Pistahan serves up feast of Filipino culture

YERBA BUENA GARDENS — The sharing of culture and cuisine is a feast — as in the meaning of the word ‘Pistahan.’

More than 75,000 people filled historic Yerba Buena Gardens over the weekend for the 20th anniversary of the annual Pistahan Filipino parade and festival.

17-year-old Filipino-American Jordan Arcega always thought of the Philippines as another country. He was born in the United States and never experienced what it was like to live in the country from where his parents emigrated.

To Arcega, a junior at James Logan High School in Union City, the Pistahan festival is an attempt to keep the Philippine culture alive for generations to come:

 “I enjoyed the songs, the jokes and the stories about life back in the Philippines; aunties who live in homes as large as compounds receiving balikbayan boxes to feed entire villages, the pageantry around Santacruzan festivals with lechon (roasted pig), and learning why my lolo (grandfather) replaces ‘th’ with ‘da’ using Baybayin (Filipino alphabet). …  I acquired a growing curiosity about my heritage. I especially enjoyed the food.”

And no wonder. Traditional Filipino dishes brought not only a colorful display of textures but also joy to the taste buds:

  • Pancit Guisado  (stir fried seasoned rice sticks with meat and vegetables)
  • Palabok (seasoned rice noodles with egg and green onions), pork sparerib adobo (pork marinated in vinegar, garlic, and soy sauce)
  • Lumpia shanghai (fried pork or chicken eggrolls)
  • Sinigang (tamarind soup)
  • Chicken barbeque
  • Kare-kare with bagoong (peanut meat stew with shrimp paste)
  • Karioka (deep-fried coconut rice balls with a sweet glaze)
  • Ube ice cream
  • Halo-halo (iced milk drink with tropical fruits were offered in the open-air market.

For many Filipinos and Filipino Americans, Pistahan bridges the difference between first-generation immigrants and the second-generation of youth who grew up in the United States.

In 2000, the Bureau of Labor statistics revealed that the San Francisco Bay Area is home to approximately 320,000 residents of Filipino descent, with the majority living in Santa Clara County.

Years later, the 2010 Census showed 463,458 Filipino and Multi-racial Filipino Americans were living in the San Francisco Bay Area. Daly City has the highest concentration of Filipino Americans of any municipal city in the United States, making up 35 percent of the population.

Oscar Penaranda, a community activist who attended the first Pistahan festival in 1994, told SFBay:

“San Francisco is the ideal place, because the city has been – and still is the number one landing place for most Filipinos coming to the U.S.”

Florence Mendoza, 64, has helped to organize Pistahan since the event’s inception in 1992:

Pistahan organizer Florence Mendoza

“Twenty years ago, those who lived here wanted a place to share local art, culture and Filipino dishes.”

Around the same time, a dilapidated 19-block area south of Market Street was undergoing a radical revitalization spearheaded by the San Francisco Redevelopment Authority.

Starting with the Moscone Center in 1981, the Yerba Buena Project – a mixture of gardens, hotels, museums, shops, and restaurants — reached completion in October 1993.

One casualty of the redevelopment effort was the displacement of Manongs and Manangs in their 60s and 70s. This included many former residents of the International Hotel, once located in what once was Manilatown, a 10-block hub around Kearny Street that stretched from Columbus to California.

Penaranda remembered the mood around the first Pistahan in 1994:

“The community welcomed [Pistahan] like rain after a drought.”

Pistahan continues in the neighborhood that bears vestiges of the Filipino community’s long-standing presence, including streets named after Philippine national heroes, Mabini, Bonifacio, Lapu-Lapu, Rizal, and Tandang Sora.

As someone who has been involved with Pistahan consistently, Mendoza says that she has developed an understanding of both traditional and modern Filipino attitudes:

“The event brings the Filipino American youth closer to their roots.”