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Festival celebrates diversity of Filipino community

by Alex Madison

A dance group marched in last year's Pistahan parade.<br>Photo: Courtesy FAAE
A dance group marched in last year's Pistahan parade.
Photo: Courtesy FAAE  

As one of the largest celebrations of Filipino culture and heritage in the country, the 24th annual Pistahan Parade and Festival is as entertaining as it is meaningful. Tens of thousands of people are expected to flock to the Yerba Buena Gardens for the festival this weekend.

This year's theme, "Pride and Progress in SOMA Pilipinas," ties closely to the one-year anniversary of the official designation of SOMA Pilipinas as a Filipino heritage district by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

Al Perez, president of the Filipino American Arts Exposition, which organizes the event, said the theme represents pride in Filipino culture, but also pride in diversity.

< "A lot of us are immigrants and very proud of that. We're happy to be in a place where diversity is celebrated â€" where we don't build walls and we celebrate differences," Perez said.

This also includes the LGBTQ community, of which Perez is proud to be a member as a gay man. The Philippines is "very accepting" of the LGBTQ community, Perez said, and welcomes all people. LGBTQ performers and organizations will participate in the festival, including the Asian and Pacific Islander Wellness Center, an LGBTQ and people of color health organization, and Tita Aida, a local Filipino and LGBTQ community leader who is a longtime advocate for HIV/AIDS awareness, particularly among Asian-Americans.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony will kick off the weekend Saturday, August 12 at 10 a.m. at San Francisco Civic Center. A visual feast of Filipino culture follows with a parade at 11. Beginning at Civic Center, the parade will wend down Market Street toward Fourth Street as paradegoers will watch cultural dance contingents, floats, and marching bands.

A new, and very rare, addition to the parade this year is an authentic Filipino jeepney driven from Seattle. Jeepneys are old U.S. military jeeps that were left behind in the Philippines during World War II. The jeepneys are hand-painted to represent Filipino culture, or as Perez described them, "folk art on wheels." The jeepney also serves as the festival's logo this year.

The Philippines flag will also make an appearance at the parade, but this year it will be simulated by college students with the Human Philippine Flag contingent. Perez said that it's "symbolic of the cultural pride of the next generation leaders." This year's grand marshal is David Canepa, who sits on the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors.

The festival goes both days from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Yerba Buena Gardens. Traditional Filipino food from the "Philippine Caravan" will offer a variety of Pinoy dishes and feature exhibitors from the Philippines. Music and cultural performances will be held on the main stage while interactive booths from cooking demonstrations to boxing, a popular Filipino sport, will be set up in the garden.

Yerba Buena Gardens' connection to the Pistahan dates back to the origin of the festival. The construction of Yerba Buena Gardens in 1991 displaced more than 4,000 Filipino families as part of the Yerba Buena Redevelopment Area. In honor of the community that once worked, lived, and influenced the neighborhood, the gardens worked with various Filipino organizations to start the festival.

"For us, it's a way to reclaim our land. To celebrate a community that used to be here and preserve our culture," Perez said.

The issues tied to gentrification still cloud the South of Market neighborhood. Perez said the designation of the area as a cultural district will hopefully spark an influx of business and, in turn, the return of Filipinos.

The festival, in fact, was the first event held at the gardens and is one that Linda Lucero, executive and artistic director of the Yerba Buena Garden Festival, said has been a privilege to host.

"We are thrilled to have partnered with Pistahan for more than two decades. It is the epitome of the Filipino people, art, culture and food," Lucero said


Both the parade and festival are admission free and open to the public. Yerba Buena Gardens, 750 Howard Street, will host the festival August 12-13. For more information and a schedule, visit



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