Old times and traditions renewed at Pinoy fest

Batang Wapato, a Yakima Valley Filipino-American community youth dance group, performs a traditional folk dance Sunday in Wapato. It’s called the kumintang, the hat and flower dance. Trinidad Umipig recalls when she arrived in the Yakima Valley from the sunny Philippines more than 60 years ago, she only did so because her husband had managed to convince her that America would be a good place to raise a family.

But when she got to their new home in Wapato, and the snow on the ground was above her knees, the then 19-year-old thought she had made a mistake.

“I thought I was going to die,” she said. “When I arrived here I felt lost.

I cried every day.”

Now 80, the woman known as “Auntie Trini” said she is glad she stayed at her adopted home, where she raised four sons and buried her husband three years ago.

She and others who are a part of the Filipino-American Community of Yakima Valley gathered Sunday as part of their annual Harvest Dinner celebration in Wapato. The celebration helps them remember the old times and keep their culture alive through traditional food, song and dance.

“Everybody comes down to eat,” said Lorena Silva. “We have a very close-knit community here.”

The food included traditional Filipino chicken adobo, pancit noodles and dinuguan, also known as pork blood stew or “chocolate pudding,” which is what it might look like from afar. Another dish called balut, a fertilized duck egg with a nearly developed embryo inside that is boiled and eaten in the shell, was not on the menu, although organizers said it has been served before.

“Maybe we can find it in the kitchen somewhere,” laughed Rey Pascua, president of the Filipino-American Community of Yakima Valley.

ANDY SAWYER/Yakima Herald-Republic

Batang Wapato performs the banga dance, or the clay pot dance Sunday.
Traditional Filipino dances included the tinikling, or stick dance, where dancers quickly move their feet between two bamboo poles. Another dance called the banga, or clay pot dance, involves girls balancing the pots on their heads and symbolizes maidens going to the river to fetch water for a marriage ceremony.
During one of the dances, Silva points out that some of the children dancing are newcomers who have just arrived from the Philippines.

“Our community, we’re still growing,” she said.

Pascua said what started out with four or five families has grown to include about 1,200 Filipino-Americans in the south-central Washington. The migration began with bachelor Filipino men began arriving in the area around 1918, as a source of cheap labor for farming.

Pascua said many of them never intended to stay in America. Their only goals were to work hard and send back money to their families in the Philippines, but then to return one day, perhaps with an American education.

“They thought it was the land of milk and honey,” Pascua said.

Instead, Pascua said the early Filipinos here became targets of racism because of a dwindling job market and those who were against “mixed marriages.” In 1927, he said, early pioneers expelled Filipino farmers from Toppenish, and then in 1933, white farmers and workers in Wapato demanded that area growers stop hiring Filipino workers.

“We had to get through a struggle,” Pascua said. “We had to convince others that we weren’t a threat to their way of life.”

Umipig said she remembers the old times, but mostly how she and other Filipino families stuck together and could count on each other for help.

“We were really close knit,” she said. “I didn’t want to come, but now I don’t to go.

My husband was right, this was a good place to raise a family.”

ANDY SAWYER/Yakima Herald-Republic

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