Philippine American Association celebrates 100 years in Kitsap County


One of Kitsap County’s strongest cultural groups celebrated 100 years of organizing, honoring a long history of commitment with an eye on what the future may hold for an evolving organization.

The Kitsap County Philippine-American Association celebrated its sold-out centennial on Saturday at the Suquamish Clearwater Casino Resort, attracting more than 160 members and friends of the association, including recently re-elected Bremerton Mayor Greg Wheeler and representative of the Washington State Jesse Young. Guests enjoyed cultural dance performances, speeches by longtime members of the Board of Directors and the guest speaker, the Brigadier. General Oscar Hilman, as well as food, socializing and dancing. Local Filipino group The Chapinos volunteered to provide entertainment.

The ballroom was packed to capacity, much to the delight of President Raul Bacas and senior board members Virgil Valdez and Elmer Alba, who said they hoped this strong performance would motivate more people to come forward. actively involve in the club.

Chuchi Lokken is a senior member of the Philippine-American Association and has been an integral part of operations for many years and helped organize the club's centennial celebration.

“The guests are mostly older members and I think they will be delighted to see how we have developed a more organized group,” he said.

The Fil-Am benefited from a strong involvement of members when a goal of finding a permanent physical home was being developed. In 2015, the Philippine-American Association purchased a community center at 1240 Sheridan Road, turning a former VFW hall into a gathering place.

“This will inspire them to join again,” Alba said.

Filipinos have always been one of the most prominent ethnic groups in Kitsap County. In addition to the Fil-Am Association, clubs such as the Filipino Women’s Club, the Pacific Northwest Ilocandia Association, a Visayan organization, and the Bainbridge Indipinos are part of the Kitsap cultural scene, and the Fil-Am has a long history of hosting a annual event in April at Bataan Park in Bremerton to recognize Filipino and American lives lost in WWII.

Many Filipinos originally came to Bainbridge as strawberry growers, according to Leslie Daugs, a Filipino-American and current vice-chair of Bremerton City Council. Others came due to links with the military or naval shipyard over the following years to make the Northwest their home.

Alba grew up in the Philippines but spent 24 years in the Navy and was stationed in Bangor and Silverdale upon completion of her service.

Today, the organization serves 14,000 Filipino-Americans in the greater Kitsap area, having grown significantly since its founding as a 40-person club in 1921.

Despite a much larger population in Kitsap with a Filipino heritage these days, Valdez said that as he and the rest of the leadership continue to age, the Fil-Am is challenged to recruit a new generation to fill. his shoes.

Valdez hopes his own children can lead the organization in the future, but recognizes the differences in society today.

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“We are community driven,” he said. “And the point is, our children, the youth of today, have a hard time identifying with who they want to be. I’m not sure if we can blame the tech, the social media, but for me, I still can’t figure out how I can get them to become like us – volunteer leaders in this community.

For now, Valdez has said he believes new immigrants would be more likely to take on big roles in the association. He said the association has had youth-focused programs in the past, such as the Miss Fil-Am pageant, but that there still seems to be a cultural divide between those who immigrated from the Philippines and those who immigrated from the Philippines. second or third generation residents.

These board members raised their children to know and value Filipino culture, but realize that current American culture can influence life choices.

“As parents, we don’t want them to go away,” Alba said. “As a culture in the Philippines, the family stays together. They don’t have to leave after (they’re) 18. So we keep them in the family. When we come to the United States, that kind of culture is now changed. . “

Guests at the centennial celebration dance to live music from the Chapinos.

Alba has two grown daughters who have moved to Seattle. He said they have the values ​​he instilled in helping the community and that they are part of a cultural dance group in Seattle. Her two children are linked to their heritage and contribute to the association when they can – they played at the centenary event – but it is not practical for them to participate full time in an organization like Fil- Am.

Noel Mendoza, 39, moved from the Philippines to Washington at the age of 3. He says his grandparents were highly respected in the community and as a child he was often surrounded by association members and events. He has now been a member of the board for a year since returning to Kitsap from California, and as the youngest member of the board he is more confident in connecting with young people and strengthening the leadership of the ‘to come up.

When he was growing up, the community held basketball camps, martial arts classes and cultural dance programs that he said took him away from the streets. He would love to bring programs like this back, or ideas like video game nights or hip-hop dance lessons to the center of the association to bring them closer to the community.

Saturday’s centennial celebration allowed Mendoza to interact with people he had not seen in years, and he said the sense of community remains intact. Many attendees expressed interest in getting more involved, which would diversify the club’s demographics.

Bacas has said he will step down at the end of this year, and Valdez has the backing of his long-awaited successor.

Daugs said she started attending Fil-Am Association events to learn more about her identity and engage with her culture.

“It’s so important,” she said.

Members of the board of directors of the Philippine-American Association gather in their building in Bremerton for a meeting.  President Raul Bacas stands in the center, with key board members Virgil Valdez to his left and Elmer Alba to his right.  Noel Mendoza, the youngest member, is on the right.

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