Graphic by Iliana Garner / North by Northwestern

“When I Was Your Man” by Bruno Mars resonated through Parkes Hall on Sunday as several people, including North by Northwestern’s politics editor Gideon Pardo, sang the lyrics. Performances from students, including contemporary and traditional songs with dances, were part of NU Kaibigan’s Filipinx Fiesta to celebrate Filipino American History month. The warm, celebratory energy enveloped every attendee present – the atmosphere was a perfect fit for an organization whose name means “friend” in Tagalog.

“It’s captivating when you see the joy that everyone has when it comes to performing, especially in the Filipino language,” said McCormick fourth-year and Kaibigan member Sofia Perelonia. “It makes you proud to see people dive into their roots more to learn about where they come from and have a wider appreciation for Filipino culture.”

NU Kaibigan’s Filipinx Fiesta was a source of communal gathering and a celebration of Filipino American History Month. Weinberg fourth-year and Kaibigan co-president Aidan Ocampo said the month sheds light on how Filipino culture and history often goes unacknowledged in U.S. history. Due to the country’s history of colonialism, it was not always a choice for Filipino Americans to be American.

At Northwestern, Filipinx Fiesta is one of Kaibigan’s major events of the year. Students interested in the Filipino community can also look forward to the Pinoy Show, Kaibigan’s biggest event, in the Spring. SESP third-year and Kaibigan outreach chair Christian Baluyut said most of the club's funding is put toward these two events.

These events arranged by the club act as fun experiences and as symbols of the thriving Filipino community on Northwestern’s campus. Kaibigan’s growth in community and visibility has led it to become more than just a safe space for its members.

“Part of [the club] is providing a space for our members who are Filipino and for those who want to learn about culture,” Ocampo said. “But also, [another is] spreading awareness that the Filipino American community at Northwestern is alive and exists and is trying to make our presence known.”

But the role of raising awareness and educating others about Filipino culture has been difficult to fulfill, especially following the COVID-19 pandemic. Baluyut discussed the club’s efforts to reestablish an old Kaibigan endeavor: teaching students about tinikling, a traditional Filipino dance where participants tapping bamboo poles together and on the ground as dancers step in and out to mimic tikling birds bounding between farmers’ traps.

“[Teaching tinikling] is something that Kaibigan has been doing before COVID, but after COVID, Kaibigan struggled with maintaining its members,” Baluyut said. “Only last year, when numbers rose again, were we able to do a lot of preparations and training for people to learn the dance.”

The Filipinx Fiesta also featured an Instagram raffle as a part of Kaibigan’s outreach. Kaibigan encouraged those planning to attend the event to tag friends in the comments to be entered into a raffle for a grand prize at the event.

Despite NU Kaibigan’s definite growth over the years, their community remains relatively small in the context of Northwestern’s many affinity groups, according to Baluyut. Ocampo noted that the University’s funding for communities like these has been known to lack sufficiency.

“I think the institutional support is kind of missing,” Ocampo said. “[ASG has] been really supportive of cultural orgs like Kaibigan, but at the institutional level beyond ASG, I think there's not a big enough emphasis on promoting cultural groups.”

The existence of Filipino American History Month is a mixed concept. According to Ocampo, “history” is the key word in the phrase. American history often overlooks Filipino narratives, and the month is a time to remember and celebrate the culture, stories and success of Filipinos across the world. However, it also emphasizes the Filipino diaspora, especially in the context of American colonialism.

“For now, we twist that and celebrate something that negatively happened in a very bright and positive way, many decades later still recognizing that that happened, and the process of decolonization still continues," Ocampo said.