By air, it takes nearly 24 hours to travel to the Philippines from Baltimore, but yesterday, with a quick drive to Towson, you could feel "almost there."
Filipino dishes including pancit, dinuguan and lumpia shangia were being sold at vendors' booths, a bamboo dance called Tinikling was performed, and about four dozen children participated in Santacruzan, a commemoration of the finding of the Holy Cross.
It was all part of the 14th annual Philippine-American Festival, which was held at Courthouse Plaza and featured events unmistakably Filipino including an Ati-Atihan parade, which resembles Mardi Gras, and Lolo at Lola, a dance performance by elders.
"It's good for her because she doesn't know about the Philippine culture," Cockeysville resident Noel Zapanta, 31, said of his daughter, Lacey, 5, who sat holding a cicada. "I'm trying to expose her, mostly with the foods."
For many, the festival was a chance to visit with old friends and enjoy their heritage. Others said they wanted to learn more about foreign culture.
Dr. Cecilio Camacho and his wife, Fe, have attended the festival every year since it moved to Towson from Baltimore. "You meet a lot of friends, and it reminds you of the culture of the Philippines," said Camacho, a surgeon who lives in Harford County. "I also like it because of the food."
Festival committee members Hermie Nudo and Edna Gan said it takes about a year to plan the event.
"It started out to showcase our culture because, I think, the more people realize and understand the culture of a group, the more they become tolerant," Nudo said. "Understanding is the key to tolerance. It's the ignorance that gets people into trouble."
Among more popular festival events were the pageant-like Santacruzan march -- which generated loud applause and had parents scrambling to photograph or videotape their children in the parade -- and a martial arts show.
Children as young as 3 participated in the Santacruzan, including Aldred Bentley T. Calilung, who wore a dress suit and dark sunglasses. Lani Yap, 18, a recent graduate of Notre Dame Preparatory High School in Towson, served as Reina Elena I, or head queen, walking underneath hand-carried bamboo arches decorated with colorful flowers.
Maria Teresa C. Beltran, 33, a nurse, attended the festival for the first time. "I'm delighted," Beltran said. "I'm excited, especially about the food. I miss the food a lot. And it feels good to be among Filipinos again and hear the language."
Friends Diego Esmolo Jr., 9, Kyle Hije, 8, Rodrigo Garcia, 10, and Edgar Dalanon, 11, watched the festival together, as did Kathleen Espino, 25, and her son, J.J. Turner, 5. The two shared Halo-Halo, a popular Filipino treat that is similar to a snow cone but with fruit in the bottom of the cup.
Jay Caragay, 35, president of the Katipunan Filipino-American Association of Maryland, said the event attracted 10,000 to 12,000 people, and seems to grow each year.
"It's so important, because it's a celebration of Philippine independence, normally on June 12, and also a celebration of our culture and a way to share our food and culture with the community," Caragay said.
He added that organizers want to attract more non-Filipinos.
"We try to reach out more to other races," he said. "Hopefully as the festival grows in attendance and recognition ... we'll have more of an impact in the community."