New Events Aim to Reinvigorate the 2023 Filipino Fiesta & Flores de Mayo

by Edwin Quinabo

It’s that time of year again, when Hawaii brings together all that is beautiful about Filipino culture for a daylong extravaganza that usually draws 10,000 people.

That signature event – in its 31st year — is the annual Filipino Fiesta & Flores de Mayo. For a second consecutive year, the Filipino Community Center in Waipahu will host the Fiesta this May 6, 2023, 10 am to 8 pm. The 2023 Fiesta’s theme is “Itan-ok Tayo Ti Masakbayan” or “Looking Ahead with Pride.”

Slated for the day is the FilCom Center’s typical blueprint for success that has made the Fiesta a popular draw and one of the biggest Filipino festivals in the world outside of the Philippines. They’ll have heaps of hearty authentic Filipino and local food, cultural and educational booths, non-stop riveting entertainment.

But organizers are taking the Fiesta to new heights with the introduction of new features.

“There will be different features in the Fiesta this year that we are excited about. We have extended the hours until 8 pm so we have great entertainment – from morning to night! We will have the MaARTe Art Gallery & Auction which will showcase several designers and artists as well as having an auction for art pieces.  The funds generated here will go towards the FilCom Center’s programs,” said Harry Alonso, Co-chair of 2023 Filipino Fiesta.

Another first, there will be an exclusive cultural exhibit, the Habi at Baro Collection, to be held in the Flores Ballroom will feature the works of designer Iris Gil. It will be displayed during the Fiesta and be open to special tours for groups or schools starting May 1st.  Unique to this year as well, there will be two entertainment stages: the main stage located in the heart of the event and the Filipino Village stage located in the Consuelo Courtyard.

Organizers encourage Filipinos and Hawaii’s culture lovers to come out and enjoy these as well as other firsts like new food and business vendors, as well as entertainers making their Fiesta debut. They want to remind fiesta-goers that the event is free and open to the public.

It’s like going to a new Fiesta and establishing new traditions in the Fiesta’s new home at the FilCom Center. For decades past venues were held at Kapiolani Park and the Ala Moana area.

One concern expressed over moving the festivities to Waipahu is finding parking. Organizers say they’ve got that covered.  Parking will be available and free at YMCA, Milltown, Waikele Center, August Ahrens Elementary, and Waipahu High School. There will be a shuttle service every 10 minutes to and from these locations.

Breakdown of events at the Fiesta
Adobo Cookoff
Best of Da Best Adobo Cook Off is open to the public but competitors must sign up for it. Visit for details. A cash prize will be awarded to the winner.

Nayong Pilipino
Cultural exhibits and presentations will be in the FilCom Center’s Courtyard. Experience the beauty of Filipino culture. Visit the Filipino Association of University Women’s Habi at Baro Cultural Exhibit Clothing & Wearing Collection. Iris Gil creations will be featured. Gil is a designer who studied Fashion design in Los Angeles and Paris, trained in Interior Design in Dallas. He uses one of a kind hand-crafted material from India, Japan and the Philippines, like juzi (Pinoy silk), pina (pineapple fabric), Hawaiian kapa (bark cloth), and abaca (banana fabric).

Shelly Carmona, Events & Programs Director, FilCom Center, said “the cultural booths will also feature Alpha Phi Omega-Hawaii, UH-Katipunan, Fil-Am Club Farrington HS, Bibak-Hawaii, UPAA-Hawaii, Bicol Club-Hawaii, Kahirup Ilonggo, Dabawenyos-Hawaii, DOCE Pares & Hawaii Defense Academy, and Filipino-American Historical Society of Hawaii (FAHSOH). While supplies last there will have a Filipino Village Passport for participants to use as they visit a regional exhibit. There will be prizes for completed Filipino Village Passports.”

Visit MaARTe Benefit Sale & Silent Auction on inspired art, fashion and pre-loved items will be available to support the FilCom Center’s cultural and educational programs. MaARTe will be at the FilCom Center ballroom.

There will be featured pieces from Eduardo “Eddie” Joaquin, artist and BFA candidate at UH Manoa; Iris Viacrusis, international fashion designer; Leni Acosta Knight, international symbolist artist; Zach Angeles, artist, educator and broadcaster.  If you would like to donate vintage Filipino-inspired jewelry and accessories, Filipiniana and Barong, paintings, sculptures, and cultural artifacts for MaARTe, contact Shelly Carmona at 808-680-0451.

With this year’s two stages for entertainment, this set up can accommodate more entertainers. “The main stage will be located in the heart of the event, the Filipino Village stage will be located in the Consuelo Courtyard,” Carmona said.

Jules Aurora and Ten Feet will be featured during the Fil-Am Music Hour (which will be from 6 pm – 8 pm.

Vhen Bautista, prince of Ilokano songs and YouTube sensation, Dyezebel Alonzo, Angelica Morales, Rosanna Sarmiento Laroco and Joel Tolentino will be featured at the Ilokano Music Hour from 4 pm to 6 pm.

Carmona said, “There will be performances from all regions represented by participating organizations. This schedule will start at 10 am with a performance from the region of Ilocos performed by UH-Katipunan. On the main stage, we will kick off Filipino Fiesta with a chant by Aunty Iwalani followed by Choro Filipino performing Filipino National Anthem. The Best of Da Best Adobo Cook-Off will be at 12:15 AM on the main stage.”

Kabataan Barangay
There will be Filipino games with limited edition prizes and a scavenger hunt.

Filipino Neighborhood Bazaar featuring the Sari-Sari Store
A variety of Filipino products will be sold at the Sari-Sari store. Products from Filipino snacks, seasoning, food and household items will be priced below retail cost. The sari-sari store (tiangge) is a variety store, a place to hang out, make friends. It is known as the heart of retail culture in the Philippines. A practice in a typical sari-sari store there is to sell items repacked in small quantities to enable the price of goods to be lower and serve the needs of the neighborhood.

Food vendors
This year’s food vendors are Sinublan, Chubby Fries & Wings, Kahirup Llongo, Island Sausage, Local Poke Bowl, Corn Onoz Hawaii, Sweettreats808, Otay Thai Lao Express.  The food trucks are Da Hub, Sama Sama, Ubae, Kaiser Health Trailer.

Bennette Misalucha, community leader, has been going to the Fiesta since it came into existence. Her favorite thing at the Fiesta is the food. “The food definitely! Food unites us! It’s not just a way to taste the familiar flavors of our childhood, it’s also an opportunity for us to share our favorite recipes with our non-Filipino friends.  In addition to the food, I love how a festival like this gathers our community together to celebrate common traditions and practices.”

Misalucha was a member of the Filipino Chamber of Commerce during the first ever Filipino Fiesta, which was then held at Kapiolani Park. “I’m so proud of how it has evolved into a signature event.  I usually bring my family along!”

Business vendors
“There are Pop-Up Shops where local vendors are selling their products and services. This year we have over 75 plus vendors!” Alonso said.

Naming only a few of the business vendors: ILWU, Filipino Chamber of Commerce, United Filipino Council/Lions, Philippine Airlines, Hawaiian Honey Cones, Teapresso, Kolohe Sweets, Churro Corer, Sugah Daddeh’s Cane Juice, First Hawaiian Bank, Hawaii Filipino Chronicle, Sweet Treats by CDash, Hawaii Candy Factory, AT&T, Wicked Essentials, Magnolia, Knights of Rizal, Manang Mochi, Ever Chocolate.

Ruby Sarmiento, East Oahu, is a frequent Fiesta-goer. She recalls back in 2000 when she was a business vendor at the Fiesta. At the time she owned a store in Waipahu named Yellow Ribbon. “I sold and distributed Goldilocks products to different local stores here in Oahu. I got a booth and brought the pastries at the Filipino fiesta.  It was a hit and a huge success because it was a rare commodity back then.  Our kababayans really enjoyed having these products available here in Oahu.”

What she looks most forward to at the Fiesta now are both the Filipino food (merienda, kankanin) and entertainment.

Community Health Fair
At the Fiesta, the Bayanihan Clinic Without Walls (BCWW) will be having a Community Health Fair.  Jay Flores, President of BCWW, said BCWW’s aim at the Community Health Fair is to make the public aware of the services their not-for-profit organization has to offer, specifically medical and dental care for uninsured immigrants and the indigent population of Hawaii.

He said,” I will do my best to answer questions that people may have regarding our organization and refer them to participating providers in our organization who can help them with their medical or dental needs.”

Dr. Arnold Villafuerte, BCWW, said his role in the Community Health Fair is to coordinate with the planning committee what BCWW wants to do at the Fair, which is to make BCWW known and to be visible to the public.

To name a few of the health companies and organization participating in the Filipino Fiesta and Community Health Fair: 5-Min Pharmacy, Waianae Comprehensive Health Center, Humana, WellCare Ohana, UHA Health Insurance, San Diego Dentistry.

“Community Health Fair is an innovative way to educate, promote healthy lifestyle changes, inspire, and disseminate health education materials to underserved and hard to reach population such as the newcomers. 

“Filipinos comprise about 80% of newly arrived immigrants and because they don’t have any health insurance coverage yet, it is a “blessing” that programs such as the Lanakila Easy Access Program (LEAP) at the State Department of Health in cooperation with the BCWW providers is available to address the health access needs of underserved population,” Dr. Villafuerte said.

Why the Filipino Fiestamatters
Filipinos have mentioned a myriad of reasons why an event like this has benefited the community – from its uniting Filipinos to giving them a deeper sense of ethnic pride. Misalucha said, “The Filipino fiesta is more than just a festival.  Yes, it gathers us all together as a community to celebrate our shared heritage.  But I think, the value it brings is that it serves as a statement that we have ‘arrived’ and we are part of the colorful and intricate tapestry that makes Hawaii special.”

She also believes in giving credit to those who’ve helped to launch the Fiesta. “I think it’s worth recalling the first Filipino Fiesta under the leadership of Eddie Flores.  It was his vision to celebrate Filipino heritage as a way to focus attention on the Filipino Community Center which was then just a dream.  That first Fiesta was full of hope and promise for the future.  We were all inspired! The attendance was not yet as large as it is now, but nevertheless, we knew we had a good thing coming.  I think a parade was added the following year.  Those early days are now part of our history but recalling them always gave me a warm feeling of gratitude for a community that nurtured our dreams.”

The Fiesta is an emoticon of nostalgia among many early leaders like Misalucha who were active in birthing this now revered event. Alonso recalls the last time he chaired the Fiesta was over 20 years ago.

“I had the honor of chairing the weeklong Mabuhay Festival that encompasses the week-long celebration of the opening of the FilCom Center.  From the dedication of the Center on the beginning of the week to the Filipino Fiesta at the end of the week.  I miss having the Fiesta in Kapiolani Park.  I miss having the parade which was an integral part of the Fiesta and showcased Filipino pride going down Kalakaua Avenue in Waikiki to the park.  Before the center was built, there was overwhelming enthusiasm in the Filipino community.  The unity of the groups to come together to get it built was both awe inspiring and memorable.  I hope to see something like this again in our community,” Alonso said. 

Sarmiento said community events like the Fiesta is great at helping Filipinos understand their culture. She adds, “It also provides opportunities for volunteering, as well as cultural, and economic developments for Filipinos to benefit from. It serves as a vehicle to connect people, build relationships and create a sense of common identity.”

The abundance of positivity surrounding this event could be why the Filipino Fiesta lasted as long as it had. And this year – based on ambitious planning of new features – it looks to be the year the Fiesta returns in full force, to pre-pandemic hoorah.

“A huge mahalo to all our community volunteers for putting this event together. Many hours of planning and coordination to pull this off. Please come and celebrate with us on May 6. We also want to thank our loyal sponsors,” Alonso said.

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