BoniFest art, book festival draws proud, excited crowd
BoniFest art, book festival draws proud, excited crowd
Andres Bonifacio Festival 2019
By Althea Manasan
The Philippine Reporter
Artists, writers and journalists from the city’s Filipino community gathered at Toronto City Hall last weekend to celebrate Philippine culture and history through music, art, literature and performance.
The first-ever Bonifacio Festival, or BoniFest, held on Sunday, Nov. 17, was organized as a way to commemorate Andres Bonifacio, a Filipino revolutionary leader who fought against Spanish colonialism in the 19th century. As one of the founders of the Katipunan freedom movement, Bonifacio is often called “the Father of the Philippine Revolution.”
The day-long event featured an art exhibit, book fair and a diverse afternoon program filled with literary readings and musical and theatrical performances — many highlighting themes of Philippine identity and empowerment.
“We want our youth to be proud of their heroes and their revolutionary history,” said Hermie Garcia one of the event’s organizers, “so that they may understand profoundly their unique identity, their historical DNA, if you will, and not again be lost in the diaspora of diverse cultures and communities in North America.”
“[We] wanted to introduce Andres Bonifacio as one of the heroes, and for kids to take the study of Philippine history seriously,” said Mila Astorga-Garcia, one of the event’s organizers.
BoniFest, which was held in City Hall’s Council Chamber, was organized by the Filipino-Canadian Writers and Journalists Network (FC-WJNet) and co-sponsored by the National Ethnic Press and Media Council of Canada and the Pluma Collective of Filipino Writers.
It also featured a lecture from this year’s Marshall McLuhan fellow, award-winning investigative journalist Patricia Evangelista, who spoke about her work covering stories of trauma, including Typhoon Haiyan and the Philippine government’s “War on Drugs.”
Program of writers, musicians, performers
The afternoon kicked off with a presentation of a poster titled “The Struggle for Philippine Independence.” Designed by FC-WJNet, the poster highlights key moments in Philippine history, from Spanish colonialism in the 1500s to resistance movements in the 1800s and the granting of Philippine Independence by the U.S. government in 1946.
An interactive version is also available online (www.fc-wjnet.com), which the group hopes will help to make Philippine history more accessible.
“[FC-WJNet] hoped to impart to our younger generation … the truth that the struggle for Philippine Independence continues to this day,” said member Rick Esguerra.
Several poets and authors were invited to take the stage to read excerpts of their work, many of which had themes of migration and identity.
Writer and entrepreneur Gelaine Santiago Tan read a short story called “Pilgrimage,” about her complex relationships with her family back home in the Philippines, while Yves Lamson, author of Bodies of Water, read his essay pondering what it means to be a Filipino when one is “born of two cultures.”
Ysh Cabana recited an original poem called “CMYK,” inspired by his time working at a printing press in order to get local Canadian experience.
Mila Astorga-Garcia read an article from a journalism anthology called Press Freedom Under Siege, which chronicled the Chico River Dam Project and the murder of opposing tribe leader Macli-ing Dulag.
Justine Abigail Yu, founder and editor-in-chief of Living Hyphen magazine, read her essay called “What is a homeland without a home?” inspired by her extended family’s residence in the Philippines that is becoming abandoned in their dream to migrate to Canada.
There were also musical performances by powerhouse vocalist Lilac Caña and guitarist Lui Queano who performed Pag-ibig sa Tinubuang Lupa (Love of Country), based on a poem by Bonifacio, as well as Bayan ko, originally a poem by Filipino poet Jose Corazon de Jesus.
Queaño also read a poem called Ang Mga Walang Pangalan [Those Who Are Nameless] by Jose F. Lacaba, about the nameless men and women who stood against the Marcos dictatorship during the 1986 EDSA People’s Revolution.
Toronto-based Filipina rapper Han Han — who is a cardiac operating room nurse when she’s not working on her music — performed two original songs while accompanied by backup dancers. She offered a preview of her unreleased song “Kuyao” from her upcoming album Urduja, inspired by a legendary warrior princess.
Comedian and playwright Alia Rasul, known for her work in the popular stage show Tita Jokes, read excerpts from a play she is writing, which she described as being about cross-generational friendships between Filipinos.
The youngest performers of the day were a group of Filipino high school students from St. Paschal Baylon Catholic School in North York, who performed a spoken-word piece — a Balagtasan — about being newcomers in Canada.
The program was rounded out by a short play produced by FC-WJNet in partnership with Carlos Bulosan Theatre (CBT) company. Written by Lui Queaño and Leon Aureus Jr., and directed by the latter, it was performed both by experienced and first time actors from FC-WJNet, CBT, Anakbayan, PLUMA and interestingly, a young Filipino-Canadian physiotherapist cum TV actor/stuntman Garnet Santicruz, who responded to a call for auditions for the lead role of Andres Bonifacio, and got it. In the play, Bonifacio rallies his fellow revolutionaries to continue the fight against the Spanish colonizers.
Art Exhibit and book fair
During the rest of the day, a book fair showcased titles written by Filipino and diasporic writers, ranging from historical texts to novels to cookbooks, while an exhibit featuring work from local artists explored Philippine history and identity.
Artist Michelle Charmaine Ramos’s “No Time for Mourning — The Birth of La Generala” is a portrait of revolutionary leader Gabriela Silang, the first female leader of an Ilocano movement fighting for independence from Spain. Silang is portrayed deep in thought, with a machete in her hand.
“I’m tired of the stereotype of Filipina women being submissive,” Ramos said about what inspired her piece. “I wanted to paint someone that other girls and women could look up to.”
Artist Eric Tigley’s series of paintings also featured women, who he says are “our warriors now.” Inspired by tattoos by Kalinga Headhunter tribes and the Indigenous Visayan Pintados, his portraits show contemporary Filipina women covered in iconographic imagery representing their own modern-day accomplishments — office chairs for urban working women and baby carriages for mothers.
Justine Abigail Yu, who shared one of her readings during the event, says that taking part in BoniFest was “really important” to her and that she hopes it will inspire other young people to connect with their own sense of identity and to share it with the larger community.
“As a Filipino-Canadian, I didn’t really have this growing up, these kinds of events,” Yu said. “I’m so happy and proud and excited that another generation is able to have something like this.”
Organizers, Readers and Volunteers:
See related stories:
NOTEBOOK: Why Andres Bonifacio Festival? By Hermie Garcia
Risks are higher for rural journalists (Q & A with Patricia Evangelista)
The Artists and Their Artworks at the BoniFest 2019 Art Exhibit (Photos from M. Ramos and Y. Cabana)
Team work, hard work, superb talents (BoniFest 2019 Acknowledgements) By Veronica Silva Cusi