Juneau celebrates first official Filipino American History Month

Juneau, Alaska (KINY) - The Juneau Douglas City Museum hosted hundreds Friday for a brand new exhibit recognizing Filipino history in Alaska, and the celebrations continued throughout the weekend.
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Above: Salissa Thole and Flordelino Lagundino sing together at the Filipino Community Hall on Saturday, Oct. 7. (Photo credit Jasz Garrett/KINY)

This local history exhibition covers over 100 years of minimally recorded local history from Juneau’s Filipino community.

Mga Kuwento will be on view at the City Museum from Oct. 6 through Nov. 22, 2023.

October admission is free in honor of Filipino American History Month.

Mga Kuwento: Filipinos of Juneau is an exhibition that celebrates the history and contributions of Filipinos in Juneau.

In Alaska almost 20,000 people identify as Filipino—it’s the largest concentration of Filipinos per capita of any state.

Alaska’s history has been shaped by its Filipino community, but Filipino stories are rarely highlighted by the community they help form.

KTOO, along with Filipino Community Inc., and Juneau-Douglas City Museum collaborated to fill this gap in local Filipino representation.

The project is supported by the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council, the City and Borough of Juneau, and a Grant-In-Aid from the Alaska State Museum.

In addition to the exhibition opening Friday, community events took place at the Filipino Community Hall on Saturday and Sunday.

Saturday’s festivities included appetizers, martial arts, and neighborhood cabarets put on by Theater Alaska.

Executive producer of the project, Tasha Elizarde, explained what inspired her to organize this historical display.

“The project is called Mga Kuwento, which means ‘the stories’ in Tagalog and basically it had started out of a desire to really just be able to collect the many and diverse and rich stories of the Filipino community here and try to create a narrative that has never been put together before,” she said. “And share that narrative with the rest of the Juneau community.”

The project also includes a podcast and educational website.

This is the first official Filipino American History Month in Alaska.

“Filipino American History Month was passed into state statute earlier this year after Representative Genevieve Mina,” Elizarde said. “She’s a friend, so, I have to say, like really proud of her. She became the second Filipino legislator in the Alaska legislature just this year. Her first bill that she had passed was this FAM bill. So, it enshrined FAM into state statute.”

Artistic Director of Theater Alaska, Flordelino Lagundino, talked more about their collaboration. Two neighborhood cabarets took place at the FilCom hall on Saturday aiming to immerse the community in Filipino culture.

“Being able to share the musical stories of Filipino Americans. It’s really great to hear also the Tagalog in the songs in the hall,” he said. “I think that connecting to our roots as Filipinos, particularly for the older generation, it’s really great to hear that. And then also it’s a great opportunity for the younger generation to be able to learn those songs.”

Ysabel Wilson plays violin at the neighborhood cabaret. (Photo credit Jasz Garrett/KINY)

Theater Alaska is excited to partner with FilCom in the future. They’ll have a new project to share in 2025.

“They’re working with us on rehearsals and giving us rehearsal space, and then we’re going to produce a play about Filipinos in 2025. We’re looking to partner with them even more, a play called ‘The Romance Of Magno Rubio’, which is a play based on the story written by Carlos Bulosan,” Lagundino explained.

Bulosan’s story, America Is in the Heart, shares his experiences as a migrant worker.

Elizarde grew up at FilCom. After returning home from college, she noticed all of the information stored upstairs. This was when her idea was born to curate Mga Kuwento. The project took about a year to complete.

She emphasized that the non-profit FilCom’s memberships are much lower due to the pandemic’s impacts. Having the musical performance in the hall brought younger people into the space. She hopes they’ll come back.

“If you want to engage with your Filipino identity, culture, history, just learn about it, then being involved is a great way to do that,” she said. “That’s kind of the main message that I have kind of been trying to share through all the historical research done. And so to have that, paired with musicians today, is really cool.”

A main goal of hers with Mga Kuwento is to connect the past and present Filipinos in Alaska together.

“That’s the question, like, what are Filipinos doing today?” she asked while looking at boxes and boxes of historical documents and files stacked in the FilCom conference room.

Mark Rosales gets the audience to sing along with him to Roy Orbison’s ‘Oh, Pretty Woman’. (Photo credit Jasz Garrett/KINY)
Alitaptap costumes are on display at the FilCom hall along with a photo album from a 2004 Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé alitaptap performance. (Photo credit Jasz Garrett/KINY)