In past years, Seattle University’s United Filipino Club (UFC) Barrio Fiesta was one of the biggest cultural events on campus, drawing large crowds of hundreds to watch as UFC members performed lively, traditional dances and skits with eye-catching props. Attendees were able to enjoy a dinner with culinary delights that featured a wide variety of traditional Filipino foods.
This year, students and families tuned in from their homes to watch a more contemplative Barrio that highlighted Filipino culture and commemorated this past year’s difficulties. According to third-year biology major Marian Amaranto, one of the Barrio Fiesta XXVII co-chairs, this was because they wanted to reflect on issues of importance to the Filipino community.
“Given the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on communities of color, the rising violence and against Asians and Asian-Americans in this country…we wanted to openly celebrate our culture without fear of the people who wish to do us harm,” Amaranto said.
Every year, Barrio organizers choose a theme that focuses on one aspect of the culture. However, for those in charge of the event this year, planning felt like an exercise in creative freedom. The club had just inherited a blank slate, as there had never been a remote Barrio in UFC history. Amaranto and third-year nursing majorSam Jacob Elobo, her fellow Barrio co-chair, commemorated the difficulties of this past year by taking a deliberate turn away from the sentences-long themes of past years.
Instead, they chose a single word to encapsulate the theme for the event: freedom.
“It struck a chord with us,” Elobo said. “I think, as a club, we have the freedom to be who we want in this world and no one’s going to take that away from us, whether it be here in the states or back home. Filipinos have that resiliency and that drive to be the best versions of ourselves that we want to be.”
Beyond the ongoing prejudice and violence facing AAPI in the U.S., the theme also attempted to communicate the political issues happening in the Philippines, such as Filipino activist groups who are fighting for their rights, despite anti-terrorism bills that make it possible to leave activists in jail for weeks with no charges. The theme’s significance was not lost on UFC member Cameryn Laborte, a third-year mechanical engineering major.
“It’s really important, especially for those of us who are very involved politically, and very involved with family who are still back home,” Laborte said. “I also think that it reflected…that there’s a new challenge right now. We’re trying to find a new way through something. And with that there is a little bit of freedom to find your own way through it. And I just found that [theme] resonated in two different ways.”
The non-traditional format allowed these issues, as well as the club’s philanthropy, to take center stage. In place of the skit, UFC collaborated with their philanthropy partner to have Rosella De Leon, the executive director of the Foundation for Philippine Progress, deliver a speech that shared various resources for supporting AAPI organizations.
The event also featured a segment with an interview from a recipient of the foundation, who explained how they benefited from the additional funds. UFC third-year kinesiology major Jessica Kimm appreciated how much more depth there was to this year’s Barrio in regards to philanthropy.
“To see who was in charge [and] hear straight from them was pretty special, because that’s not something we’d normally have,” Kimm said.
Without a yearly skit and groups being limited to two people for partner dances, the event had more opportunity for creative expression from its members. The performances were also more eclectic, as the “modified Barrio,” allowed UFC members to feature song covers, dances and other individual talents.
“My co-chair and I have had to readjust a lot of elements of the show, because obviously a lot of the planning normally happens in person,” Amaranto said. “We really gave our members the freedom to perform however they felt comfortable.”
The various committees for Barrio also repurposed themselves to reflect the new platform. Laborte supported Barrio festivities as part of Sari Sari, one of the committees for festivities. In place of their usual duties, which typically includes gathering merchandise and snacks to sell, the committee put together a compendium of local Filipino business and artisans in a gesture of support.
“There was a lot of brainstorming from each of the committees to keep [the values of] what their group would normally do and transition it something that’s plastered on a screen,” Laborte said.
Barrio Fiesta recalled the legacy of past Barrios, bringing together UFC members and their families for an evening of celebration. Following a year of little contact and violence against Asians and Asian-Americans in the U.S. and abroad, Barrio was a reminder of the power of support during unprecedented circumstances.