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Celebrating 25 years of family, fun and culture

Posted: November 12, 2008 10:59 p.m.
Updated: November 13, 2008 4:59 a.m.

A group of past SCV Filipino-American Association presidents at the Silver Anniversary, Nic Montebon (1999), Ray Manzano (2001) Ed Arguellas (2002), Zony Gordon (2005), Adrian Gomez (1984), Sunny Sarte (2004), Oliver Carreon (1992) and Fatima Purdy (2003).

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Mobuhay! Years before there was a city of Santa Clarita, Stevenson Ranch or the Westfield Valencia Town Center Mall, the Filipino-American Association of Santa Clarita Valley was a strong, family-oriented group dedicated to making their community a better place for everyone.

These are people who hail from a diverse cultural background spread across more than 7,000 islands but share a common bond reflected in this year's theme - sharing traditions and enriching friendships.

So, in order to properly celebrate the Silver Anniversary of their association, more than 350 members of the Filipino American Association gathered on a recent Saturday night for a glittery black tie event in the Grand Ballroom of the Hyatt Valencia.

Everyone was dressed to the nines and in the spirit of the popular Filipino greeting, "Mobuhay" (long live) the evening was full of singing, dancing, delicious food and lots of laughter.

As Masters of Ceremonies, Ramon Fabreges and Nerissa Dizon welcomed three generations of Filipinos gathered in the ballroom and congratulated the founders of the vital community organization.

Oliver Carreon, who often writes about the Fil-Am Association, gave the invocation just before waiters served up generous portions of arugula salad, prime rib and chocolate mousse cake.

After dinner, Raffy Mariano and Adrian Gomez led the room in the national anthems of the Philippines and the United States.

Dressed in a stunning canary-yellow gown, Myra Miranda introduced all 25 past presidents, many of whom were founding members. The current president, Adrian Tan, took the floor and commended the presidents for their hard work and dedication in mixing their busy professional lives with the demands of the Fil-Am Association.

A former president, Fatima Purdy, welcomed the many special guests and Board Member Zony Gordon introduced the guest speaker, Assemblyman Cameron Smyth.

"They are a great community presence," Smyth said. "They are committed to coming together, staying together and helping one another."

The evening was highlighted by performances of some of the older members who danced to everything ranging from the Tango, Hip Hop, Cha Cha Cha to a Spanish-influenced "Cariñosa."

The party had actually begun well before dinner, when the Heartbeat Band started playing popular dance tunes from the 1940s to the 1990s during the cocktail hour.

Evoking the spirit of a more elegant era, Oliver and Nayda Carreon, Felix and Josie Gabas, Frankie and Beth Lim, Telly Saso and Kaloy Trespesses sat at a table near the dance floor. Dressed in stunning ball gowns and tuxedoes, they were the first group up for the tango contest and stayed on the dance floor until well past midnight.

"Filipinos love to dance," said Raffy Mariano, a past president. "If somebody yawns, we say "let's throw a party!'"

Raffy was there with his wife, Cieli. They live in Castaic and moved to the Santa Clarita Valley from West Los Angeles because they love the community and strong family atmosphere. They participate in the many activities of the association, including the June Festival, the Valentine's Day dance and of course, the Fourth of July parade.

"Our float once again won the Sweepstakes prize this year," Ceili Mariano said.

The Marianos emphasized that the Fil-Am Association also sponsors a nursing student and builds permanent houses for the poor. "We try to make a difference in the lives of people in the Philippines," Raffy Mariano said.

The Early Years
The Fil-Am Association, as it is known in the SCV, was formed in 1983 when a number of Filipino-American families in the SCV got together for picnics and potluck Christmas dinners. In 1984, the association was formalized by creating a governing body and registered as a nonprofit organization. The highlight of each year's activities is the June Cultural Festival. This is where the customs and traditions expressed in dances, songs and plays are celebrated with the children, community, and friends.

Oliver C. Carreon served on the Fil-Am board for five consecutive years and became president in 1992. He is frequently called on to write festival themes, articles and lead the publication of newsletters, festival and anniversary souvenir books. Oliver, wife Nayda and son Bong came to the SCV from the Philippines in 1983
On the Web site, Carreon writes that community pride is always displayed with the organization's participation in the July Fourth community parade.

"Each time the Filipinos joined, they always come home with trophies for the best use of theme or the best in social or fraternal float categories," Carreon wrote in a festival program.

Additionally, Carreon said the organization has joined in the fight against the proposed Elsmere dump, participated in the anti-gang task force, the youth master plan and sponsored public and senior citizen forums. One program helps deserving students in the Philippines attain higher education. The scholarship program also encourages local students to attain academic and athletic excellence.

Cora Gatilao is the Fil-Am Association's acknowledged historian. She lives in Valencia with husband Jun, who was president in 1986. In the 1988 June Festival souvenir program, Gatilao wrote that one of the qualities of Filipino people, the "bayanihan" spirit (oneness), is the driving force behind Fil-Am and is evidenced by the success of every undertaking.

"Since the family is the central unit of the association, all activities are family-oriented," she wrote.

"Various activities are planned early each year including family picnics, Easter egg hunts, camping trips, family bowling and Christmas parties. Fil-Am also supports various community activities like church barbecues and other cultural projects."

November has been designated "Filipiniana" month and every year Fil-Am displays Philippine artifacts and crafts at the Valencia Library. In conjunction with this project, a showing of films about the Philippines is held one weeknight that month. As part of their cultural/civic projects, Fil-Am has also donated reference books about the Philippines to the Valencia Public Library.

"We are the generation that started the association," said Neil Monteban, 31. He attended with his wife, Jocelyn and their daughter, Naliya, 2.

"We had to bring her," Neil laughed as he watched tiny Naliya twirl and dance around the lobby. "My father, (Nic Monteban, Sr.) is her babysitter, but he is on the board and he had to attend tonight."

Neil Monteban said his friends and cousins inspired the founders to create the Fil-Am Youth Group to encourage community involvement and learn about Filipino culture.

"The Fil-Am believes in training our youth to become responsible citizens and good leaders in the community," Carreon said. "Because of their involvement, they are more aware of our heritage and culture; they know where we came from and are proud to be Filipino-Americans."

Now in their early 30s, Mike and Paula Saguibo recently returned to the association, citing the desire for their baby to learn more about Filipino culture.

"We feel it is good for our baby to be exposed to Filipino culture, to keep it alive," Paula Saguibo said.
Ryan and Karen Molina also re-joined the Fil-Am after the birth of their third child. Ryan's parents, Rafael and Rhoda Molina, are founding members.

As a kid, Ryan said he participated in baseball leagues and other youth activities sponsored by the Fil-Am Youth Group.

At the table, Karen Molina jostled their 7-month old baby girl, Sophia, who was chewing on a program.

"We hope (our kids) become as active in the Fil-Am as our parents were, to bring it down through the generations," she said as she pulled the paper out of the baby's mouth. "It's a nice way of keeping our culture alive. She's the future of our organization."

For information contact Ramon Fabregas (661) 755-7991, online at, Filipino-American Association, P.O. Box 55574, Valencia, 91385.


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