Sunday, 15 December 2019

Quezon’s Game: the Largely Forgotten True Story of Holocaust Heroism

According to R. G. Collingwood, “History is for human self-knowledge ... the only clue to what man can do is what man has done. The value of history, then, is that 
it teaches us what man has done and thus what man is.” On January 2020, we will have a chance to reflect on this with the North American screening of the film Quezon’s Game. 

How many know of the Filipino Oskar Schindler, who is no less than President Manuel L. Quezon? Director Matthew Rosen rectifies this through his feature film directorial debut Quezon’s Game, which premiered in May 2019 in the Philippines. Manuel Quezon was the President when the country was a Commonwealth under the United States’ jurisdiction. At a time when most countries were reluctant in assisting Jews who were being sent to death camps, Quezon worked to grant asylum in Manila despite various setbacks (his failing health due to tuberculosis, resistance from colleagues, Philippine-US politics), even housing them in his family property in Marikina. Although Quezon’s intent to rescue 10,000 Jews was abruptly curtailed by the Dec. 8, 1941 invasion and three-year occupation of the Philippines by the Japanese, he succeeded in welcoming more than 1,200 refugees.

Quezon’s Game director, Matthew Rosen, is a British national residing in the Philippines, and with Filipino wife Lorena Rosen, co-producer for the film. They first heard about Quezon’s efforts in 2009 from members of the Jewish Association of the Philippines. “I am a Jew who grew up in England and have experienced bigotry,” Matthew Rosen comments, “but after 37 years in the Philippines, to this day, I have never come across prejudice, dislike or distrust because I am White or Jewish. I’m Pinoy at heart and this was truly a passion project for me. The story behind Quezon’s Game remains a reflection of the Filipino people today, a warm and welcoming culture. In a time of war, when the rest of the world was in despair and apathetic, the Filipino people—who were suffering their own hardships—shed a light on justice and morality to lead others. Quezon fought a lonely battle for what was right up until his untimely death. The message of this amazing story, which was largely forgotten, is more important than ever in today’s growing climate of intolerance—and my wife, Lori, and I wanted to tell it. It’s my ‘thank you’ to the Philippines.”

The US/Canada theatrical rollout will mark the 75th anniversary on Jan. 27 of the liberation of Auschwitz, the Nazi’s most-notorious concentration camp.  Quezon’s Game stars Raymond Bagatsing as President Quezon, Rachel Alejandro as his wife Aurora, Kate Alejandrino as their daughter Baby, Billy Ray Gallion as the Jewish cigar maker Alex Frieder, James Paolelli as American diplomat Paul V. McNutt,  and David Bianco as future president Dwight D. Eisenhower who was then the chief aide to General Douglas MacArthur. 

The film is abundant in symbolism and intentional in honouring the people in this tragic moment in history. It’s theme song is performed by Shulem, a rising star of the Jewish music tradition, backed by the ABS-CBN Philharmonic Orchestra. The original soundtrack features songs composed by concentration camp prisoners, Karel Švenk and Z. Stryjecki, granted by the Terezín Music Foundation (TMF), a non-profit dedicated to amplifying the musical legacy of the artists imprisoned at the camp, where a group of prisoners composed and performed music that nourished spirits amidst the great suffering around them.

Quezon’s Game has garnered awards at international film festivals for acting, direction, cinematography, original score, lighting, screenplay and design. It is critically acclaimed: “...the scope and enormity of Schindler’s List ... Quezon’s Game delivers the same powerful message against racism, bigotry and discrimination … a very compelling and deeply moving film …” - Esquire Philippines; “the story of Quezon’s Game is nothing short of magnificent.” - Business Mirror; “Gripping performances …” - ScreenRaven.

"The difference between Schindler's List and Quezon's Game is that the former studies the horrors of war and you feel broken about humanity when you leave the theatre, while the latter is about hope and the humaneness of the Filipino people. When you watch Quezon's Game, you'll feel proud as a Filipino," Matthew explained.

When you watch Quezon’s Game, make sure you don’t miss the closing credits which is accompanied by testimonials of now-elderly survivors who emigrated to the Philippines as children, Max Heintz Weissler, Lotte Cassel Hershfield, Margot Pins Kestenbaum, and Margot’s son, Danny Pins, recalling the events that reshaped their lives.

In recognition of Quezon’s moral courage and the consequent deep ties between Israel and the Philippines, Israel instituted an open-door policy with the country, permitting visa-free visitation by Filipino tourists. In 2009, an Open Door monument was erected in Tel Aviv in commemoration of this act of humanity. Today, the Jewish diaspora in the Philippines remains a vibrant and welcoming community, with the descendants of refugees rescued by Quezon numbering around 8,000, according to a 2017 estimate by the Israeli Embassy.

This is the kind of story we need In today’s climate of tenuous, intolerant and cynical humanity and politics. That we be inspired by this story of doing what is right despite astronomical obstacles, of an act so selfless and remarkable, yet makes one ask to his dying day, “Could I have done more?”. Quezon’s Game then is a study of not only history, but of benevolence.

Quezon’s Game is a Star Cinema/ABS-CBN Film Productions production in association with iWant and Kinetek. For further details on the US/Canada screenings, visit

* This article was published in the December 2019 issue of the Alberta Filipino Journal.

Friday, 15 November 2019

Lyrique: a Filipino Artist in the Flow of Words & Beats

Filipino-Canadian rapper Lyrique (Edward Que) from Calgary has released the video for his latest song Ivory off his EP Saints of the Summer. With four EPs and a few singles to his credit, Lyrique is hard at work on his first full length album, Lust, Art, Liquor.

But who is Lyrique (pronounced Ly-ric)? Lyrique, Edward Que in real life, is from Baguio City, a nursing student and call center agent, who moved to Canada in 2014 under the Temporary Foreign Workers program. Battling with homesickness and a loss of family and emotional support, he turned to music as a form of therapy and an outlet for his feelings of isolation. His initial foray into music was learning to play different kinds of instruments. He always loved writing and composing music, and being a fan of hip hop, eventually found himself into rap. 

Using the moniker Lyrique, his music has a strong focus on lyricism, cadence and flow. “I really put effort into wordplay. I may not be the deepest writer/rapper when it comes to metaphors but I always make sure the songs I write have a story. I try to make sure the punchlines work to the listeners’ appeal. As for the spelling of Lyrique, I added the Que as a reminder of who I am at the end of the day, as Que is my last name.”

In Calgary, he started with open mics at Cafe Koi every Friday. These hip hop open mics were performing and learning opportunities where he studied and learned how to rev up a crowd, do breath control, and make sure words are pronounced correctly. “I always loved performing, and performing your own songs just make it better. I always get this rush when it comes to performances. I also noticed that there weren’t many Filipino rappers in the scene, so I want to be one of those representing my culture, and to establish my own identity in hip hop culture as well.” 

Lyrique’s turning point came when he performed at the 10 at 10 stage in Calgary, a platform that promotes Canadian artists and hip hop culture - whether it be in music, dance and art. It was around this time as well that he received permanent resident status in Canada, which allowed him to focus more on his music, i.e. how to be a better rapper/artist, increase his social media presence, and be a part of Canadian guilds for music artists. “I enjoy the hustle and I find every day is an opportunity for growth. I have people who help me out in amplifying my craft such as videographers, producers, sound engineers and other artists as well. I keep my unit small but tight, but most of the time I do things myself. I book shows myself, do the graphic art and press releases myself. All in all, it’s still an unending process. Art is beautiful but inevitable, just like growth.”

Lyrique has become a staple in the Calgary hip hop scene. He performs solo, in acoustic duets and trios, with a DJ or together with a band. He is a member of the Alberta music collective/label, The Honor Roll Music Collective, along with named artists K-riz, Karimah, Rebecca Janz and Josh Sahunta to name a few.

Lyrique’s latest EP is Saints of Summer. When asked why Saints of Summer, “The title had a nice ring to it but in reality what is a saint? A saint is someone holy and free. In the summer we feel a certain melancholy where we all feel a certain cleanse from the cold. But that being said, we all let loose in our own havens in the summer - be it in parties, festivals or out of town trips.” “The other songs on the EP touch different vibes. On GOD is me rapping about how I will make an impact this summer on God. There are tracks like R.O.Y and Pulp Fiction which are just easy going tracks on living your dreams and at the same time being a product of your environment and having fun with it.” Another single is Marathon. “Marathon is a confidence song. I’m still the shy type, a socially awkward person. Marathon made me confident in who I am. I’ve gone this far so why not take ownership of it.”  The track was produced and engineered by DJ Rocswell.

Ivory, with its recent video release, is also from the same EP. The afro-beats inspired track is produced by Niko and LCS, mixed and mastered by AMAURHI and features backup vocals from K-Riz and Oozela. The video was created and filmed by Oliver Banyard. “Ivory is basically a love song. My girlfriend is a huge fan of afro beats so I gave this vibe a shot. The hook I have for the song is a line I wrote two years ago which I never really used. It just so happened that the hook fit this beat perfect and that set the whole idea of the song. The title came with the beat and it just had a nice ring to it. Ivory, which is a representation of love, is a material on the strongest emotion in the world.” The video has guest appearances by his girlfriend Kirstin Wilson, and some of his close friends DJ C-Sik, Mayowa/Mo’, Amaurhi and Jared Daniel.

Lyrique is now working on a full length album, Lust, Art, Liqour. To know more about Lyrique and his music, check out Instagram and Facebook: iamlyrique, YouTube: Lyrique Music, stream “Ivory” on Spotify and Apple Music, or purchase the EP Saints in the Summer on

Photo credits: Val Parenas (@vparenas), Esther Cho (@estherchophotography), Oliver Banyard (@oliverbanyard)

* This article was published in the November 2019 issue of the Alberta Filipino Journal.

Tuesday, 15 October 2019

Celebrating Philippine Culture for Canada Culture Days 2019

Every year, a national celebration of arts and culture is commemorated as Culture Days on the last weekend of September (Friday-Sunday). Thousands of events across the country are offered free of charge, highlighting the importance of arts and culture in our communities. The mandate of Culture Days is “to eliminate barriers to access and participation, and stimulate understanding, appreciation and exploration of arts and culture—so that every person in the country has a deeper connection with themselves, their communities, and Canada”.

This year, two events focusing on Philippine culture have been selected as Official Celebration Sites by the Ministry of Culture and Multiculturalism, and Status of Women - Philippine Arts Council’s Kalinangan and Pinoy Roots Rondalla’s Ugnayang Kultura.

Kalinangan, in its many variance of use, is the Tagalog word for culture, way of life, or cultivation of learning. This is Philippine Arts Council’s third offering of Kalinangan and has been selected twice as a featured Celebration Site. This year’s Kalinangan was a two-day event, with the first day held at Lynnwood School and the second at Mill Woods Seniors and Multicultural Centre.

On its second year at Lynnwood School, the students participated in workshops on Philippine dance and martial arts provided by The Lucila Project and Philippine Warrior Arts Society. By dismissal, parents and siblings came to the school and participated or observed the workshops. Former students visited from their junior high schools to dance folk dances they have learned before. It was a fiesta atmosphere with students decorating the school with self-made Philippine flags and posters, and baking cassava cake to serve to guests. Some parents made pancit (noodles), and Loriz Bakery and Golden Bucks Bakeshop provided generous food donations, which were thoroughly enjoyed by the school community. It was heartwarming to see the children enthusiastically embrace Philippine culture. It also empowered and instilled pride in the Filipino students and parents to witness the support and enthusiasm by the school community. Young students were asking us
so many questions about the Philippines, the food, and especially the language. It was amusing and at the same time touching to watch them engage in Tagalog conversations with their Filipino classmates. With their parents’ arrival, students have asked for music to be played so they can be videoed dancing what they have learned. Teachers shared their Filipino experiences too - whether through Filipino friends, food, or information they have read or seen.

At the Mill Woods Seniors and Multicultural Centre, Kalinangan featured workshops on: Parol (Christmas lanterns) Making by the University of the Philippines Alumni Association Edmonton (UPAAE); Learning the Language through Song and Dance, by Koro Filipino; Filipino Martial Arts by Philippine Warrior Arts Society; and Philippine Folk Dance, by Jojo Lucila. Other activities included: colouring of Philippine-themed illustrations by Katrina Cereno, and indigenous designs and patterns of Mindanao from Lumad, a colouring book project by Salupongan Internaitonal; Historya exhibit by the UPAAE; Kwento’t Litrato exhibit by Migrante Alberta; and tables of Philippine products and businesses by Akia Crafts, Love Thy Planet, and
Human Nature Canada. Members of the Legislative Assembly and Parliament also came to give messages of support and fellowship: MLA Christina Gray (Edmonton-Millwoods), MLA Sarah Hoffman (Edmonton-Glenora), MLA Jasvir Deol (Edmonton-Meadows) and MP Amarjeet Sohi (Edmonton-Mill Woods, and federal Minister of Natural Resources).

On the third day of Culture Days, Pinoy Roots Rondalla held Ugnayang Kultura at the West Edmonton Mall with rondalla performances, Philippine folk and Polynesian dances by Pacific Island Dance Troupe, crafts and displays of Filipino instruments and clothing, Zumba by Manny Arban, and dances by the Edmonton Indonesian Community Association. MLA Sarah Hoffman was again there to provide messages, along with MLA Lorne Dach (Edmonton-McClung) and MLA Jon Carson (Edmonton-West Henday).

In summation, it was a good Culture Days year with offerings on Philippine culture provided in every single day of the Culture Days weekend - a result of Philippine Arts Council and Pinoy Roots Rondalla coordinating to avoid any schedule conflict. Because I have found out through the years, that there is a good percentage of people who take advantage of this Culture Days weekend, research on calendar activities and map out an itinerary of events to go to. It is a testament to our society for embracing diversity, an earnest desire to learn more about art and culture, and its importance in our daily lives. It is for this very reason that we are steadfast in featuring Philippine art and culture, and establishing our stamp in this multicultural community.

* This article was published in the October 2019 issue of the Alberta Filipino Journal, and written by Ida Beltran Lucila.

Thursday, 15 August 2019

GT Leo Gaje Jr: Pekiti-Tirsia’s Law of Self-Protection

Last month, I wrote about my encounter with celebrity Yeng Constantino. This time around, I had the chance to meet another superstar, Grand Tuhon Leo T. Gaje 
Jr. during an intensive camp workshop in Edmonton in the system of Pekiti-Tirsia, last July.

Pekiti Tirsia Kali is a style of Filipino martial arts system founded in 1897 by the Tortal family, whose sole heir and guardian is Leo T. Gaje Jr.. As a combat-oriented system, it is the preferred training program by military and law enforcement units, and for Hollywood movies. GT Leo Gaje Jr. instituted this fighting system at the United States upon his move to New York City in 1972. Since then, he has been at the forefront of promoting Filipino martial arts globally.

At 81 years old, GT Leo Gaje Jr. is an unassuming man, candid in his conversations. He was even singing karaoke over dinner. But behind that modest demeanour is a formidable spirit, still quick in his footwork and steadfast in his determination. The list of his achievements is mind blowing. He has been conferred: the United States Martial Arts Hall of Fame; the Presidential Exemplary Meritorious Award, presented by Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo; United States Police Association Edgar Hoover Meritorious Award; was named Man of the Year by Black Belt Magazine; and the Martial Arts Super Show First Filipino Lifetime Achievement Award. He has been featured on BBC, Discovery Channel, the History Channel, Game Plan, Comparative Style, Surviving Edge Weapon and other broadcasting and multimedia platform.

GT Gaje introduced Filipino martial arts to the New York Police Department and developed a training program on “Safety Baton and Edged Weapon Awareness/Strategic Knife Defense programs – the FIRST Defensive Tactics system based on safety and liability reduction at a time when the accepted methods targeted the vital areas of the body resulting in substantial liability to police officers and departments”. He was subsequently appointed as the National Training Director for the Justice System Training Association and the Technical Advisor for the U.S. Police Defensive Tactics Association. He is also Senior Advisor to the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police.

It was notable that the participants I encountered in the training camp last July were in majority, consisted of non-Filipinos, who came from different provinces in Canada, and even from the US. Why there are less Filipinos engaged in this indigenous Filipino martial arts form was a bit puzzling. Kudos to Tuhon Herald Casaña who has been tireless in promoting this system. It was admirable on how the participants entrusted themselves to the training - not knowing the schedule as everything was spontaneously dictated by GT Gaje. They found themselves training for hours on end without meal breaks, and early morning wake up calls for another round of intense training.

Tim Mercer of Edmonton: “Despite the bruises, blisters, sore muscles, pain and early morning wake up calls I learned valuable skills that will help future my martial arts career. Quite an enjoyable experience and something I look forward to all year.”

Mandala Bryan Stoops of New York: “The training was intense and demanding, but only because GT truly wants all participants to develop at peak capacity. Not only did I train, but because we were in a small group, I had conversations and meals with GT as well. GT wants Kali to flourish and his means to that end is Pekiti Tirsia. He is passionate about helping people develop themselves within PTK. I traveled all the way to Alberta from NYC for my training experience, and it was more than worth it!”

Guro Quent Ferdie Roxas of Calgary: “Wilderness training camp with Grand Tuhon Leo Gaje. J.R was everything I expected and more. I was filled with anticipation and nervousness as I have never embarked on an adventure like this on my own before.  It was almost like entering or enlisting in the military and getting sent off to boot camp for preparation...Promptly at 6am training started with calisthenic training. I was tired as hell but motivation was all around. 2 hrs would pass till breakfast break. At that time already drenched in sweat.
Breakfast was a short hour where we would pick up with Doble Dagga, single stick and firearm retention techniques, all before lunch. I ate and passed out for 20 minutes before the next stage of the day. Double stick and single knife finished off the day shortly after 6. Oh man I was tired. The next day would follow the same routine. This training session was by far an experience that I'll remember. GT even with his hardcore demeanour is a caring man that just wants the very best for his pupils.  He wants the torch carriers to be well versed and prepared with his art of Pekiti Tirsia.  Perfection is what he demands and for good reason as he is the sole Master carrier of his family's art. I left tired, bruised, fulfilled and grateful to be part of such a great brotherhood of warriors. GT is a great teacher, a legend, and his instructors underneath him are just as passionate. Great leaders produce great leaders and that's why I am a PTK practitioner. Will I do this again?
Hell yes!!!”

Pekiti Tirsia Kali is a Filiipino martial art and self-defense system known for its methodology in the use of and protection against weapons, grounded in the philosophy: We believe in success, not failure. We believe in health, not in sickness. We believe in life, not in death.  This is the major artery in the Pekiti Tirsia Kali culture, embedded in the doctrines of survival, discipline, and perfection - values that are not just solely for this martial arts system, but for living a life well-lived. For more information on the Pekiti Tirsia Kali, contact Tuhon Herald Casaña at 780-717-9164,, and

* This article was published in the August 2019 issue of the Alberta Filipino Journal, and written by Ida Beltran Lucila.

Monday, 15 July 2019

The Phenomenon that was Yeng Constantino

I must admit that when I was informed that Yeng Constantino was the selected artist to grace the Edmonton Filipino Fiesta through the auspices of TFC (The Filipino Channel) Canada, I did not know much about her. The realization on how big and significant she is, I was able to gauge based on the public’s reaction to the announcement of her participation at the Fiesta. You could feel people shaking with excitement and hyped up through social media posts. I was getting calls from outside of Edmonton asking for details, as they were driving to Edmonton as far away as BC. People were also willing to shell out money for a chance to see Yeng live and were just too happy to learn that it was open to the public.

Once the excitement of the news of her performance waned, we buckled down to preparations for her arrival - i.e. performance stage, adjunctive activities, programming, and what seemed to be the most pressing one, security and safety
in terms of crowd control. Call me naive but I had a thought that the concern was a little bit overplayed. I recall stories of sightings of Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Ed Sheeran, Sarah Jessica Parker at the West Edmonton Mall; of Stephen Tyler at Churchill Square; Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez by downtown - and  of people maintaining distance and respecting their privacy. I was constantly told - “Well, it seems it’s a different story with Filipinos.” And judging from what actually transpired, Filipinos do love and go crazy over their local celebrities.

Yeng Constantino is a singer-songwriter, host and actor. She is dubbed as the Pop Rock Princess. Her breakout moment in the music industry was bagging the Grand Star Dreamer in the inaugural season of Pinoy Dream Academy in 2006. She has recorded several platinum albums and is the singer and songwriter for the hits “Hawak Kamay”, “Ikaw”, “Salamat”.

Yeng arrived in Edmonton from Manila close to midnight on June 21. On June 22, running on just three hours of sleep, she engaged in a Philippine Arts Council Learning Table session with students and young artists in the morning, and a TFC Hour performance at the Edmonton Filipino Fiesta in the evening. From the Fiesta, she went straight to the airport and headed to Surrey for another Fiesta/Philippine Heritage Month celebration on June 23. The following day, June 24, she flew back to Manila. Apparently, this kind of schedule is not out of the norm for her. She travels a lot and in fact, finds the buzz of the plane or the car as a calming, and at times, inspiring sound for her. Some of her songs were written during these times. With this hectic schedule, Yeng remains a true professional in her engagements.

Before her arrival in Edmonton, I did some research on her and watched some of her vlogs to have a sense of her personality. Meeting Yeng at her hotel room, I was amused at how quickly she transformed from a worried professional suffering from a sleepless night, to an ecstatic fan when presented with a Raptors merchandise. I was surprised to learn that she was nervous about The Learning Table, and anxious about not meeting people’s expectations. There was nothing for her to worry about and I gave the assurance that the intent is to learn from her, that the participants are eager to know more about her, to present herself as she is, and just be her own person. And boy, did she do that and more. Yeng was genuine in her sharing and rapport with the participants. She was vulnerable and revealed her insecurities. She was also greathearted in sharing how she coped with uncertainties, in responding to the questions, and giving advice. Majority of the participants for The Learning Table were regulars of previous The Learning Table sessions and projects of the Philippine Arts Council. So they are not easily fazed and can sometimes be jaded. But never had I seen them more star struck than this one with Yeng.

Her appearance at the Edmonton Filipino Fiesta for the TFC Hour was both record breaking and refreshing. It was heartwarming to see the overwhelming crowd just having a really good time. They were enamoured and in high spirits. Yeng had good banter with her audience and hosts, and was gracious even with technical difficulties. Her singing, needless to say, was exceptional. Yeng was running on a tight schedule, yet she somehow managed to suspend time by singing an extra song from her playlist, and engaging in conversations with fans during the Meet and Greet just before heading to the airport.

And this is Yeng’s appeal. Apart from her undeniable talent, she is right off the bat charming and down to earth. A person who is deeply spiritual and emotional, knows her boundaries, and values her authenticity. From this experience, I have gleaned that Filipinos do really love and adore a role model hailing from the home country. It is good to see that all this fawning and adulation is for someone truly deserving of all these. Yeng’s visit to Edmonton was courtesy of TFC Canada -  true to their vision of bringing joy to Filipinos wherever they are, in the spirit of “Kapamilya”. 

* This article was published in the July 2019 issue of the Alberta Filipino Journal and written by Ida Beltran Lucila.

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Food as a Gateway to Culture and ULAM: Main Dish

When we were still living in the Philippines, everytime we went to a new town, the first thing my husband Jojo Lucila would visit was the food market. He claims that you learn a lot about the people’s lifestyle based on the kinds of food sold in the market. 

Now there is more to discover, as we live in a society that prides itself of embracing and celebrating cultural diversity. There are festivals, events and community activities that allow us to engage in different cultures without having to travel to another country. There are many other ways to immerse in a culture - learning the language, folk dances, songs, literature. But the easiest to enjoy and digest (so to speak) is food. 

Food brings people together. Shows like Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown”, Eddie Huang’s “Huang’s World” and David Chang’s “Ugly Delicious” have focused on showcasing cultures through food. When one partakes of a dish, one learns about the topography of the region by the ingredients and its spices. The way it is prepared, presented and eaten speaks volumes about the traditions. Our food has sentimental value, usually passed down through generations, and connected to life moments, i.e. celebrations, or as comfort food to cheer us up.

In the documentary ULAM: Main Dish, Filipino-American director Alexandra Cuerdo focuses on the ascent of Filipino cuisine in American tables by following the journey of award-winning chefs. These chefs and restaurateurs share their stories of breaking prejudices, being authentic, using food as a vehicle to communicate and present ourselves, and validating our culture. They come from different walks of life, i.e. from Michelin-starred line cooks to high school dropouts, successful restaurateurs to first time shop owners - but all highly acclaimed by critics. They share their histories, their sacrifices and what it takes to run a successful restaurant in two of the most competitive markets in the world: New York and Los Angeles. The film also talks about the experiences of first and second-generation Filipino Americans, and the struggle to have Filipino food and identity be recognized in the larger American society and even their own Filipino community. There are also philosophical conversations on the Filipinos’ history, crab mentality, the effects of colonialism, and the need for support from the Filipino community.

The narrative for our food is a narrative of our history. In the words of the film’s creators, “It's like saying, this is me on a plate. We can say, we both enjoy this, this is some version of what we both grew up with, it's some version of ourselves — even more so when we're connecting with a non-Filipino. I can say: This is a version of me, this is a version of my history, what I grew up with, and you should try it. If you don't like it, that's OK. I have twenty other dishes for you to try…  Filipino food and its ability to succeed is also a window into our future — and we must discuss what divides us, to find what unites us. If we are to celebrate Filipino food, and be respected as a people, we must dig deep into what makes us, and examine the future we want to create.”

These are timely messages for us. There is a global surge on advancing the Filipino and the culture. For Filipino Albertans and Canadians, it is a crucial next step soon after the provincial and federal proclamations of Philippine Heritage Month. It is a call for unity, of collaboration and bayanihan spirit, and of collective, not just individual, pride.

As part of the Philippine Heritage Month celebrations, the Philippine Arts Council is presenting the screening of the much acclaimed documentary ULAM: Main Dish on June 19, 2019, 7 pm at the Myer Horowitz Theatre. A panel discussion will follow the screening. Tickets are $15 + s/c through Ticketfly, or at selected Filipino businesses. For more information, go to 

This is a not-to-be missed opportunity in showcasing the Filipino culture and at the same time reflecting on who we are. The film has been featured in the international film festival circuits since its premiere and has even screened in the same theatre as the Oscar winning film “Roma”. It is the film that propelled the late Jonathan Gold, food and music critic, to convince the LA Times to book the whole LA Grand Central Market to do Filipino food pop-ups, for the LA Times Food Bowl. Jonathan Gold was a strong and early supporter of the film ULAM: Main Dish.

To quote a review on ULAM: Main Dish in the Vancouver Asian Film Festival 2018, “In the end, Ulam is a noteworthy film, mainly for shining a spotlight on a community and food that for so long has flown under the radar. According to an interview with the director, Cuerdo has been getting inquiries from teachers wanting to use the film to teach since there has been so little representation of Filipino-Americans in the media.[1] This film will certainly provide a crash course on Filipino food for the uninitiated, fill the Filipino-Canadian community with a sense of pride at what their fellow Filipinos have accomplished and hopefully encourage more visits to local Filipino restaurants.”

* This article was published in the May 2019 issue of the Alberta Filipino Journal.

Wednesday, 17 April 2019

Cherry Samuya Veric: More than just Glitz and Glam

A Filipino designer has been showcasing his collections for three consecutive years at the Western Canada Fashion Week (WCFW), the longest running event of its kind in Alberta, and the second largest in Canada. Cherry Samuya Veric, known for his classic silhouettes and stunning detailed work, has been showcased in the International Collections segment of the fashion event, even featured as a closer for the night.
In his WCFW debut in 2017, Cherry brought his 26-piece collection of evening wear "Viva", his favourite collection to date. This was the same collection presented when he was chosen to close the 20th anniversary of Philippine Fashion Week, known as the Olympics of Philippine fashion, and a career highlight for Cherry. Viva is his tribute to the Ati-Atihan Festival and the Sto. Niño, as he hails from Aklan and is a Sto. Niño devotee. This collection was described as "a breathtaking collection... on the story of West meeting East through a fusion of indigenous patterns and modern forms. The lean lines and stunning visuals emphasized the alluring stylishness of ethnic patterns, and by mixing native designs with modern cosmopolitan trends. Veric proved that native design can be very appealing on a global scale." This collection featured a staggering amount of sequins to form the ethnic patterns. Needless to say, this was a great hit in his debut appearance in Edmonton. He would later bring this collection to Fashion Weeks in Paris, and New York.

In 2018, with the WCFW theme on Diversity, Cherry drew inspiration from Game of Thrones, and translated it into daily and evening wear. And in 2019, he brought his "Homage" collection, inspired by church frescoes, with fabrics that looked like paintings, paying homage to the romance and art of the Old Masters. Cherry is honoured and humbled to be presented for consecutive years by the Western Canada Fashion Week. His participation is a great platform for international exposure for him, but is a source of pride for the Filipino community here. I'm not sure he realizes enough the impact of his presence in this event.

The love for design was evident as a young child. Cherry remembers dressing up his sister's Barbie dolls with different fabrics, yarn and lace from their family's store. As an undergraduate, he was an abstract painter, joining visual arts competitions organized by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts. This is why I believe his designs show fluidity in its lines and detailing, has drama, and has an affinity to works of art, particularly of the Renaissance period.

Right after graduating with a Fine Arts degree with a major in Advertising at the Far Eastern University, he landed a contract in Saudi Arabia by accident. He was accompanying a friend to the interview and ended up being offered the job. After his 2-year stint there, he went to Guangzhou, then Dubai. In between, he joined Season 2 of Project Runway Philippines, ending as one of the last 2 finalists. He recalls rushing from the airport and straight to the auditions, where he was the last applicant. This is where Cherry met Tessa Prieto, who was one of the judges and has since become his muse.

A Cherry Samuya Veric design is known as a work of classicism, alluring silhouette, and true workmanship of intricate patterns and hand sewn details. They are haute couture luxurious, glamorous, bold, personalized, yet wearable, taking months to create. He has been honoured as Top Haute Couture Designer of the Year 2016 during the Fashion Asia Awards in Chongquing, China. His works have been favoured by: beauty queens Miss Universe 2018 Catriona Gray, Miss Universe 2015 Pia Wurtzbach, Miss World 2013 Megan Young, Miss International 2016 Kyle Versoza, Venus Raj, Shamcey Supsup-Lee; actresses Marian Rivera, Anne Curtis, Bea Alonzo.

I met up with Cherry along with his good friend Edge Gabrador, who is in charge of the Asian Division for Western Canada Fashion Week, and responsible for bringing Cherry Veric for 3 years along with Julius Tarog in 2018. The person I met is a reticent guy, confident in his capabilities and achievements but not overbearing. Evidently a smart and astute guy in the way he approaches life, faces challenges, intuitively designs and brings out a facet of a client, and conveys a point through his designs. Our conversations reveal a person who is grounded, who dreams but at the same time is aware of the pitfalls of the industry that has a very thin boundary line between glamour and superficiality. And yet, seeing him groove while taking a smoke break with his headphones, he is capable of enjoying the moment and just going with the flow. I guess this is why big things happen for him, even when not highly sought. I shared some planned and dream projects for the Philippine Arts Council, and he totally got it. It is an exciting moment when people connect this way. Here's hoping that Cherry Samuya Veric returns to our part of town once again and soon. And this time on a more extended and synergetic enterprise.

* This article was published in the April 2019 issue of the Alberta Filipino Journal.

Friday, 15 March 2019

The Quest for a Philippine Centre in Edmonton

 Ever since my family arrived in Edmonton from Manila, I have consistently heard random comments and yearning for a Philippine Centre in Edmonton. It is not difficult to imagine the benefits of having a venue uniquely catering to, and reflective of, the Filipino community - having a “home base” to interact and socialize with fellow kababayans; a resource and programs centre for Philippine art and culture; and an infrastructure legacy and monument of, for, and by, the Filipino.

Edmonton did have a Filipino centre before. In 1984, the Philippine Bayanihan Association in Alberta purchased a building on a ¾ acres of prime land by 12520 135 Avenue for the Filipino Canadian Community Centre. However, it was sold in 1995 due to the cost of maintaining the building. To date, the other Filipino centres in Canada that I know of are: the Filipino Centre in Toronto; the Kapisanan Philippine Centre for Arts and Culture in Toronto; the Filipino Community Centre in Windsor, Ontario; the Philippine Bayanihan Community Centre in Victoria, BC; the Philippine Canadian Centre of Manitoba in Winnipeg; and the Philippine Cultural Center Foundation in Calgary.

With the declaration of Philippine Heritage Month both provincially and federally, it is an importune time to revisit the goal of a Philippine Centre in Edmonton. After a consultation with Minister Amarjeet Sohi where the Minister committed to assist in the establishment of the centre, community leaders met to brainstorm on the vision, governance model, and feasibility of an Edmonton Philippine centre. There was commonality in the thought that this can only be realized with the community working together rather than in silos. An offshoot of that meeting was a survey that was released to gauge the Filipino community’s interest, current utilization of rented facilities, wish list, and thoughts for making the establishment of a Philippine centre a reality. Is it really possible? The sentiment in that meeting was of optimism and enthusiasm. But there are also naysayers who declare that this has been tried several times in the past and therefore, this current initiative is doomed for the same failure. But do we remain shackled in the past and keep this as a pipe dream, or do we learn from these experiences and dream big?

Let’s do the math. Edmonton alone, I believe has 30+ Filipino organizations. If we sum up the amount each organization, and in some cases individuals, spend on venue rentals for various activities, and allocate these to one centre, there is a strong possibility that this can cover at the minimum, monthly rent or mortgage for a dedicated facility. The most recent census revealed that there are 60,000+ Filipinos in Edmonton. Let’s look at a scenario where, even if just 20% of the 60,000 Filipinos donate just $1 a month to a building fund, that would already yield $12,000/month already. These are some schemes that can be worked within the community, in addition to the efforts to advocate and apply for funding from different levels of government. Money, as it turns out, may not be the biggest obstacle after all.

And here lies the challenge. For in order to build and to sustain a Philippine centre, we all, collectively, need a paradigm shift. I believe that we all know what it would take to make this a reality (i.e. accountability, transparency, credibility), but the bigger challenge is, will we do what needs to be done? And so I will pose the questions with the hope that this will galvanize us to be united in our goal. What would it take for us to work collaboratively in the spirit of servant leadership and trust? Do we have what it takes to focus on long term goals and veer away from trivialities? There is undoubtedly no individual financial gain, personal aggrandizement, and special entitlements in this initiative but the community legacy is immense. It is an initiative of selflessness, volunteerism, dedication and perseverance. 

In Toronto, there were several attempts since the 1970s, by the Filipino community to build a centre. They were able to purchase a property in 2002 for The Filipino Centre, 18 months after the group’s launch. Community leaders in Windsor convened in 1992, opened a centre in 1993, and in 2014, opened an expanded and improved Filipino Community Centre. The Bayanihan Centre in Victoria, supported by several Filipino organizations, raised funds since 1990, and was finally established in 2001 after acquiring a provincial grant and a credit-union mortgage. The Philippine Cultural Center Foundation in Calgary, sitting in a 2,750 square feet condominium property, took five years of hard work to fulfill their dream in 2001. The Filipino community in Winnipeg had the foresight to establish their Philippine centre way back in 1984 and have since then moved to a bigger location, sustained by continuous fundraising and volunteering.

It’s high time for an Edmonton Philippine centre. Each one of us has the capacity to contribute for this cultural monument and legacy project. As the saying goes, “If you want to go fast, go alone; but if you want to go far, go together.” So to all Filipinos and those of Filipino descent in Edmonton, shall we?

* This article was published in the March 2019 issue of the Alberta Filipino Journal.

Friday, 15 February 2019

Antonio and Ross Baisas: Masters of Ice and Snow

I first met and wrote about the Baisas Brothers, Antonio and Ross, last year when they competed for the first time at the Ice on Whyte Festival. Already on a wave of a succession of top awards in previous competitions, they won 1st place, Judges' Choice, and People's Choice Awards for their ice carving "Alliance" in the 2018 Ice on Whyte. A day after the opening of the festival, they left immediately for work and two other competitions in the ice carving circuit. These were the Winter Interlude 2018 in Ottawa where they again garnered the top prize, and the Judges and Public Choices Awards at the Fete D'hiver Saint-Jean-Port-Joli International Competition in Quebec.

The top three awardees in Ice on Whyte are automatically qualified for the following year. And so, the Baisas Brothers were prominently featured in the 2019 Ice on Whyte media releases. However, before returning to Edmonton from Montreal and Ottawa where they are respectively based, they participated in the SnowDays International Snow Sculpture Competition in Banff. Their work "Tangled", which depicted two moose with interlocking antlers, won Judges' Pick and People's Choice Awards.

I had the privilege of spending some time with Ross and Antonio, and witness the stages of their creation "Roarrr!!!" in the Ice on Whyte, 2019 Canada Cup of Ice Carving. On Day 1, when they showed me their design, my eyes just popped with their derring do. Their design was the riskiest. While the other competitors had detailed designs, they had wide and solid bases. The Baisas Brothers' design, a skeletal tyrannosaurus, would after all just stand on two legs, and have unsupported front and back extensions, not to mention the detailing for the bones, head and teeth for the dinosaur. When I remarked on it, they answered with a shrug, "That's the risk. What's the point in competing when you don't challenge yourself? You can't always play it safe." Well said.

I referred to the Baisas Borthers' work in my previous article as A Story of Fire and Ice - fire for their passion for their work and ice as the medium. Observing them work for three days validated this notion. The longest I lasted with them outdoors was 30 minutes, whereas they would work on their sculpture for 14 hours a day, a total of 35 hours, with 15 blocks of ice. I would joke with them about having no right to complain anymore for shoveling snow and having to find a better way of earning a living. I witnessed how a plain block of ice is transformed into a t-rex's foot in a span of 10-15 minutes. I saw their patience and perseverance in the painstaking grinding and scraping they do in frigid temperature.

What struck me most though aside from their skills and talent, is the love for what they do and the humility for what they can do and have achieved. The ice and snow sculptors circle is a tight knit group. They regularly meet up in the competition circuit. So while they are competitive, they are also supportive. It is not unusual for Ross and Antonio to lend their tools to their competitors, especially those who fly in from other countries and whose tools will not be allowed to go through Border Security. Spending time with them allowed me to be privy to their conversations about which competitions to vie for, strategies for funding and making the trip viable, and commissioned works. All these made it more concrete for me the amount and the kind of sacrifices they make for something they love, and not necessarily something they will earn money from.

Stunned as I was initially with their design, I knew though that if there's anyone who could execute the design, it would be them. And they did, with flying colours. I was amazed by the detailing, the way they were able to make the long tail curve, and the clarity and seamlessness of the ice. When I asked him why their work was so, whereas with the other competitors' sculptures you can detect the delineations of the ice blocks, they just smiled enigmatically and said, "There's a technique for that. And that's the secret."

Nature, though, has cunning ways. On Day 3, with its 0 degree overnight temperature and +4 Celsius daytime high, lovely for Edmontonians for January, proved to be challenging for the ice sculptures. With the ice melting, a perilous part of "Roarrr!!!" collapsed 10 minutes before the final judging. Nature, after all, is something you have to contend with in these competitions. Nevertheless, "Roarrr!!!" and the Baisas Brothers were awarded 3rd Place and the Artists' Choice awards during the opening of the Festival. After its 2-week run, Roarrr!!! was announced the winner of the People's Choice Award despite having part of its tail in the ground.

The Baisas Brothers were scheduled to leave first thing in the morning after the announcement of winners. Reality sets in quickly and they needed to meet work demands for the upcoming Lunar New Year. I asked them to have an extended time in the city when they return next year to allow some time for the Filipino community to meet them. Unfortunately, a return to the Ice on Whyte or other competitions might not even be in the plans pending financial support to cover travel expenses to these competitions, and allowed time off from work. In fact, it was a little bit aching to attest that someone who shovels snow in the sidewalk probably earns more than someone who has earned top prize after 35 hours of hard and skilled work in the ice.

Nevertheless, I hope that Antonio and Ross find consolation and fulfillment in the fact that we are in awe of their talents and skills, and are proud of what they have achieved and will continue to reap representing both Canada and the Philippines.

* This article was published in the February 2019 issue of the Alberta Filipino Journal.

** As an update, just this February, the Baisas Brothers together with Kiara-Lyne Baisas, won again 2nd place and Public Choice Award in the Snow Sculpture Competition at Fete L'hiver at Saint-Jean-Port-Joli at Quebec.