What does “Independence Day” mean?

Ana Julaton and Pres. Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino IIIWhat does “Independence Day” mean?  And no, I’m not talking about the Will Smith movie, I’m talking about the IDEA of celebrating “Independence Day.”

For those of you who live in the U.S. like me are probably saying to yourself, “Ana, Independence Day isn’t until next month!”  Well, the one I’m talking about is of my parents’ homeland, The Philippines.  June 12th is celebrated as Independence Day for the Philippines, or Araw ng Kalayaan (“Day of Freedom”), which commemorates the Philippine Declaration of Independence from Spain.  It’s a national holiday of the Philippines that is also celebrated worldwide by people of Filipino descent–’cause we’re everywhere!

A few summers ago, I remember being at a party with the GMA Network in the Philippines.  Aside from having wonderful experiences in the country, I had a snapshot moment of receiving a book from the network’s Vice President and Head of International Operations, Joseph Francia.  I was given America Is in the Heart by Carlos Bulosan.  Inside, Francia writes:

“Dear Ana, Phlippines is in your heart–this much we know.  Keep doing the home country proud!”

This charitable gesture coming from an executive from the Philippines to a Filipina from the U.S. bridged my views of Filipinos and Filipinos abroad; it was one of those moments where I felt at “home” away from home.

Throughout history, Filipinos had to do a lot of fighting:  Lapu Lapu, Gabriela Silang, Jose Rizal, Andres Bonifacio, and the list goes on and on, including recent history.  Being Filipino wasn’t always easy.

“‘It is hard to be a Filipino in California,'” a countryman sadly warned Carlos Bulosan shortly after his arrival in Seattle from the Philippines.  But Carlos, of course, had to find this out for himself.  “I came to know afterwards,” he wrote, “that in many ways it was a crime to be a Filipino in California”.  That says it about as succintly and accurately as it can be said.  America Is in the Heart is a deeply moving account of what it is like to be treated as a criminal in a strange and alien society–one to which the immigrant has been drawn precisely because of the attraction of its ideals.  “I know deep down in my heart,” he wrote, “that I am an exile in America…I feel like a criminal running away from a crime I did not commit.  And this crime is that I am a Filipino in America.”  –Carey McWilliams, Introduction, America Is in the Heart by Carlos Bulosan.

The same stories of Bulosan can be shared with my grandparents, my parents and my relatives, who also left their homeland to come to the U.S., as with the rest of the my fellow Filipino-American citizens, immigrants, and Filipinos worldwide in their respective countries.

It wasn’t long ago that Filipinos in America were rarely seen in mainstream media, which left the Filipino communities a lack of sense of identity within the country.  Growing up, one of my heroes was Bruce Lee.  I took a fond interest in him since the age of 5 after watching Enter the Dragon with my Dad, partly because Lee was the closest American actor that looked like me and my family.  Some of my favorite Filipino-American actors were featured on several mainstream American films, but were never portrayed as a Filipino character, however, Bruce Lee always portrayed a Chinese character.  I also remember watching Sesame Street and wondered why there weren’t any Filipino people shown.  For decades, Filipinos in America (and overseas) lacked national acknowledgement from their inhabiting country and for generations, it subliminally bred insecurities of self and created a separation of cultures between Filipinos and Filipino-Americans (which I imagine Filipinos in other countries have also experienced).

But as of late, the image of Filipinos has changed, especially in America.  It’s not uncommon to see a Manny Pacquiao commercial during the Superbowl, or see the likes of a Chef Sheldon Simeon win “Restaurant Wars” on Bravo TV’s Top Chef by featuring classical Philippine-inspired dishes in a restaurant he named Urbano, after his grandfather, or watch Pablo Torre as a regular on Around the Horn on ESPN.  Filipino communities and organizations are constantly growing and continue to strive to be an effective VOICE for the people.  Today, Filipino-American kids can grow up seeing people of the same heritage in American culture.  The world anticipates the global evolution of Filipinos who are confident in knowing exactly who they are.

AJ Roach Manny croppedA previous experience of this “evolution” was when I sat next to one of the greatest fighters in this era, Manny Pacquiao, during a lunch in Los Angeles, Ca.  He suggested that I eat with a spoon and fork as a daily reminder of my heritage, which became one of my habits ever since.  When Pacquiao and I shared the same boxing gym and had the same boxing coach, we rarely talked about boxing.  Instead, it was over more important matters like our culture and being the best human being we can be.  Manny Pacquiao is a man who understands his self  (one’s consciousness of one’s own identity; the ego).

Hence, independence:  the state of being independent, which means to not be influenced or controlled by others in matters of opinion, conduct, etc.; thinking or acting for oneself.  Filipinos have constantly fought for recognition worldwide and overcame turmoils of the past, which produced a powerful, universal awareness of understanding her/his identity today.

In a more recent experience of this “evolution”, I’d like to talk about another Filipino pioneer, Executive Chef Joseph Elevado of Andrea’s at the Encore in Las Vegas, NV.  Now, I’m sure you’ve tasted your Filipino delights at Goldilocks, Max’s Restaurant, Jolliebee, or at home from relatives, friends, or even you’re own.  In Daly City, my hometown, there are handfuls of restaurants that makes fabulous specialty Filipino dishes e.g., Patio Filipino that serves bangus sisig.  But if you’d like to experience Philippine food in a fine dining establishment, you have to visit Andrea’s.

Me & Chef Joseph Elevado of Andrea's at the Encore, Las Vegas, NV

Me & Chef Joseph Elevado of Andrea’s at the Encore, Las Vegas, NV

Chef Elevado is another prime example of a Filipino who remembers his roots.  As the Executive Chef of a high-end restaurant, where the type of food served is carefully chosen, he manages to feature his premiere dishes with Philippine influences.  And they taste pretty darn good, too!  One of Andrea’s best selling items is their Broiled Lamb with a Coconut Adobo braised Shank served with Crispy Rice.

Chef Joseph Elevado

Broiled lamb, coconut adobo braised shank with crispy rice.


But Lamb with coconut adobo flavors and crispy rice sounds like something you can make at home, right?  Just infuse coconut flavors to an adobo dish, add ampaw as a side component, and viola!  But after reading this, I’m sure your curiosity is tickled.  Well, for me, mine was and when I found out about it, I hopped over to Andrea’s, requested for a booth seat and made an order.  The taste of the food went beyond my experience.  As I had my first bite of Adobo Lamb, I instantly felt an overwhelmingly surge of PRIDE that lasted for days and obviously, to this day.  On a daily basis, Chef Elevado shares the Philippine culture to an audience outside of Filipinos and is constantly contributing in shaping and cultivating a versatile image of Filipinos.

During Independence Day in the Philippines, Government offices and schools take the day off and families and friends bond together and celebrate, which calls for a great opportunity to commemorate the history of the Philippines and to teach about the other monumental dates of when the Philippines have gained independence.  The quote, “To know where you are going, you must know where you come from” was the adage of my homecoming visit to the Philippines.  A much greater message of this was when I met President Benigno S. Aquino III of the Philippines.  A portrait of the Philippines’ first woman President, Corazon Aquino, who is also the mother of the current President, hangs as a centerpiece in the Presidential quarters at the Malacanang Palace.

When President Aquino gave me a brief tour of  his private office, I noticed a picture of his fallen father, Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, Jr., hanging on the wall.  For the President to be reminded of some of the most tragic AND most heroic times of the Philippines reflects deeply on the strength he brings to his country.  TO REMEMBER has been a daily habit for me, especially for this Independence Day:  I’M PROUD TO BE FILIPINA!

What does Independence Day mean to you?

Check out some of the photos I’ve taken while dining at Andrea’s:


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