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Kababata at Kababayan: A Sentimental Journey Through Photography at Pagdiriwang Philippine Festival

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The Pagdiriwang Philippine Festival has given us yet another unforgettable experience! This annual event offers a fantastic chance to reconnect with loved ones and meet new kababayan, all under this year’s theme of “Isang Lahi, Isang Diwa” (One Heritage, One Spirit). This year’s exhibit was particularly poignant for me and my co-exhibitor, Leia Maminta Smith. We reflected on our days as grade school friends and our recent trips back to our hometown of Batangas through a collection of evocative photographs and stories. Numerous visitors with ties to Batangas stopped by to share their memories, allowing even more people to understand why we hold Batangas so dear to our hearts.

The event ran from May 31 to June 2, 2024, with a soft opening on May 31. Held at the Seattle Center Armory, the ”Kababata at Kababayan“ (Childhood and Hometown Friends) Photography Exhibition was part of the Pagdiriwang Philippine Festival. Attendees embarked on a nostalgic journey down memory lane, exploring cherished childhood and hometown photographs captured and curated by Leia Maminta Smith and Bong Serrano. Visitors immersed themselves in the rich tapestry of Filipino culture through these evocative images. Selected prints were available for purchase, allowing attendees to bring a piece of nostalgia home.

Highlights of the Festival

Nostalgia and Connections

The photography exhibition was a heartfelt experience that transported us back to our roots. The exhibit featured nine panels of thirty-one carefully handpicked photographs, capturing the essence of our childhood and the beauty of our hometown friendships, inspiring two days of conversation and storytelling. Visitors from Batangas and those with familial ties to the area shared their own stories, creating a mosaic of memories that wove through the event.

In addition, attendees enjoyed an exclusive sneak peek of my childhood memoir, Batangas: My Sky and Earth. This special opportunity allowed visitors to delve deeper into the heartfelt stories behind the photographs in the book, some of which were featured in the exhibit, while also being in the presence of the author. The event was a chance to reminisce, celebrate, and connect with fellow kababata and kababayan. The anticipation and excitement were palpable, and the turnout reflected the community’s deep connection to the theme.

Engaging Conversations

On the closing day, the exhibit became a space for rich conversations about our Filipino heritage. Sharing stories about our visual art and literature from our childhood in Batangas allowed us to connect with a new audience. The weekend was nothing short of amazing and rewarding, filled with gratitude and new friendships.

A Visual Feast

Exploring New Art Forms

In addition to our photography exhibit, we were captivated by the hand-blown glass art on display and thrilled to return to Chihuly Garden and Glass. The last time we visited, we were with classmates from grade school for a reunion in Seattle five years ago. The vibrant colors and intricate designs of the glass pieces evoked memories of our time together and beautifully complemented the nostalgic theme of our exhibit, adding another layer of artistic and sentimental appreciation to the festival.

Meeting Idols

The soft opening of Pagdiriwang was a tremendous success. I was particularly star-struck meeting my childhood idols, Francis Arnaiz, who was exhibiting his paintings in the “Fourth Wind” Solo Art Exhibition, and Abe King, who was lending Francis a hand. Their presence added a touch of inspiration and nostalgia, enriching the overall experience since they were very much a part of our childhood.

“Once upon a time, I played basketball as a kid because you were my idol,” I wrote on the print I had signed and gifted to Francis for his birthday. He responded with a broad grin and eyes sparkling with happiness.

A Blessing Fulfilled

Thanks to my grade school classmate, friend, and fellow artist, Leia Maminta Smith, for inviting me to co-exhibit with her at this year’s photography exhibition. I had been looking forward to this event with great anticipation since my book launch in January. To the entire Pagdiriwang team, who welcomed me with open arms and showed me nothing but kindness and respect throughout the weekend, thank you for recognizing my participation in this experience of a lifetime. What an amazing and rewarding weekend it’s been!

About the Artists

Leia Maminta Smith

Capturing the moment and preserving the memories are my primary motivations in taking photographs. I see amazing images all around us and appreciate the beauty in minute details of life, in the grandeur of nature, and in the warmth of human relationships. A photograph is both art and science to me since it can show the beauty in the details, document the essence of life or the significance of an event. I found joy in photography, in seeing the unexpected and capturing images that bring happy memories and hope. For our theme this year “Kababata at Kababayan” (Childhood and Hometown Friends), I have selected images from my hometown, Batangas. I love coming back to visit family and get together with friends from grade school.

Bong Serrano

I’m excited to join Pagdiriwang and share my debut memoir, Batangas: My Sky and Earth, with the vibrant Filipino American community in Washington state. Along with my book, I’ll be showcasing some of the photographs that were published alongside it. Collaborating with my childhood friend and fellow artist, Leia Maminta Smith, we’re thrilled to celebrate the theme of Kababata at Kababayan through both visual and written art. I hope you’ll visit our exhibit and enjoy the journey with us!

About the Event

The Filipino Cultural Heritage Society of Washington (FCHSW) proudly presents Pagdiriwang, commemorating the anniversary of Philippine Independence. Held on the first or second week of June at the Seattle Center since 1987, the event has grown into the largest festival of Filipino arts and culture in the Pacific Northwest. This celebration is a part of Seattle Center Festál, a series of cultural programs sponsored by the City of Seattle. Pagdiriwang provides a venue for Filipinos and non-Filipinos alike to learn about the culture. It is an ideal setting for presenting art, craft, song, dance, music, history, literature, and culture to promote a better understanding of Filipino cultural heritage. The event is free and open to the public. For a complete schedule of the two-day event, please visit their website at festalpagdiriwang.com.


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