FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 14, 2020
Contact: Jaclyn Reyes
MABUHAY! FILIPINO AMERICAN MURAL UNVEILING CEREMONY in LITTLE MANILA, WOODSIDE, QUEENS
WOODSIDE QUEENS - On June 12th, 2020 Filipino organizations, Filipino businesses, artists, local elected officials, and community leaders unveiled a new mural on the south east corner of 69th Street and Roosevelt Avenue known as “Little Manila.” The ceremony was also a means to extend appreciation to Filipino businesses and healthcare workers risking their lives on the front lines of the COVID-19 epidemic.
The ceremony began with community health worker and leader, Sockie Laya Smith honoring people we have lost due to complications onset by COVID-19. Laya Smith recalls, “Mabuhay to their spirits that inspired us to be the best of ourselves and to contribute our gifts to serve the community and humanity. For the transnational people of Philippines ancestry who make up [a] huge sector of the global health system. Our gathering will keep reminding the world of the skills, dedication, and the self-sacrifice demanded of healthcare workers so humanity may be healed—specifically during the COVID-19 pandemic. This is to remember them as human beings—not simply as a labor percentage, a deceased statistic, or an immigration number. We thank you, say thy name. Mabuhay!" She proceeded to start naming Filipino healthcare workers around the world who died from COVID-19, from a list compiled by the Kanlungan Memorial Project.
“Little Manila” is considered one of the largest concentrations of Filipino businesses located in NYC and historically has been a common crossroads for immigrants to the area. About 2 dozen people witnessed the unveiling in person, as well as viewing virtually online. While being aware of social distancing, people gathered at the mural wall shared by the restaurant Amazing Grace which faces the Q47 Bus Stop and underneath the 7 train 69th Street Subway station.
The mural resides at the busy intersection, functioning as both a welcome sign and art to beautify the neighborhood. Colors combinations of sunshine yellow with glistening traces of gold, hues of green growth and the sampaguita (or jasmine) flower flourishing from background of blue, with the prominently-displayed “Mabuhay,” a Philippine expression that has many meanings: cheers, welcome, may you live. For more than ten years, there had been attempts to have a Philippine mural in the Little Manila neighborhood. This was an effort to finally achieve that goal, and to also enact creative placekeeping to represent the values of the Filipino community. Painted by Princes ‘Diane’ De Leon, Ezra Undag, Hannah Cera, Jaclyn Reyes, and Xenia Diente, the visual vocabulary is rooted in the history and landscape of the Philippines. The typography is based on lettering found on the iconic jeepneys; the illustration style of the plants is based on Malay batik design from Mindanao, Indonesia, and Malaysia; the gold in the linework is an homage to goldsmith artistry of precolonial Philippines.
In front of the mic stand, stood a handmade street sign in green with white lettering, “Little Manila.” Two youth leaders, Princes ‘Diane’ De Leon and Hannah Cera, emceed the unveiling ceremony together as they gave their personal testimonies. De Leon is the daughter of Mary Jane and Efren De Leon, the owners of Amazing Grace Restaurant and Bakery; Cera is the daughter of Brenda and Raul Cera, who also work at the restaurant. Amazing Grace was one of three Filipino restaurants open at the height of the crisis in Little Manila when most businesses were closed. As a business that opened only in November 2019, the De Leon and Cera families worked to keep the restaurant running, while also working as healthcare workers in Manhattan and in Queens, including Elmhurst Hospital—at one point, the epicenter of the NYC pandemic—and Flushing Hospital. Diane, a graduating high school senior, and Hannah, a high school junior, worked alongside their parents and the reduced staff to stay open for the community.
Several community members shared their personal involvement in the neighborhood and the significance of the location. For Joe Castillo, growing up nearby, he’s seen first hand the area go through many changes. His parents opened up Phil-Am Food Mart in 1976, and during that time there were only two Filipino stores. Castillo reflected saying, "It's very rare that you see this many Filipinos all in one place... I've been to other Filipinos communities all over the country — California, Jersey City—but the Woodside community is very special. We all come together. We all support each other. All these businesses would not be thriving if it weren't for one another, so there's no competition. Everybody shops at all these different places... And it's true: all ships rise with the tide of everyone's support. To see something beautiful like this [the mural] in the neighborhood, it's been special for me personally and I'm actually very much honored to be a part of this today."
Little Manila Queens Bayanihan Arts, a year-long project supported by The Laundromat Project’s Create Change Program, seeks to create public art installations and interventions through December 2020 in Woodside Queens. Artists-in-Residence Xenia Diente and Jaclyn Reyes set out to partner with local businesses and explore the immigrant experience, putting Little Manila in dialogue with nearby immigrant communities from South Asia, Southeast Asia, and South America. During the COVID-19 crisis, they pivoted their efforts to address the needs of the moment and the community.
June 12 is Philippine Independence Day, and the timing of the mural unveiling also signifies the completion of the Meal To Heal Initiative, a project, led by Little Manila Queens Bayanihan Arts in partnership with the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns Northeast (NAFCON-NE), and collectively fundraised with the help of Filipino American National Historical Society Metro NY (FANHSMNY) that sought to mutually aid Filipinos at predominantly Queens-based, immigrant-owned businesses and healthcare facilities throughout NYC. Every delivery was organized to deepen ties and enact social cohesion between Philippine businesses, healthcare workers, residents, activists, and volunteers. Through their efforts, 300+ meals were delivered from April through June.
The ceremony opened up remarks about what the community had endured. Michael Vaz, Executive Director of Woodside on the Move, who affirmed “the work [the Filipino community has] done during the pandemic,” acknowledging collective loss and the importance of unity: “Together, we are Queens...Together, we are Woodside.” New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA), not present at the event, extended their support in this historic moment in time, saying, “This mural gives us hope—it’s a reminder that we are seen, we are united, we are essential, and we are alive to care for each other one more day.”
Council Member of District 26 Jimmy Van Bramer offered gratitude to the efforts behind the mural stating, “Woodside is more beautiful today than it was yesterday.” Standing in front of the handmade “Little Manila” street sign, he asked the crowd “shouldn’t we have a street name ‘Little Manila?’”—pointing to years of on-the-ground discussion and efforts by community leaders and activists to officially mark the Philippine enclave. He ended by stating, "I'm telling you today as your Council Member, we will rename the street 'Little Manila' and make this happen once and for all."
The sunny celebratory afternoon ended with Potri Ranka Manis of Kinding Sindaw leading a "bagsak.” It means, “one down”, a unity clap symbolizing solidarity and collective effort. Ranka Manis, a registered nurse herself, applauded the joint efforts of the community, “It may be just a corner of a street, but MABUHAY brings our Pilipino life story to this corner of the world, for all to see and share!” She wore a yellow and maroon, landap, a malong, or traditional handwoven cloth, from the ancestral Meranao Moro people of Mindanao, Philippines. The group convened for a photo opportunity and certificates of appreciation signed by community leaders were given out to the participating neighborhood restaurants namely: Amazing Grace Restaurant and Bakery, Ihawan, Baby’s Grill & Restaurant, Tito Rad’s Grill, Phil-Am Food Mart, Kabayan Grill, Kabayan Turo-Turo, Ihawan, Woldy Kusina, Rosario’s Ihawan, Renee’s Kitchenette, and Papa’s Kitchen.
The Meal to Heal Initiative created by Little Manila Queens Bayanihan Arts, the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns USA North East chapter, and the Filipino American National Historical Society Metro NY Chapter. A fundraiser was created in late March and launched in April 2020 as a response to the COVID-19 crisis in New York City. The initiative’s efforts sought to feed healthcare workers and also support the brick-and-mortar businesses that make up Little Manila, the heart of the NYC Filipino community. Every delivery was organized to deepen ties and enact social cohesion between Philippine businesses, healthcare workers, residents, activists, and volunteers. http://mealtoheal.bayanihan.nyc
Little Manila Queens Bayanihan Arts is a collaboration between artists and cultural workers who support community-based arts and creative placekeeping efforts by those who support the diasporic Filipino community in Woodside, Queens and the greater NYC area. This initiative is sponsored by The Laundromat Project’s Create Change Program, a program designed to connect communities and artists in meaningful ways. http://littlemanilaqueens.org
NAFCON Northeast is the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns in New York and New Jersey. Affiliates are comprised of Filipino organizations, institutions, and individuals who promote the rights and welfare of Filipinos in the US and in the Philippines through an action-oriented platform. The alliance is committed to the preservation and celebration of the rich Filipino culture and comprehensive understanding of our heritage, the empowerment of the community through learning engagements including workshops, integrations and trainings, promoting access to sustainable and culturally competent healthcare and awareness of underserved Filipino communities, and the participation in efforts for economic prosperity and peace both here in the United States and in the Philippines. http://nafconusa.org/
Filipino American National Historical Society Metro New York Chapter is dedicated to promoting the understanding, education, enlightenment, appreciation and enrichment through the identification, gathering, preservation and dissemination of the history and culture of Filipino Americans in the United States. http://fanhsmetrony.org
The Laundromat Project is an arts organization that advances artists and neighbors as change agents in their own communities. We make art and culture in community while fostering leadership among our neighbors through our celebrated Create Change artist development programs, and our creative community-building initiatives across New York City. The idea of a laundromat as a primary place for engagement has expanded over time. It now serves as a metaphor for a variety of settings in which artists and neighbors transform their lives and surroundings. This includes community gardens, public plazas, local cultural organizations, and more. https://laundromatproject.org/
Thanking Filipino businesses and healthcare workers to those risking their lives on the front lines
of the COVID-19 epidemic with unveiling of Mural in Woodside, Queens, NYC
Who: Little Manila Queens Bayanihan Arts, National Alliance for Filipino Concerns Northeast, Amazing Grace Restaurant and Bakery, Ihawan, Baby’s Grill & Restaurant, Tito Rad’s Grill, Phil-Am Food Mart, Kabayan Grill, Kabayan Turo-Turo, Woldy Kusina, Rosario’s Ihawan, Renee’s Kitchenette, Papa’s Kitchen, New York State Nurses Association, Filipino American National Historical Society - Metro New York, The Laundromat Project
Because so many Filipino Americans are on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic, it has taken a devastating and outsize toll on their community. Since April 5th, a NYC volunteer-run initiative called “Meal to Heal” has brought 300+ free meals to hospitals and health facilities heavily staffed by Filipinos — while also raising funds to mutually support small businesses and help keep immigrant restaurants afloat
“NY-14 is the hardest hit district in the country, and that includes our Filipino community. My sincerest thanks to these local small businesses who stepped up to support our frontline workers. This mural is a deserving credit to their sacrifice.”
—Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
“As a cultural hub, Little Manila has long made contributions to Woodside. With the welcoming new “Mabuhay” Mural and the Meal to Heal program, the community is made more inclusive, while also coming together to deliver food to frontline healthcare workers. We should all thank the small businesses and community leaders that led these efforts.”
—Assemblymember Brian Barnwell
“Mabuhay is a word of many meanings. Depending on where you are from, it can mean welcome, cheers, may you live. All these meanings are different, but share one thing in common: All connotations to the word are positive and welcoming. It welcomes you with a warm embrace. With this mural, we are welcoming people into our community. People from all walks of life pass by this street everyday. Currently with this pandemic, people from all over the country have come here to assist in our medical frontlines during the height of the pandemic. To everyone entering our community we say: ‘Mabuhay kayo!’ We are all welcome here.”
—Princes ‘Diane’ De Leon, daughter of the owners of Amazing Grace Restaurant and Bakery
“This mural gave me the opportunity to reflect upon myself.... I started to look at the Filipinos around me (since this whole block is full of Filipino businesses) who I see walking to work, who are customers, working, and even in my own family. I realized that they are here hustling and providing a better life for themselves and everyone they love. The people I work with everyday are Filipinos and I adore them. They brighten up my day everytime when they would joke around and sing. They seem to know millions of songs. That's when I said to myself proudly, ‘I am a Filipina woman. Born in the Philippines and raised in Woodside, Queens. I am the daughter of two hard working parents who will do everything for my brother and I. I may be in the United States and I may speak English better than Tagalog, but I will always identify myself as Filipino.’ Being able to proudly say this has helped me love myself more. Loving yourself is also loving your culture.”
—Hannah Cera, Amazing Grace worker, daughter of Amazing Grace workers
“Mabuhay not only to the living, but Mabuhay to all those [who] came before us: our elders and the spirit of our ancestors—that paved the way for Filipinos to migrate and set roots here in the U.S. and other parts of the world in the hope of improvement the lives of our families here and back home. Mabuhay to their spirits that inspired us to be the best of ourselves and to contribute our gifts to serve community and humanity. For the transnational people of Philippines ancestry who make up [a] huge sector of the global health system. Our gathering will keep reminding the world of the skills, dedication, and the self-sacrifice demanded of healthcare workers so humanity may be healed—specifically during the COVID-19 pandemic. This is to remember them as human beings—not simply as a labor percentage, a deceased statistic, or an immigration number. We thank you, say thy name. Mabuhay!"
—Sockie Laya Smith, community health worker and leader
"My parents started the Phil-Am Food Mart in 1976. This area has seen a lot of change and I've seen it first-hand. There was a time when we were one of only two Filipino stores in this neighborhood and I'd probably be lucky if I saw one or two other Filipinos in a week. So to see how far it's gotten and how the community has come together is nothing short of extraordinary. I grew up in this neighborhood and went to school —two blocks away from here. I still live here on 58t Street over there and I work at my parents' store. It's a special place. It's very rare that you see this many Filipinos all in one place. I've been to other Filipinos communities all over the country — California, Jersey City—but the Woodside community is very special. We all come together. We all support each other. All these businesses would not be thriving if it weren't for one another, so there's no competition. Everybody shops at all these different places. And it's true: all ships rise with the tide of everyone's support. To see something beautiful like this in the neighborhood it's been special for me personally and I'm actually very much honored to be a part of this today."
—Joe Castillo, Phil-Am Food Mart
"I’m very proud to be a council member in the district that represents the community that is the area of Little Manila. This is beautiful, Woodside is more beautiful today than it was yesterday because of this beautiful mural, round of applause to those of you who made this happen. To everyone today sharing their experiences, growing up Filipino, the family that owns Phil-Am, thank you for decades of service to Woodside. One last thing as I walked up here, and I saw this street sign, “Little Manila” Shouldn’t we have a real street sign? We haven’t named a street Little Manila yet have we? Whoever wants to put in a request I’’m telling you today as your Council Member, we will rename the street 'Little Manila' and make this happen once and for all."
—District 26 Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer
"It is an honor to be here and to recognize the Filipino community for all the work you have done, especially during this pandemic. We have all lost somebody. We have all been affected personally by what is going on...Together, we are Queens. Together, we are Woodside."
—Michael Vaz, Executive Director of Woodside on the Move
“Today is such a beautiful day to celebrate art and community…[The Laundromat Project is] an arts organization with the mission of advancing artists and neighbors as change agents in their own communities. We do this through an annual Create Change artist residency and fellowship program, where we commission and train artists on developing collaborative community-based art projects. It has been our pleasure to support the work of both Xenia Dente and Jaclyn Reyes this year. Their creativity and activism amplifies so much of the values, spirit, and practice of community engagement we believe in as an organization. I am personally moved by their rigor and deep commitment to culture and heritage. Through building local partnerships and supporting local leadership, their practice reflects the role of art in times of crisis and as a vehicle for celebration.”
—Ladi’Sasha Jones, Artist Engagement Manager at The Laundromat Project
“We saw the deep impacts on the Filipino Comunity from job layoffs and furlough, inability to meet basic needs, undocumented immigrants afraid to leave their homes or seek medical care, struggling local business, and the every changing protocol and safety of healthcare workers serving the frontlines. Yet it is in moments of incredible crisis we see the power of the community! Channeled in the bayanihan spirit, the characteristic of having communal unity, work and cooperation, we saw past the limitations of the pandemic posed and creatively pooled out together our energy, time, and resources to help ensure the community’s basic needs. We continue to deepen our ties with the Filipino community and it’s neighbors, especially inspiring people doing the critical work locally.”
—May Madarang, Co-coordinator for NAFCON Northeast and partner organization with Meal to Heal
"The Filipino American community in New York City has been vibrant for the past century - from the first few who arrived in Ellis Island in the early 1900s to the sailors to worked in the Brooklyn Navy Yards in the 1930s to the community of immigrants that settled in Little Manila decades ago. This mural signifies the neighborhood’s recognition of the Filipino American community’s robust contributions to the fabric of Woodside, the borough of Queens, and the entire city of New York.”
—Dr. Kevin Nadal, Professor, City University of New York, author of Filipinos in New York City and Filipino American Psychology: A Handbook of Theory, Research, and Clinical Practice, and Filipino American National Historical Society Trustee
"Divinely found this [Little Manila Queens Bayanihan Arts] mural...with the word ‘MABUHAY’ while in Little Manila, a Filipino neighborhood in Queens, New York. I’ve been reflecting on the word, Mabuhay, which can translate into 'Long, Live Life’ a message that I’ve been resonating with lately. When I arrived back home in Brooklyn, I learned about the heartbreaking, violent death of #GeorgeFloyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota. To me, MABUHAY is a remembrance to keep breathing, keep living for all the people who can’t, to keep fighting for all of the black lives lost due to do white supremacy, police brutality, oppression & violence. My heart breaks for all the loss. This bullshit needs to stop! Take a moment to look deep within, check your privilege, appreciate life and all of its sacredness & honor all the lives lost that should be living. Recognize the humanity in all walks of life & cultures."
—Gigi Bio, Filipinx Artist, Instagram @6161810
“As old monuments go down in the country newer ones come up that envision a better world and I'm glad this one speaks Filipino!”
—Claro de los Reyes, Founder and Director of Atlantic Pacific Theatre
“... thanks the organizers [Little Manila Queens Bayanihan Arts], including the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns (NAFCON), for the beautiful mural. It means the world for nurses and other essential workers who survived the COVID-19 pandemic to see the words MABUHAY, or LIVE. Here in Queens near Elmhurst Hospital, we were at the epicenter of this crisis, and we saw so much suffering. This mural gives us hope—it’s a reminder that we are seen, we are united, we are essential, and we are alive to care for each other one more day.”
—New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA)
“It may be just a corner of a street, but MABUHAY brings our Pilipino life story to this corner of the world, for all to see and share!”
—Potri Ranka Manis, Founder of Kinding Sindaw
Above: Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer
Above: Princes ‘Diane’ de Leon of Amazing Grace Restaurant and Bakery
Above: Joe Castillo of Phil-Am Food Mart
Above: Efren and MaryJane de Leon of Amazing Grace Restaurant and Bakery
Above: Artists Hannah Cera, Diane de Leon, Jaclyn Reyes, Xenia Diente, and Ezra Undag unveil the Mabuhay mural