in their approach to music, and a confidence derived from a strong technical adeptness. Their music is clean, well-blended and allows each member their moment to shine. And so I was quite surprised to learn that they were all practically self-taught, going about their music instinctively and playing their individual instruments by ear. In fact, the evening I spent with the band in their practice location was full of revelations. For instance, Donnell came from a family of musicians but was such an introvert that he kept his singing a secret even from his family. Clint’s morning ritual includes a round of drum playing to set his day. And by the way, for someone who started with improvised drums and would join bands to be able to handle real drumsticks, his personal drum set is the most kick ass set I’ve ever seen! Dexter was a physical education and music teacher in the Philippines, played tribal instruments and the flute before he was introduced to the saxophone, has skills for magic, and dabbles in photography. Jimmy as a child took piano lessons to avoid household chores. Bob started as a vocalist prior to discovering the bass guitar, which he used to avoid military training in university. He has also done several original compositions. Jay has gained proficiency in the guitar through peer exposure and bonding, and continues to use his music as a way to develop and cement relationships, and as a stress reliever.

Up close, the members of the band are respectively timid, unassuming and self-deprecating.
They evidently change persona when they’re playing. But what is unmistakable is that they are collectively passionate, humble and cognizant of the hand of Divine providence in their lives.
In the nature of the gypsy life of band members, they’ve hopped on and off different bands and now have gravitated together in their respective search for a band that they would connect with. They feel that their current composition is solid, share the same vision, has the right rapport, teamwork and trust that is essential in their collaborative process. Right now their music serves as an outlet, a way of bonding, and a means to make other people happy. But they dream for more regular stints, of dabbling in music out of their comfort zone, and performing and recording their own original songs.

Mulling over my initial impression of the Sooner Band and the perspective I’ve formed upon knowing more about them, my conclusion is that they are really a bunch of nice guys who found some respite and zest in music, who despite a screaming audience when they perform, are modest enough to acknowledge that there is more to learn and achieve with their music. I view a lot of potential for this band, not only based on their individual talents and skills which are still, I believe, unharnessed at this point, but perhaps because of their authenticity to themselves and a love for what they do. This is perhaps what distinguishes them, that it comes from the heart, with no delusions of grandeur.

I mentioned earlier the hype I encountered with this band, and now I know there is some credence to it. The Sooner Band provides good music by good people. Time with one of their performances is well spent and I look forward to more, the sooner the better!

This article was published in the November 2017 issue of the Alberta Filipino Journal.

Sunday, 15 October 2017

The Girl Who Sees - a video game for learning Philippine culture

In a migrants’ world, we see different ways that people employ to connect with their heritage and unearth their identity. Recently, I have come across an ingenious initiative by a Filipino-American based in Washington, Pattie Umali, which uses the medium of video games. Pattie is the creator of The Girl Who Sees (TGWS), which is a “Filipino fantasy game showcasing Filipino history and culture amidst the backdrop of Japanese occupation during World War II”.

As a Filipina-American who loves media and gaming, I have always felt sore about the fact that there is very little representation of Filipinos and Fil-Ams in international media and virtually none in gaming. Given that the Filipino diaspora today is enormous and spread out across the world, I want to help ensure that there are opportunities for young Filipinos around their world to engage with our culture in a fun, interactive way; in hopes that playing a game like this would spark an interest in learning about Filipino history/culture and learning their parents' native tongue.

Pattie sees TGWS not just as a videogame but as a tool for social change. We want this game to serve as a starting point for Filipinos to tell their own stories. Lolos and Lolas can play with their apos, and hopefully the apos would then ask about their experiences during WWII and/or growing up in the Philippines. Filipina nannies and caretakers the world over could play this game with their charges, giving them the opportunity to share more about their home and background.

Pattie in her journey with this project as game creator and project lead, unwittingly becomes The Girl Who Sees, as well. What started as an erstwhile small and summer project became a quest as she discovered that there are no existing games set in the Philippines or based on Philippine culture, and as she researched deeper into Philippine history and ancient mythology. Also in the team are: Jerald Dorado (game & promotional art), Cherisse Datu (game design; media communications), Nathan Hahn (programming; game design), Andrew Pendergrast (music), and Brittany Williams (video) - all contributing their time and energy pro bono to build the game demo. The video game not only features a plot set on Philippine landscape but showcases original music inspired by indigenous music from pre-colonial Philippines.

But a lofty goal and trailblazing project such as this does not come without drawbacks. To be able to fully develop the game, they need $30,000-41,000, which is an extremely lean budget as compared to other games like Angry Birds which cost $140,000, and Nintendo’s Zelda: Breath of the Wild with the amount of $100 million. With the game demo developed, they have now launched a crowdfunding campaign this October, in conjunction with Filipino-American History Month.

Furthermore, although it is exciting that The Girl Who Sees may very well be the first internationally released, kid-friendly adventure game on Philippine culture and language, this fact also posts as an obstacle in the sense that familiarity and awareness of Philippine ancient history and lore by both Filipinos and non-Filipinos are wanting, and may therefore not push appreciation for such an initiative.

With 2 months to go in their crowdfunding campaign, Pattie hopes to raise enough funds to begin full game development and commercial release of the game in December 2018 for Mac and PC, with a further goal of creating a mobile or tablet spin-off. But on the long-term, it is envisioned that The Girl Who Sees will be the take-off point for the development of further inter-ed games, and especially on other lesser-known cultures to increase their representation in communities.

I’ve always admired people who dream and let their imagination soar, are courageous and steadfast enough to push their plans through, and whose objectives are not just for one’s own benefit, but for a virtuous cause. And this campaign of Pattie Umali and her team is one worthy cause - one that aims to increase knowledge of our culture and take pride in it. This is one team whose passion and devotion merits our patronage.

Check out the campaign in Indiegogo [go to and search for The Girl Who Sees] to support this game's development. One can be a sponsor with a $9 - $100 donation, with matching perks. Aside from financial contributions, support the campaign by spreading the word on the game and the goals of the team. For more information:; Facebook: TheGirlWhoSees; Twitter: The_GirlWhoSees. Try out the demo and experience the fantasy. To quote the creative team's elevator pitch, Let's bring Filipino voices and experiences into the spotlight, so that the rest of the world can appreciate Philippine culture and its awesome people.

This article was published in the October 2017 issue of the Alberta Filipino Journal.

Friday, 15 September 2017

Breaking Light with The Dawn

The Philippine Arts Council launched its The Learning Table series with a session with The Dawn band last August 2017, in partnership with MRD Productions. It is very apt that the beginning of this series designed to enlighten and inspire aspiring artists was held with an enduring band named The Dawn.

The Learning Table was envisioned as a workshop and roundtable discussion series, involving performing arts students/young artists with established visiting performers from the Philippines. This series provides an opportunity for these aspiring artists to learn from experienced and established ones, pave the way for a more enriching career in their chosen art, and allow them to connect with artists from their home country and their works, thereby expanding their cultural awareness.

The Learning Table last August had 12 young artists and students participating in an exclusive Q & A with a band that their parents were possibly more thrilled to meet than them. Credit goes to the members of the band who were able to engage the youngsters despite the generation gap.

The Dawn is considered the “longest-lived and most prolific rock band in the Philippines”. They achieved commercial success in the late 1980s, and have produced 14 hit albums. The band consists of Jett Pangan (vocals), Carlos Balcells (bass), Francis Reyes (guitars), Junboy Leonor (drums), and Rommel Sanchez (guitars). They were relaxed, earnest and generous in providing insights and sharing their experiences. They talked about their first foray into music; what music meant to them individually as a novice, and now as a veteran musician; favorite musicians; experiences with other bands; time management with other commitments and artistic endeavours; and advice for the young students on how to grow, be authentic, and sustain your art.

The band members’ maturity and respect for the other band members is evident with the way they interact and expound on each other’s ideas. I was personally impressed with how articulate, passionate and at the same time, how grounded they are with the way they perceive their music, and life. They spoke with authority but at the same time were so approachable that even after ending the Q and A session to give them more time to prepare for their concert, the young students were not to be dissuaded from approaching and talking to them personally, still seeking advice, asking for autographs and taking selfies. In the end, they were gushing about the band. This was big, taking into consideration that they were not even able to see them perform, but the band still managed to have left an unforgettable imprint on these young minds.

The only downside was that these youngsters did not have the chance to see the band perform, since the concert venue was a bar. This recent tour of The Dawn was their first visit to Canada and included concert stops in Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Calgary, Edmonton, and Vancouver. They are set to release a new album, and show no signs of slowing down with their music. It’s not far fetched that they may once again embark on another Canadian tour.

The next Learning Table will be with Ely Buendia, lead vocalist, guitarist and songwriter of the popular rock band Eraserheads on October 14, 2017. This is once again in partnership with MRD Productions, producer of Ely’s concert on the same day. For more information and registration to The Learning Table, go to

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

The Philippines in focus for Alberta Culture Days 2017

As Prime Minister Justin Trudeau declares, diversity is Canada’s strength. With its immigration policy, Canada has developed a society of varying cultures, languages, and sensibilities. To this end, numerous initiatives are undertaken in the promotion of multiculturalism in all facets of Canadian society.

One such event is Culture Days, a 3-day event held annually on the last weekend of September. The Alberta Culture Days actually started in 2008 as Alberta Arts Days, and was instrumental in the creation of Culture Days, a nation-wide event to “raise awareness, participation and engagement of all Canadians in the arts and cultural life of their communities.

One such event this year, and has been selected as an official celebration site for Alberta, is Kalinangan, organized by the Philippine Arts Council. It will be held on September 30, 2017, 1-7 pm, at the ACCA Centre, 3530 91 Street, Edmonton. Kalinangan, in its many variance of use, is the Tagalog word for culture, way of life, or cultivation of learning. This event features back-to-back workshops on Philippine dance, music, visual arts, and martial arts, among others:
  • Filipino Image Painting - acrylic artist Mila Bongco-Philipzig, assisted by portrait-artist Heidel Valeriano, will guide participants into creating their own artwork on a chosen Philippine image.
  • Philippine Folk Dance and Modern Transformations - Facilitated by established choreographer & director Jojo Lucila, this is a workshop on Philippine folk and ethnic dances, encompassing cultural contexts and imageries of movement, which will serve as framework in the translation and/or adaptation of folk/ethnic movements to modern westernized dance idioms.
  • Emma the Musical and Indigenous Instruments Workshop - Emma is an original musical by Chie Floresca and Erica Cawagas. Scheduled to premier in 2018, it is a play inspired by the perseverance and resilience of the Filipino spirit. The workshop will include a mini-talk on the creative process of the musical, a performance of excerpts, and hands-on instruction on indigenous instruments. The workshop will be facilitated by Erica Cawagas, Kreisha Oro and the Filipino-Canadian Saranay Association.
  • Filipino Martial Arts - the Philippine Warrior Arts Society in Edmonton instructs on Pekiti-Tirsia Kali, a style specific to Filipino martial arts, founded in 1897 and is the system of the Tortal family in the Philippines. It is strictly a combat-oriented system, as opposed to sport-focused style. It is a fighting system that focuses on the knife and machete/sword for combat and has been adopted by elite Philippine military and law enforcement units around the world.
  • Meet the Authors and Book Signing
    • Annie Chua is the author of Domestically Yours: A Caregiver’s Inspiring Journey, a chronicle of Annie’s experiences under the Live-in Caregiver Program in her quest to create a better future for her four daughters, at the same time leaving them behind in the Philippines.
    • Mila Bongco-Philipzig is the author of 2 children’s books: Sandy Beaches to Snow, Snow to Sandy Beaches is a child’s story about a family coming from a tropical place to a land of ice and snow, mirroring the author’s own move from the Philippines to Edmonton; and Good Night Philippines, Good Night World, a story of different places tenderly saying goodnight to each other, as separated Filipino loved ones bid each other good night.
  • Work in Progress: Graphic Book on Migration - An illustration on the story of migration to Canada. A Canada 150 project of Migrante Alberta.

Culture Days starts on September 29. Check out the Culture Days website for activities going on all over the country. Get involved...plan your activities...diversify. And if you’re Filipino or of Filipino descent, do not be a stranger to your own country. Or live what you know and remember about being a Filipino. It is to be noted that among the official celebration sites in Alberta, it is the Philippine Arts Council, with Kalinangan, whose main focus is Philippine arts and culture. To participate, support and for more information on Kalinangan, visit

This article was published in the August 2017 issue of the Alberta Filipino Journal.

Friday, 14 July 2017

Behind the Scenes at the Edmonton Filipino Fiesta

 The Filipino community saw another successful Edmonton Filipino Fiesta last June 9-11, 2017 at the downtown Churchill Square. This is the second year of organizing for a valiant group of individuals comprised of: Tony Santiago (head of the Organizing Committee); Herald Casana (Logistics); Ida Beltran-Lucila (Program & Entertainment); Jojo Lucila (Parade); Mila Bongco-Philipzig (Family Zone and Canada150 mural); Jeanette Dotimas (Communications); Carlos Lorena (Finance); Ariel Pascual (Volunteers & Security); Warren Duclan, Albert Rosana and Hermo Pagtakhan.

The idea of an Edmonton Filipino Fiesta started with a question, in typical battle of Alberta fashion, “Why does Calgary have a fiesta when  Edmonton, the capital of Alberta, does not?” And so this group worked, step by step, learning as we went on the “City of Edmonton Events 101”. In each meeting we would talk about our vision, plans, and end the meeting feeling daunted with the tasks at hand. Having started the planning in March 2016 with a considerable tight timeline for a June event, we would end the evening agreeing to think over our plans and return with a decision on whether we would actually push through with the event or not. We would then assemble after a week or two, go through the same cycle of being caught up in the excitement and frenzy, until it was impossible to back out at all. In the most stressful times, we would ask each other, “Why are we doing this again?” This roller coaster ride for two years, however, was marked with humour, respect, determination and hard work.

The vision for the Fiesta was a Filipino celebration that is inclusive, diverse in its offerings and demographics, and accessible. The Program (which I can personally talk about) was conceived as an avenue for both established and aspiring performers. The acts are unscreened, uncensored and non-hierarchical. Everyone is given a chance - as long as you’re Filipino, of Filipino-descent, or a non-Filipino but working on a Philippine medium or form of art. The goal is to bring the Filipino artists together - be aware and appreciate each other’s presence, talent and work, and hopefully, lead to further collaborations.
In the two years of the Fiesta, I’ve seen: artists go to international competitions and win; a singer performer during the first year of the Fiesta come back on the second year with a children’s choir he has established; a resurgence of younger performers; new performers on the first year returning with a more polished performance the succeeding year; artists meeting up during the planning stages and end up doing joint acts; and performance gigs being offered. And there are still more untapped Filipino talent. The Open Mic section alone saw additional Filipino talents that were not even on my radar.
These attest that arts within the Filipino community is thriving, and needs to be nurtured and kept vibrant. And this is also my personal advocacy, and the reason why I enjoy working on this project - to be instrumental in bringing the Filipino artistic community together, in providing an avenue to showcase their artistry, and for some, provide some form of mentorship. These are also what artists and altruistic people realize when they volunteer their time and work. That through these efforts in building a community, the intangible benefits reaped outweigh any, or the lack of, monetary compensation.
And this is why, despite offers to bring in pop artists from the Philippines, it was a conscious decision that, even if we had the financial resources to cover the cost of importing pop artists, that we would concentrate and invest the resources to local artists and develop on the grassroots level. There was a defining moment this year, with one of the performers who was in both years’ Fiesta. We were backstage and she was looking around at the performers and the crowd. Then she says to me, “I can now see what you are trying to do.” What she saw were the enthusiasm of emerging artists, a growing circle of Filipino performers, and the development of an audience for them. Yes, it definitely feels good when someone gets it.

However, whatever headway the organizers have achieved in the past years, the state of future Fiestas is tentative. First off is the logistical question of where it will be held, what with the LRT construction downtown next year. But more importantly, is the subject of sustaining the human and financial resources required in the organization of the Fiesta. Because the reality of it is that the organizers are all volunteers and life sometimes imposes itself and takes over. And contrary to what others may think, the Fiesta does not earn money for the organizers. These are just my personal thoughts, and not representative of the organizers as a whole. And so with this in mind, this is in a way, a paean to my fellow organizers, who simply loved to have a good party, rolled with a good idea and met the challenges head on and with composure. So here's a toast to a job well done and hopefully, to a less nerve wracking future Fiesta!

This article was published in the July 2017 issue of the Alberta Filipino Journal.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

The Phoenix Rises in Dale Urnos

I love stories of personal talent and achievement. But add to that a story of survival and overcoming struggles, I am overwhelmed. Such is the story of Dale James Urnos, chef, and most importantly, a fruit and vegetable carver, in Edmonton.

Married to wife Geraldine and blessed with 3 children, Dale has been a chef for 12 years. His early working years though did not foretell a career in the culinary industry. His career pathway was directed by the money trail. Dale was studying electrical engineering but had to quit due to financial reasons. As a then working student, he was the caregiver and financial provider for his father’s dialysis treatment until his death. He worked in construction, at fast food outlets for McDonald’s and Domino’s and as a jeepney driver. Later he ventured to look for employment in Dubai, and worked in a restaurant, which started his journey as chef. Rising through the kitchen hierarchy, this later lead to contracts as a chef to the Bermuda Islands in 2007 and finally, in an effort to bring his family together, to Canada in 2010.

In all of these, Dale had always the challenge of overcoming the obstacle of a lack of formal education and certification for his jobs. He compensated through hands-on training, personal research and development, perseverance and the humility to work in lesser than ideal situations in order to be able to prove himself and eventually work himself up the ranks.

Good things happen to good people. Despite all his hardships, there are pockets of good fortune and memorable moments in his life which cement the belief that a higher hand is at play with his life. These circumstances would include: being in the right place at the right time for higher employment; training the children of Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones the art of pizza-making; a co-worker surprising him by paying for his airfare to the Philippines; and an employer delaying downsizing business until he and his family received their permanent residency.

In the same pattern as most of the pivotal moments in his life happened by chance, his venture in fruit and vegetable carving was born out of a sense of isolation. Arriving in Canada in the height of winter, unprepared for the cold, and alone, Dale hunkered down and whiled away his time carving fruits and vegetables. Recalling how a previous Thai co-worker would do his centrepieces and watching Youtube tutorial videos, his single carrot roses garnered so much attention from co-workers, customers and friends, that these became regular table centre pieces and gradually grew in magnitude and complexity. Due to word of mouth and Facebook posts, he receives requests for personalized centrepieces and giveaways for special occasions, i.e. a wedding cake made of fruit for a bride unable to eat cake. All of these he does gratis and views as his way of paying forward. He donates his works to fundraisers and silent auctions. Check out his Facebook page to see just how amazing his creations are. He constantly pushes himself by working on different designs and experimenting with different mediums. When he is produce shopping, he not only thinks of flavors and recipes but shapes and textures, and potential art creation. His favorite symbol is the eagle which is obviously a symbol for his soaring dreams.

Dale now works as Head Chef at the Pineridge Golf Resort. He is part of the Canadian Culinary Federation of Chefs and Cooks (CCFCC), and is one of the board members of the Philippine Culinary Federation of Canada (PCFC). The PCFC is an association of Filipino chefs geared towards establishing camaraderie amongst Filipino chefs, assisting in fundraisers and providing hands-on training, mentoring, workshops and uniforms for aspiring chefs, and providing scholarships in the Philippines. This advocacy stems from the intention of making the path easier for aspiring chefs and sharing the lessons from his hardships - try and try until you succeed; practice until you master it; the true test of the chef is the love and passion for cooking; there is always room for improvement and never be afraid to take new challenges; always take a step forward but keep your feet on the ground; learn to accept advice and ideas from fellow chefs and even critics because you cannot please everybody; and most of all, work hard in silence and let your success be your noise.

Dale’s life story, many aspects of which I have not even touched on, is as melodramatic as a soap opera. Life can indeed be stranger than fiction, as they say. However, it reflects a person who has a strong sense of responsibility and loyalty, perseverance, humility, and generosity. He is the kind of person who readily switched his own salary with another Filipino entry level co-worker to help him settle in Edmonton. It seems too good to be true. But skepticism aside, the world is a lot better with people like him. More importantly, this is a story of redemption, where “our passions are the true phoenixes; when the old one is burnt out, a new one rises from the ashes” (Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe).

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Sunday, 14 May 2017

The Fiesta in Philippine Culture

Edmonton Filipino Fiesta
Fiesta is a Spanish and Latin word for a festive celebration of a religious holiday. In modern times, it connotes a feast, a holiday or a carnival. The Philippine culture is marked with various fiestas, both pagan and Christian in origin. These fiestas may commemorate a moment in history, the feast of a patron saint, or celebrate a bountiful harvest. The fiestas are so spread out in time and geography that it is virtually impossible to participate or witness them all. In fact, the Manila Broadcasting Company has organized the Aliwan Fiesta, an annual event that gathers the different cultural festivals, as a one-stop showcase not only to the people in Metro Manila, but as an attraction to those abroad.
Before the arrival of the Spanish colonizers, the Filipinos were already engaged in mystical beliefs, worshipping and appeasing gods believed to control their family, livelihood, prosperity, health and their safety.
Fiesta in Toronto
The Spanish colonizers, especially the friars, used the fiesta in converting the pagan Filipinos into Christianity. The processions, festivities, music and pomp, would lure the “natives” from the remote fields, into the “plaza” or centre of the town. Instead of outlawing the pagan celebrations, the dances and rituals were altered as offerings to the saints.
In these modern times, the fiestas may be used to promote economic, political or tourism objectives. But with every Filipino, it is a social time, a time for fellowship, and a holiday. Although most fiestas originated as religious events, it has become secondary to the general spirit of celebration.
Fiesta in Sacramento
Components of Filipino fiestas are banderitas (small flags), endless or continuous eating, processions, parades, dances, entertainment programs, religious or cultural rituals, trade fairs, pageants, games and contests and holy mass. Filipinos are known for their hospitality and there is no better avenue to showcase this than during a fiesta. One can be in a fiesta and partake in meals in several houses in one street!
Much like the fiestas organized by the early Spanish missionaries who were homesick, and flavored the festivities with practices back home, anywhere in the globe where there is a strong Filipino community, some form of fiesta has been celebrated. Go through any social media newsfeed and you will find Filipino fiestas held in North America, United Arab Emirates, Australia, and Europe. In Edmonton alone, there have been several events on patron saint’s feast days and regional festivals. Because as diverse as the Filipinos are in geography and ethnolinguistics, it is the fiesta that unifies us all. With its atmosphere of revelry and pageantry, the fiesta embodies what we crave for and aim to sustain - the invitation to connect, celebrate, and affirm the Filipino life and culture.
Fiesta in Honolulu
To quote Florentino H. Hornedo in his book Culture and Community in the Philippine Fiesta and Other Celebrations, the fiesta is rooted in the communitarian and expressive instincts of human nature, is a durable venue for Filipino culture and expressions, and is a symbol of Filipino sense of community as they struggle against modernization, involving individuals in their community. It serves as a cultural anchor, whereby the fiesta recreates for the Filipino a sense of being home, renewing his identity, and sense of belonging to a home and familial village.
Fiesta in Australia
History has shown how the fiestas serve as a tool for varying purposes. The Filipino fiesta in today’s context, especially abroad, is whatever we, as a Filipino, make of it. We shape it based on how we view our Filipino-ness and how we want it to be perceived and celebrated in the society or community we live in. It is a reflection of who we are in that point of time and location. It an event by the Filipino community, for the Filipino community and secondary to the other people in whatever foreign place the Filipino may be.
Edmonton will be having its own Edmonton Filipino Fiesta on June 9-11, 2017 at the Sir Winston Churchill Square. For more information, go to or

This article was published in the May 2017 issue of the Alberta Filipino Journal.

Friday, 14 April 2017

Bethany Briones: an Exemplar in Education

The Edwin Parr Teacher Award was established in 1964 by the Alberta School Trustees’ Association. This award is presented annually to a first-year teacher who exemplifies dedication to students, as exemplified by Edwin Parr, an educator and community leader. Each education zone in Alberta brings forward their own representative, and for this year, Edmonton Public Schools (EPSB) has selected, out of four first year EPSB teacher finalists, Bethany Briones.

Bethany is a Grade 1 teacher at Ormsby School. She is cited by senior administration as a teacher who strives to provide the best possible learning environment and experience for their students, developing strategies that can be adapted to meet all of the learning levels and styles in the classroom. What is distinct with Bethany is her use of art and music when adapting to students’ learning styles - the use of visual, auditory and kinesthetic learning. She incorporates music into her classroom routines & leads the class in a morning song which offers a special time to showcase each student and their gifts. She took a leadership role with the school’s music program - organizing the handbell choir and leading them in performances. She has also accompanied the choir on the piano, inspiring students to learn the piano, and eventually offering free after-school piano lessons to disadvantaged students.

Bethany is the daughter of Paul and Maria Allen Briones. We have known this family since our first year in Canada more than a decade ago. When we established our dance company, Chameleon Dance Edmonton, Bethany was one of our original dancers. She was the youngest and probably the gutsiest. She had no qualms and no inhibitions traversing unknown territory and the discipline we demanded on our dancers. As I got to know her, I realize that this is her pattern and approach to all her challenges and adventures.
Edmonton Public Schools Awarding

Bethany is a dutiful daughter. It was due to her parents’ prodding that she studied piano at the age of 5, and later on, guitar lessons and dance classes with Chameleon. She was also active in school sports, leadership activities, volunteer work and church activities. In all these endeavours, she would throw herself 100%, challenged into overcoming difficulties, and recognizing that one can achieve anything with determination and hard work. She was awarded the Superintendent’s Award in Gr. 9 and a Rotary scholarship in Gr. 12.

Bethany’s servant leadership revolves around education and the church. Even as a young girl, she had always wanted to be a teacher, working with children and being instrumental in providing them a better life and opportunities for growth. She recognizes the importance of a good foundation brought about by a strong family unit and faith in God, as exemplified by her own family. She also acknowledges that not everyone is fortunate enough to have this. It is interesting to note that, even though Bethany dabbled into the arts as a form of recreation, and she does not consider herself first and foremost an artist, her distinct mode of service and giving back is music and dance. As she had found enjoyment and life lessons on discipline with piano and dance, she shared these when she assisted school and church choir and band performances, and choreographed the school musical as a student. Now as a teacher, she is providing students who would have no way of affording piano lessons, a safe space, an alternative form of expression and recreation, and inspiration and motivation to achieve more. She has shown leadership and initiative by partnering with Alberta Music Education Foundation in providing keyboards to her students.

Bethany with her parents, Paul and Allen Briones
Bethany is just on her first-year of teaching and has shown compassionate and enthusiastic leadership. One that is honed by strong family love and support, divine faith and a quest to make life better for herself and for others. Whether or not she is handed the Edwin Parr Award later this year, she is an exemplar as a daughter, a student and a teacher. Ever heard the phrase that one lives up to the meaning of one’s name? I looked up the meaning of Bethany and came up with “house of song” and “daughter of the Lord”.

This article was published in the April 2017 issue of the Alberta Filipino Journal.