The Iloilo Chinese New Year Story
(Article Source: The News Today)
Mrs. Fanny Lao Uy, president of the Iloilo Multi-Sectoral Business Organization, Inc. (IMSBOI), has always been known to dabble fearlessly into unknown fields that come out successful, just through sheer grit and determination. In 2002, this formidable but visionary lady invited the then newly installed Chief Executive of the City of Iloilo, Mayor Jerry P. Treñas to attend the Chinese New Year Mass at the Santa Maria Parish, with the thought that she could show the City Mayor how the Ilonggo Chinoys celebrate the coming of a Lunar New Year.
How It Started
Santa Maria Parish, through its Jesuit priests, has incorporated Chinese Family Ancestral Rites as part of the liturgy of the Holy Mass. However, during the celebration of the Chinese New Year Mass, not only the ancestral rites are done by the Chinese Family Associations, but colorful Chinese ethnic dances are performed during mass offerings. It was during this time, that Mrs. Fanny L. Uy’s invitation for Mayor Jerry P. Treñas and his family was accepted and they graced the affair with their presence. Mrs. Uy saw this celebration as a venue for introducing the Chinese culture to the Ilonggo community. She was so inspired by the way fellow Chinoys celebrate the coming of the Lunar New Year, that she saw this to be an opportunity to strengthen the ties between the Chinoys and our brother Ilonggos.
With the help of the Sta. Maria Parish priest, Fr. Manuel Uy, SJ, Mrs. Fanny Uy, and two local prominent Chinoy business organizations, the Filipino Chinese Chamber of Commerce of Iloilo, Inc. (FCCCII) and the Federation of Filipino Chinese Chamber of Commerce of Panay, Inc. (FFCCCPI), the Hon. Jerry P. Treñas, initiated a city-wide celebration of the Chinese New Year making it the very first celebration of its kind outside Metro Manila. He created an ad hoc task force which was later named as Task Force Chinese New Year. The Honorable Mayor wrote a letter of invitation on January 16, 2003, requesting the FCCCII, FFCCCPI, the Filipino-Chinese community, and the Chinese-Filipino schools to help in the first Chinese New Year Celebration of the City of Iloilo. It was also during this momentous affair that the City Government would publicly recognize the efforts of Chinoy organizations and Chinoy Ilonggos who have made contributions to make Iloilo City better and more culturally attractive.
2003 and Beyond
Iznart Street of Iloilo City was chosen as the first venue of the celebration because it is where one will find most of the stores of the Chinoy retail businessmen. This street is known to the “locals” as Chinatown, just like Ongpin Street in Manila. Thus, Iznart was spruced up, decorations were put up, and all the stores cooperated by hanging authentic Chinese lanterns to signify and welcome the lunar year celebration.
In 2003, three schools participated in the program. These were the Iloilo Central Commercial High School, Iloilo Sun Yat Sen High School, and the Santa Maria Catholic School, now known as Ateneo de Iloilo Santa Maria Catholic School. To lend a more festive atmosphere, the Task Force invited the Iloilo Hotel, Restaurants & Resorts Association (IHRRA), an organization affiliated with IMSBOI to complete the celebration with a Chinese Food Festival. A variety of authentic Chinese cuisine was offered, so that one can buy and/or eat tikoy, sio pao, sio mai, oh chian, oh ke, chay taw ke, kim kuy ke, lo mi, ma mi, lum pia, ma chang, kiam pheng and also savor the hot and spicy makee. And to the delight of the Ilonggos, the celebration ended with a fantastic fireworks display, which is a traditional way of welcoming the lunar new year.
Because the 2003 celebration seemed to have attained a degree of success, Mayor Jerry Treñas again initiated a similar celebration by calling the Task Force Chinese New Year to convene in preparation for the coming of the Year of the Monkey in 2004.
It was in 2005, however, when Mayor Jerry Treñas thought of expanding the Task Force Chinese New Year into a formal association, still with the FCCCII, FFCCCPI and IMSBOI as pioneer members. The organization was called the Iloilo Chinese-Filipino Cultural Association (ICFCA). The president of FFCCCPI then was Mr. Henry Chusuey who became its first chairman; while the president of FCCCII, Mr. Felipe Uygongco, became the first Vice Chairman. All Chinoy Family Associations were also requested to participate.
The task of providing cultural presentations was, however, given both to FCCCII and FFCCCPI. This decision came about because both organizations manage and own two prominent educational institutions in the City of Iloilo. FCCCII is the founder of the Iloilo Central Commercial High School, and FFCCCPI is the founder of Iloilo Sun Yat Sen High School.
It was also decided that both organizations shall host and anchor the annual celebration alternately.
In the succeeding years, the Chinese New Year celebrations were greatly anticipated by everyone. As the Ilonggos await the Kasadyahan and Dinagyang Festivals, Chinoys and Pinoys also await with similar degrees of excitement the colorful surprises of the Chinese New Year.
While FFCCCPI’s president was still Mr. Henry Chusuey in 2007, the helm of leadership was conferred on Mr. Reynaldo Navarro in 2009. It was, however, in this year when the city transferred the festivities to the Freedom Grandstand, where the City usually celebrates the Kasadyahan and Dinagyang festivals every fourth week of January.
It was also in 2009, when the City was graced with the presence of the representative from the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office of the Republic of China (Taiwan), the Hon. Donald C.T. Lee.
The city government presented plaques of appreciation to FFCCCPI, FCCCII, the Chinoy fire brigade volunteers, like the Federation of Iloilo Fire Brigade, Inc, ICAG Volunteer Fire Brigade, and the JB Lucky Volunteer Fire Brigade, Inc. for their wholehearted contributions to the City of Iloilo. A new business organization, the Philippine Chinese Chamber of Commerce & Industry, Inc., Panay chapter was recognized by the City of Iloilo, for their contributions during Typhoon Frank. The chairman of this organization is Mr. Cesar Cu Pelayo.
It is very heartwarming to remember that throughout the years of the celebrations of the lunar new year, from 2006 up to the present, world class pyrotechnics displays being sponsored through the years by SM City Iloilo, and “live bands” playing up to the wee hours of the morning, gave a fitting culmination to the cultural presentations.
From a vision of one dynamic businesswoman was born a cultural event that is now considered as one of the major tourist attractions in the City of Iloilo. The Chinese New Year is an event that celebrates the cultural diversity of the Chinese Ilonggos; and even without the aid of a “Chinese astrologer,” both Chinoys and Pinoys believe that “the celebration of the Lunar New Year, ‘Chun Chiat,’ or Spring Festival in the City of Iloilo is here to stay.” Its magnitude and color may vary from year to year, but the celebration will be one that every Ilonggo will look forward to. Moreover, its underlying message of peace and happiness for family members, friends, and the community will definitely continue, because this celebration is beyond politics, religion, family or business association, or racial roots. It is a grand celebration for everyone!
“KIONG HEE HUAT CHAY, BAN SEE DU EE!”
Click here to see photos of the Iloilo Chinese New Year Celebration 2010.