Stimulating Fil-Am trade and tourism

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FINEX Folio — By J. Albert Gamboa-125


ANAHEIM, CALIFORNIA — Bacolod City’s award-winning MassKara Dance Troupe has invaded the happiest place on earth — Disneyland Resort — which had just opened its newest themed area known as Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. Yesterday, the MassKara dancers performed at the Disney California Adventure theme park here in Anaheim, the most populous city in Orange County just south of Los Angeles.

Fresh from garnering the “Best Foreign Group” award during the 2019 Daegu Festival in South Korea last May, these acrobatic dancers will highlight the 2nd MassKara Festival at Long Beach City in LA County on Aug. 2-4. Their stints include the gala ball tonight at Long Beach Marriott Hotel and the main festival this weekend at the LB Recreation Park, both organized by the Long Beach-Bacolod Association (LBBA).

The MassKara dancers also had performances in the Bay Area last week as special guests of the Rotary Club of Daly City, Saint James Catholic Parish, and San Francisco Filipino Cultural Center (SFFCC) at Mission District. It may be noted that San Francisco’s city council recently approved the creation of a new cultural heritage district called SOMA Pilipinas, consisting of 10 city blocks with a combined area larger than San Francisco’s Chinatown.

SFFCC President Dr. Richard Kempis and Chief of Staff Teresa Dulalas said their organization is volunteer-driven, but they are in close coordination with the Department of Tourism and the National Commission for Culture and the Arts.

According to them, SOMA (short for South of Market) Pilipinas rose from the ashes of the defunct Manilatown where thousands of Filipino-Americans stayed beginning in the decade of the 1910s up to the time it was razed to the ground by a fire in 1997. The State of California has likewise officially recognized SOMA Pilipinas as one of 14 cultural districts in the state, thanks to the leadership of the Filipino-American Development Foundation.


Cultural festivals provide an excellent venue to promote Filipino products and foster trade with Americans, as exemplified by two Pinoy fiestas that are happening simultaneously on Aug. 10-11. These are the “Fiesta in America” at Secaucus Meadowlands Expo Center in New Jersey as well as the “Pistahan Parade and Festival” at Yerba Buena Gardens in downtown San Francisco. These annual events always draw the largest number of Filipino-American attendees in the East Coast and the West Coast, respectively,

LBBA President Peter Ramirez aims to replicate the success of last year’s 1st MassKara Festival at Long Beach with additional sponsors and a bigger attendance this time around. He also hopes to make MassKara the Southern California counterpart of Northern California’s Pistahan in terms of the variety and quality of exhibitors and entertainers.

With the revival of sister-city ties between Bacolod and Long Beach, opportunities to develop business partnerships have increased among the constituents of both cities. For instance, a homegrown chain of chicken inasal restaurants is planning to establish branches in California either through franchising or joint ventures with US partners.

Last year, LBBA sent a delegation to the original MassKara Festival in Bacolod and will do so again this October for the 40th edition of the world-famous festival, which was first held in 1980 under the administration of then Mayor Jose Montalvo, Jr.

Incumbent Mayor Evelio Leonardia was the city’s tourism officer in the early years of the MassKara, and he was instrumental in establishing sister-city relations with Long Beach. During his most recent terms of office, he has been sending trade and tourism missions to the US headed by City Administrator John Orola and former Councilor Em Legaspi-Ang to promote Bacolod as an investment destination among the large Fil-Am communities of the West Coast.

Other local government units (LGU) in the country should learn from the experience of Bacolod City’s LGU in leveraging its cultural assets to attract investors and further expand its economy.


J. Albert Gamboa is CFO of the Asian Center for Legal Excellence and Chairman of the FINEX Golden Jubilee Book Project.