Once a year I take a step into food stands, dirt, hot sunshine, and wrestling for a chair. Once a year I visit Philfest in Tampa to load up on all things Filipino!
Compared to other Asian festivals throughout Florida, I’ve always thought of Philfest as a festival that is more catered for the people it represents– other Filipinos. I imagine that curious festival-goers not familiar with the people from this Asian, island country will not be as entertained as if they had visited– say, a Japanese or Chinese festival. But those two countries typically seem to enjoy placing all the shine on just its talented, few people (REALLY! Do most Chinese-Americans do martial arts? Exactly). ALL Filipinos try to get in the spotlight and in turn, those in charge allow the entire community to take part– but can result in non-Filipinos having a hard time learning exactly what the Philippines is about (when actually that is a big part of it). Confused yet?
One thing you’ll overdose on at Philfest is food. The football field-sized clearing is dotted with dozens of stands. Almost every bordering stand specialized in Filipino food; palabok, halo-halo, lumpia, etc. Of course, you have lots of merchandise stands that sold the gifts for a modern tongue (teens showing their pride with Philippine-engraved shirts) or the old (Philippine custom dresses). And lots of other stands catering primarily to the Philippine crowd (like passport renewal services and GMA– a Philippine TV station).
Hovering over everything Philfest is the large, outdoor stage boasting a new mural. Throughout the weekend, different acts are featured– from Philippine cultural dances, a singing competition, a hip-hop dance competition, contemporary dancers… yea, I don’t know how some of that relates to the Philippines either. The shows often creep out from a highly disorganized stage crew who are often seen still tracking down the next act or host. Yet, the shows are entertaining– and I’ll say it again– but the performers often seem more interested in showing off to their peers than to curious festival-goers.
This Pyra doesn’t recommend Philfest to people who have no ties to Filipinos. It’ll feel like a senior in high school suddenly changing schools and everyone has already been clique-ified. For those who have ties– it’ll feel like going back home and back into community. And yes, that is actually a big part of being Filipino.
Click on my pictures to view Philfest on Saturday– but here’s a warning– you’ll mostly just see University of South Florida students (from the Association of Filipino Students) just goofing off.