BUENA PARK — Filipino Americans from throughout Southern California gathered at Knott's Berry Farm on Saturday to celebrate Philippine Independence Day.
Park officials said they expected about 25,000 Filipino Americans to visit the park over the weekend to join thousands of other visitors in celebrating a "fiesta Filipiniana." The two-day festival continues today and features Filipino food, music and entertainment.
For many young members of the Filipino American community, the celebration was a chance to share their culture with others.
"My friends don't know much about us. Because many of us have Spanish names, they think we're Hispanic," said Rey Guintu, 19, from Carson. "And they don't understand why most people from the Philippines speak English."
Many young Filipino Americans identify themselves as "Fil-Ams," Guintu said.
The festival was billed as the 96th anniversary of Philippine independence, in recognition of June 12, 1898, when Filipinos declared their independence from Spain following the U.S. naval victory over the Spanish fleet in Manila Bay.
However, the Philippines continued to be governed as a colony of the United States until July 4, 1946, when it became an independent nation.
"Most Americans don't know that Filipinos learned English in school," said Lily Gamboa, 20, who went to the festival with Guintu. "My grandparents lived in the Philippines and both of my parents were born there, and all of them learned English in school."
On Saturday, sunny skies and warm temperatures complemented the ambience of the cultural activities. Park visitors sampled various traditional dishes, including the popular lumpias, and heard stories of legendary Filipino heroes.
Sharon Burke said she drove from Monrovia with her three teen-age grandchildren to enjoy the festivities. She lived in the Philippines, where her father worked for an American manufacturing company, when she was a young girl.
"We don't hear too much about the Filipino community. But Filipinos are hard-working, conscientious folks," Burke said. "They are one of the biggest ethnic groups in the state, but everybody, including the politicians, overlooks them."
The event featured an entertainment troupe from Los Angeles called Kasaysayan Ng Lahi, which used dance and music to illustrate Filipino culture. The evening's highlight was a Santacruzan, a quasi-religious ceremony where young women dressed in traditional gowns and their escorts re-enact a ceremony giving thanks for a successful harvest.
The festival is sponsored by the Southern California Filipino American community and the Philippine government's Department of Tourism.