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Sunday, Nov 19, 2017
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Tampa’s PhilFest draws thousands for celebration of Filipino culture

TAMPA — Beneath streams of colorful banners, young Filipino women and girls, each immaculately attired in flowing dresses and flanked by escorts, made their way around the grounds at the Bayanihan Arts and Events Center Sunday for the Flores de PhilFest parade.

Sunday was the final day of PhilFest 2015, the 20th annual festival that celebrates Filipino music, dancing, theater, art, food and other cultural customs at the Bayanihan Center, owned and operated by the Philippine Cultural Foundation, Inc.

Last year, between 100,000 and 120,000 attended the event, and this year’s crowds seemed about the same, said Max Abellana, president of the Philippine-American Cultural Organization.

“A lot of people here come from out-of-state,” Abellana said. “We get people from Michigan, Illinois, New York, and California. Yesterday was packed with activities. It was packed non-stop until midnight.”

Among the out-of-towners Sunday was Joseph Potenza of New York, who married a Filipino woman. Potenza said he now has two Italian-Filipino daughters and 14 Filipino godchildren.

Potenza said he is in town for several days to take in the festival, as well as a Tampa Bay Rays-New York Yankees game this week.

Potenza, who has family in the area, said he frequently travels back and forth from New York to Tampa, and has spent considerable time in the Philippines.

“I love it there,” Potenza said. “The warmness of the people makes me feel at home.”

Around the Bayanihan Center, vendors sold clothing, jewelry and lots of food.

Not far from the stage at the Sinagtala Theater, a vendor sold T-shirts, hats and other merchandise celebrating Filipino hero and world champion boxer Manny “Pac-Man” Pacquiao — also a member of the Philippine House of Representatives — scheduled to face Floyd Mayweather on May 2 in what is expected to be the biggest-selling prizefight in history.

Other activities Sunday included a street dancing competition, and performances by Lilac Cana, of Canada, a Filipino opera singer and concert soloist who has performed around the globe, and the comic stylings of stand-up comedian Rex Navarrete, considered “the most notable Filipino comedian to date,” event organizers said.

Matt Mayer, of Tampa, attended the festival with his wife, Rachel, their six children, and his in-laws, Roy and Betty Covarrubias, both of the Philippines.

“They live in New Tampa now, but they moved here about 30 years ago” from Michigan, Mayer said. “My father-in-law wanted to be a nurse. He moved to Belgium, and that’s where he met my mother-in-law.

“He said he always wanted to come to the United States, and he knew if he became a nurse, he’d have a better opportunity to do that.”

Edwin Ostrand, vice president of the Philippine-American Cultural Organization, said the festival is always held over three days in April. “There’s never any problems here,” Ostrand said. “No drama, no fighting. It’s all peaceful. People are just here to have a great time. It’s multi-racial, just one big group getting together. There are no separations or cliques; it’s unique.”

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