NEW YORK — On Sunday, December 18, Filipino immigrant rights groups will be commemorating International Migrants Day with the First Annual Lantern Festival in Woodside, Queens, New York with the theme “Lighting the Way for Migrants’ Rights, Diversity and Solidarity”. Organized by the Philippine Forum in coordination with the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns (NAFCON), the International Migrants Alliance (IMA) and other community organizations, the festival will not only be celebrating the contributions of migrant workers worldwide, but will also highlight the issues that migrant workers face in their homelands and in their host countries.
“By holding the First Annual Lantern Festival in celebration of International Migrants’ Day, we want to bring light to the reality of migrant workers’ lives. Filipino migrants look forward to coming to the United States to gain better opportunities, but often still find themselves in a system that exploits their hard work,” said Michelle Saulon, organizer for Philippine Forum-Kabalikat Domestic Workers Support Network and US North East Regional Coordinator for NAFCON.
The observance of the 18th of December as the International Migrants Day was proclaimed by the UN General Assembly on 04 December 2000, taking into account the large and increasing number of migrants in the world following the adoption of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families on 18 December 1990.
“We also want to draw connections between all migrant ethnic groups that true economic stability in their home countries are the only answer to their plight. By building solidarity around these issues, we can gain more visibility in the United States and have more power to fight for our economic and social rights,” adds Saulon.
Celebration of International Migrants’ Day in Previous Years
In New York, starting 2009, Philippine Forum has been celebrating International Migrants’ Day by co-sponsoring the night of December 18 in the Simbang Gabi (a Filipino tradition of attending evening masses starting from December 16 leading up to December 25, Christmas Day) at the Roman Catholic Church of St. Sebastian in Woodside.
As a community with a large Catholic population, with the Philippines being the largest, if not the only, Catholic country in Asia, the Simbang Gabi is usually attended by over thousands of Filipinos per night, especially in Woodside, where the largest number of Filipinos in New York are concentrated.
“The churches are usually overflowing, or other mass goers are far from the churches delivering Simbang Gabi, that is why the need to hold it outside the usual places of worship should not be totally dismissed, or alternatives should be at least offered to the people,” says Joyce Pena, one of Philippine Forum’s community members, in reference to the recent statement by the NY Archbishop Timothy Dolan that Simbang Gabi should not be held at the Philippine Consulate, which is not a sacred worship place. It was eventually allowed at the urging of the community.
With the help of different church congregations and partner community organizations, the December 18 Simbang Gabi in St. Sebastian Church from previous years were celebrated with Prayers of the Faithful including prayers for migrants and a fellowship following afterwards sharing food with the community in 2009. And in 2010, aside from the Prayers of the Faithful, lanterns of different sizes and made of different materials, were also brought as offertory, symbolizing the different continents as destinations of migrants. The individuals carrying the lanterns also represented different migrant characters (nurse, construction worker, teacher, babysitter, waiter and housekeeper).
First Annual Lantern Festival in NY in Celebration of International Migrants’ Day
This year, 2011, as part of its commitment to build a community, celebrate diversity and forge solidarity through its cultural festivals (the two other cultural festivals held annually are Sumisigaw Youth Festival and the Bayanihan Cultural Festival), Philippine Forum, in cooperation with NAFCON and IMA, brings to Woodside, Queens the First Annual Lantern Festival.
“With the First Annual Lantern Festival, we hope not only to celebrate the International Migrants Day but also to make the community aware of the different pertinent issues and concerns of im/migrants through creative and artistic means, manifested through the different components of the festival such as the Solidarity Cultural Program and the Lantern Parade,” said Jonna Baldres, Philippine Forum Community Action Coordinator.
The Lantern Festival will commence at 2:00PM with a Solidarity Cultural Program at the Bayanihan Filipino Community Center (40-21 69th St. Woodside NY 11377) featuring local artists and performers, Filipinos and non-Filipinos alike, whose work highlights im/migrant issues and concerns. At 5:30PM, all Festival attendees will participate in a parade along Roosevelt Ave from 69th Street to 58th Street displaying lanterns that carry calls for im/migrant rights. The night will end at St. Sebastian Roman Catholic Church from 7:00-8:00PM with the Simbang Gabi.
“This year, we are also introducing the two new components of Solidarity Cultural Program and Lantern Parade aside from the Simbang Gabi to include not only the larger Filipino, and non-Filipino, im/migrant communities but also other interfaith groups, which is why we are also encouraging participants to bring and make other forms of lanterns aside from the Filipino traditional ‘parol’, or star lantern,” ends Baldres.
The Lantern Festival organizers emphasize that advocates of migrant rights must reflect on the history, conditions, and contributions of migrants.
For more information or inquiries on the First Annual Lantern Festival, please email firstname.lastname@example.org