The FilCom Center, Every Filipino's Legacy
by JP Orias
Sprawling over two acres by the old Oahu Sugar Mill on suburban Waipahu, the three-story Filipino Community Center covers 50,000 square feet of commercial spaces, a grand ballroom of Waikiki standards for community activities and social events and a courtyard decked with blooming roses, palms, umbrellas and rustic fountain. Adjacent to the Dona Consuelo Courtyard are the state-of-the-art technology center, hi-tech conference rooms with teleconference capabilities, the Wall of Donors and an art gallery. The villa tile roof building of Spanish architecture conjures up images of colonial Intramuros, the old Manila. The Spanish design blends well with the sugar mill plantation smoke stack. Arguably, it could be called the "queen" of Waipahu's 21st century renaissance. It is but fitting, after all it is the biggest Filipino Community Center outside of the Philippines and is architecturally designed to repeat the Filipino's penchant for Spanish inspired buildings. And although it is in every aspect Filipino, it is also multi-cultural in that the renters, guests and four caterers belong to different ethnic origins. It is a building built on Filipino pride and bayanihan spirit and yet still retains enough spirit of aloha to everyone who wants to work, rent, learn and enjoy the daily activities without regard to ethnicity.
The FilCom Center was formally inaugurated in June, 2002, almost a century after the first 15 Filipino farmers sailed for Hawaii on board the SS Doric in 1906, which legitimized the Filipino migration to the western hemisphere. Other United States Congress resolutions that fueled the Filipino Diaspora were the War Brides Act of 1945, the ratification of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 which enticed many Filipino professionals to come to the United States and the emigration en masse of the WWII Filipino veterans to Hawaii, to take advantage of U.S. Naturalization and Immigration Act 1990 which granted them U.S. citizenship. By the turn of the century, there were 200,000 Americans of Filipino ancestry in Hawaii making up more than 15% of the state's population, enough to gain a powerful identity in the community through culture, entertainment, education, business and politics. The need for a place to showcase its culture and dignity became apparent. This became the symbol of the Filipinos' achievements, the elegant structure that now stands on the corner of Mokuola and Waipahu Streets.
The Filipino Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii in1991 initiated the FilCom Center during the tenure of Lito Alcantra as president. In 1993, the Filipino Community Center, Inc. assumed a legal personality with the mission to develop, own and operate a community center that provides social, economic and education services and to promote and perpetuate Filipino culture and customs in the State of Hawai'i. Roland Casamina and Eddie Flores were its first president and vice president, respectively. Hard working community volunteers composed its Executive Committee.
A tax-exempt, non-profit organization as defined under section 501(c) 3 of the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, the FilCom Center was built through the generous donations of foundations, trusts, private corporations and government entities. AMFAC donated the land. Heading its list of donors are the Harry & Jeannette Weinberg, the City and County of Honolulu, the Department of Commerce, the State of Hawaii, the VA Housing and Urban Development, the Consuelo Zobel Alger Foundation and a great number of business establishments. Credit however, goes to the community for working so hard in soliciting pledges from almost everyone. They raised a total of $9,000,000 as immortalized in the Wall of Donors at the center's east wing. However, the $3.5 million construction loan remains outstanding. This calls for another massive effort by the community to "complete the dream".
On its third year of operation, the FilCom Center offers more activities for the community. Its computer classes have branched out to advanced computer courses like Digital Presentation and Internet classes after 72 of its first batch of students graduated in Basic Computer Operations, Word Processing and Excel Spreadsheets. Classes in Filipino folk dancing, ballroom dancing, taekwando and escrima have gained popularity like the academic classes on citizenship, social, medical and human services programs. For the elderly (62 years old and above), Filcom offers it unique Smarts Seniors Program where they can attend free computer applications classes, physical activities and learn about elderly lifestyle and health issues through a grant from the City and County of Honolulu. Most notably, FilCom has tripled its revenues from ballroom and conference room rentals For 2006, cultural performances produced by FilCom include La Tertulla sa Intramuros in February and Sakada Sights and Sounds in April. La Tertulia recreates the afternoon parties of old Intramuros, which were filled with poetry (tula) love songs (Kundiman) and Spanish influence dances (Maria Clara). As FilCom's tribute to the Filipino Farmers' Centennial, Sakada Sights and Sounds features private collections of photographs and popular multi ethnic songs of the plantation era. These performances are partly funded by the State Foundation of Culture and Arts.
As a humble tribute to the Filipino farmers who came ahead of almost everyone in these islands, the FilCom Center holds a Farmers' Market at its back lot on Mondays and Fridays from 4:00 PM to 6:00 PM where only local harvests are sold. This is a simple gesture of living up to the legacy of Dr. Jose Rizal, the foremost Filipino patriot who once reminded his compatriots to "Look back to find the path that one should trod." He stands bigger than life at the front lawn of the FilCom center.
(JP Orias is the VP, Program Director of the Filipino Community Center.)