Photo Courtesy of Jessica Pelayo
On Sunday, Nov. 17, at Columbia University’s Roone Arledge Auditorium, Fordham University Philippine-American Club (FUPAC) won the annual Mr. Philippine-Islands (PI) pageant through Jeffrey Pelayo, FCRH ’21. The annual event hosts Philippine-American clubs from 20 New York–New Jersey schools in the third district of Filipino Intercollegiate Networking Dialogue (FIND), a nonprofit that unites Filipino American students.
The competition celebrates Filipino culture and includes three categories: the Barong walk, culture and talent. Following the three main events is a question and answer portion for the top five contestants.
The show opens with an introductory walk by each representative wearing the traditional Filipino Barong. The cultural segment afterward highlights important aspects of Filipino and Filipino American life as well its potential issues.
“I enjoyed seeing performances that catered towards celebrating Filipino culture whether it be acknowledging Christmas traditions, exposing corrupt politicians, or emphasizing personal issues that other Filipinos might relate to,” stated Ina Patrice Gonzales, FCRH ’21 and president of FUPAC, who also represented the club in Ms. PI 2018.
Pelayo’s performance in the cultural portion revolved around serious problems facing the Philippines. Julia Gayanelo, FCRH ’21 and FUPAC representative for Ms. PI 2019 said she particularly resonated with the message against cultural appropriation in American society.
“It was very impactful,” stated “He portrayed the struggles many Filipino Americans undergo, and he was very real about the sex trafficking and overseas worker issues in the Philippines.”
Josh Castillon, FCLC ’20, emphasized the creativity involved in each year’s pageant in expressing important topics. Castillon competed in the pageant on behalf of Columbia’s club Liga Filipina, because Fordham’s Lincoln Center campus does not have a Philippine-American club.
“Every year shows that there is always an issue out there that has never been showcased, a story that hasn’t had the spotlight yet and something that has never been done before, and nevertheless we continue to reinvent and innovate,” he said.
However, the talent segment was the favorite of Pelayo and Castillon. According to Pelayo, that portion allows contestants to express themselves for who they really are. Castillon agreed.
“It really is an opportunity to show what makes you, essentially you,” he said. “For my talent portion, … I showcased coding as my talent and I coded an interactive, generative program that took visual information from a webcam and spliced it to refresh bottom to top.”
Yet all of the categories receive the excitement of the audience. Pelayo said that audience members attending for the first time are normall surprised at how intense the pageant can be.
“It’s a great time and it’s a crowd like no other,” he said.
In October, FUPAC hosted auditions for its Mr. PI representative. Once chosen, Pelayo immediately got to work rehearsing and said it was worth the time put in.
“I would meet with my back up dancers and entourage every Sunday for a month, along with five other practices the week of the pageant,” he said. “Most of our practices took about 1.5 hours each.”
Events like Mr. PI and Ms. PI are opportunities for Filipino and Filipino American students to share their culture.
Pelayo said it is important for the university community to know about these pageants to recognize a culture that isn’t always represented every day on Fordham campus.
“As a person of color, especially as an American son of a Filipino immigrant, keeping my culture alive is more important now than ever before,” he said. “I have to continue the legacy of those that came before me, and by participating in shows like these, I am supporting my fellow Filipino brothers and sisters, promoting our rich culture, and learning to embrace myself and my heritage.”
Currently, Castillon is working to get an LC-based Fillipino American club approved.
“It’s important that Filipino and Filipino-American students at both campuses at Fordham have a space to come together as a community and as a family,” said Castillon. “That’s the whole reason that I’ve been in the process to start FLOW (Filipinos of LC Offering Welcome), the inaugural Filipino club of Lincoln Center.”
Ultimately, Mr. PI, Ms. PI and FUPAC are open communities for Fordham students to share or to learn about Filipino culture.
“We are a social group focused on fostering the community and spreading our loving culture to everyone,” said Gonzales. “You do not have to be Filipino to join FUPAC, you just have to be open to anything and willing to learn.”
The winner of Mr. PI chooses a charity to which most of the proceeds go to. Pelayo has yet to choose a charity but would like to donate to one that is LGBTQ-based, or one that helps kids in the Philippines.
“I’m still shocked that I won because I am a person that constantly doubts himself all the time,” said Pelayo. “Sometimes, it’s hard for me to believe that I am capable of being great, but this pageant helped me to relearn who I am and who I can be.”