Tag Archive | "Filipino"

A Family Restaurant Keeps it Simple with Loyal Customers

By Jaslee Carayol

When Renee’s Kitchenette & Grill in Woodside, Queens opened in 1992, it was the only Filipino restaurant on the stretch of Roosevelt Avenue known as “Little Manila.”  Today, there are five – soon to be six – other Filipino restaurants in the area.  Though no item on the menu exceeds $10, customers have come and gone because food is cheaper and quicker elsewhere.  Renee’s once employed 22 people, but now employs eight during the week and 15 on weekends.  The restaurant is quieter these days, but Renee’s hasn’t succumbed to the fast food trend to attract more customers.  Their food, the owners say, is all cooked fresh on premises.

Renee and Ernesto Dizon first opened a restaurant with six tables and such a small kitchen that they had to do a lot of the cooking on their grill at home.  By 1995, the family moved the business to the current location, a larger space only blocks away.  The Dizons’ only daughter, Emma, was in high school when the restaurant opened.  She now plays a large role in running the place including cooking, doing payroll and interviews, and managing employees.

“If you keep your food as good as it can be, you’re always going to have customers,” Emma Dizon said.

Signature dishes at Renee’s Kitchenette include barbequed meats, dinuguan (pork blood stew cooked with garlic and chili), kare-kare (oxtail with string beans, eggplant and peanut sauce), and chicken adobo (a national dish prepared with soy, garlic and vinegar).  Renee’s serves cuisine from the Philippine province of Pampanga, which Emma Dizon said many Filipinos consider to have the best cooking.  Influenced by Cantonese and Spanish cooking, food from that region is typically sweet or savory and includes lots of meat and produce.

“We come here every time we go to Queens,” said Anna Real, a young woman eating dinner with a friend.  A resident of Port Washington, Long Island, Real said, “I’ve been coming here for years.  I don’t remember how long.”

Aleli Sweeney, a Whitestone resident, has also been a longtime customer at Renee’s.  Sweeney, who ordered for herself and her companion without looking at the menu, emigrated from the Philippines 30 years ago.  She said she has been coming to Renee’s since around the time it opened.

“The food’s very good,” Sweeney said.  “There are not many Filipino restaurants.  It’s either come here or go to New Jersey.”

Sweeney said she likes Renee’s because the food is “more homemade, like family.”  She and her companion, Michael Charles, eat at the restaurant once a week, usually on Sundays.  Charles added that the food is “fresh and inexpensive.”

Sweeney said she prefers Renee’s to other Filipino places because of its family atmosphere.  “Other places are too crowded and loud, especially with people coming in and out at the baker[ies].”

Renee’s Kitchenette & Grill is an intentionally homey restaurant.  The walls are painted a warm shade of yellow, plants hang above the counter and there are knickknacks and decorative signs.

Concordia Soriano and her husband, Bill Buell, live in Lower Manhattan, but eat at Renee’s a several times a month because there aren’t many Filipino restaurants in Manhattan.

“It’s her favorite, she’s Filipino,” Buell said of his wife.  “I come here just to bring takeout to [her].  It’s the best.”

Buell and Soriano added that they buy so much food at Renee’s, they need reusable shopping bags to carry the takeout home.

“I like the taste – unique, always fresh,” Soriano said.

Other area Filipino restaurants serve a slightly different cuisine than Renee’s.  Several storefronts away, Krystal’s Café sells food that is less regionally specific.

“It’s more mixed,” Dennis Mendoza said of the cooking.  Mendoza has worked at Krystal’s for 12 of the 15 years it’s been open.  “Most customers are from different parts of the Philippines.  Filipinos have different foods they like.”

Krystal’s Café is markedly busier than Renee’s during the same hours.  Many tables are filled and Mendoza said that there are many regular customers.

“They eat breakfast before work and dinner after,” Mendoza said.  “They feel at home.”

Though there are no advertisements and Mendoza said “people just know” about the weekend karaoke nights, he said the restaurant got more business, particularly from non-Filipino customers, after reviews in the New York Post and the New York Times.

Over at Renee’s, Emma Dizon said they don’t advertise either.  “We’re a simple restaurant without pretension,” Dizon said.  “And we can’t really afford it.  It’s nice to advertise, but it’s not us.”

Emma Dizon recently added to the restaurant’s menu options.  Last year, Renee’s began serving beer and wine, and added a combination lunch special to its menu.

“We’re always coming up with something,” Emma Dizon said of trying to attract customers.  “We’re not going to stop.”

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Families Connect to Their Filipino Culture Through School

By Jaslee Carayol

Still in its inaugural year, the Filipino School of New York/New Jersey is a weekend program aimed at educating elementary school children in Filipino language, history and culture.  The curriculum fuses Tagalog vocabulary with Filipino history and varied activities to appeal to the young children.  And, many parents say, the youth program benefits them as well, as they find that the classes help them connect to their heritage.

A recent class at the school, held in an Asian American organization’s neighborhood center at 380 Monmouth St., Jersey City, New Jersey, centered on a Philippine island called Capiz.  After the five young students and their parents settled around a large table, the school director, Venessa Manzano explained the day’s curriculum.  The children would be writing to pen pals from Capiz, learning new vocabulary words, and doing an arts and crafts project, all of which related to the region.

Hipon,” Manzano said.

Hipon,” the parents and children repeated.

“Shrimp!”  One of the children excitedly yelled out the definition, already aware of the word’s meaning.

Manzano went through the vocabulary list, pausing to put words into context.  Hipon was on the list because the island is known for its seafood.  Capiz also indicates a shell that is found on the island and commonly used in Filipino decorating, examples of which Manzano passed around the table.  And simbahan (church) was on the list because the island is home to the oldest church in the country.  And after a brief history lesson, the children began to color pictures of hipon, capiz and other words off the list to create mobiles.

Manzano established the school after seeing a need in the Filipino community.

“I realized a lot of my friends were getting married and having kids,” Manzano said.  “And a lot of the parents were looking for Tagalog classes.”

Manzano, 33, is married and has a 2-year-old son.  She officially incorporated the school in 2008.  After extensive research and consultations, the first of several eight to 10 week sessions began in January 2011.  Manzano modeled her program after Iskwelahang Pilipino, the weekend school she attended as a child in Boston.

Manzano, who is American-born, remembered the Filipino school in Boston as allowing her to form relationships with other Filipino families and learn about aspects of Filipino culture such as the language, dances, arts and crafts, and food.  The multifaceted program was memorable to Manzano and she has tried to create a similarly engaging program for her own students.

The program Manzano shaped seeks to involve parents as well.  Families drive to Jersey City for the classes from different parts of the state to bring their children to the lesson.  The parents are mostly American-born and speak little to no Tagalog themselves.  Some said that  their own sense of  detachment from Filipino culture showed them the importance of such a program in their children’s lives.  They recognized that the program would allow them to reconnect with their culture.

Jerome and Grace You drive 45 minutes to bring their 4-year-old, Isabel, to the Filipino School each weekend.  Jerome, who is Korean-American, and Grace, whose parents are from the Philippines, grew up in the U.S. and felt it was important for their daughter to have the kind of cultural background they missed.

“It’s important to maintain identity and background,” Jerome said.  “It’s not the way it used to be when immigrants used to congregate together.”

Grace understands Tagalog, but does not speak it because her parents’ desire to assimilate outweighed their emphasis on culture.  But she does not share her parents’ views.

“She’s half Filipino, so it’s more important to get some kind of culture there,” Grace said of her daughter.  And the Yous said next on their list was finding a Korean language program for Isabel to learn the other half of her heritage.

Karen Barisonek, who brought her 4-year-old son, Thomas, was the only parent present that was born in the Philippines and immigrated at a very young age.  She characterized her upbringing as being in both a Filipino household and American society.  Though her parents spoke Tagalog to her and her siblings, they wanted their children to assimilate and speak unaccented English.

Though Barisonek understands Tagalog completely, she is still learning alongside her son at the Filipino School.  She did not begin to speak the language until after Thomas was born and says it is harder to do so than to understand.

“My husband is not Filipino, so I feel the responsibility to teach him our culture,” Barisonek said of speaking Filipino with her son.

And speaking the language and attending the Filipino School is the most significant way she can bring the culture to Thomas’ everyday life.

“Our ethnicity is getting diluted,” Barisonek said, since her siblings also married non-Filipinos and her parents don’t live nearby.

The idea that the Filipino School will help disseminate culture to their children and then on to future generations was echoed by Anthony Yabut.  He brought Patrick, 7, and Jackie, 4, to the program, which he felt was a good opportunity for them to learn.

“There’s not a lot of venues where you can do that formally, you know, outside of the family,” Yabut said.

The lack of Filipino educational venues was the need that Venessa Manzano was hoping to address.  Her immediate goals for the future include hiring staff and expanding into Queens and then Bergenfield, which has the second largest Filipino population in New Jersey.  At the moment, Manzano is happy to get the parents involved and to keep the school’s mission simple: it’s about the kids.

“By teaching our culture, it’s a legacy to give them,” Manzano said.

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A Community Church, in Need of Support

By Jaslee Carayol

Members of the Filipino community travel from their home neighborhoods to attend Mass at a special chapel in downtown Manhattan, the Chapel of San Lorenzo Ruiz.  Dedicated to the first and only Filipino saint, the chapel is the official “Church of Filipinos” as designated by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York.  Though the chapel is important to the community, its location far from New York’s substantial Filipino population makes its status unstable.

Though the chapel can accommodate up to 250 people, significantly less than that attend the twice-weekly Mass.  Fewer than 100 people attend the Sunday service and fewer than 50 people show up on a typical Wednesday, said a church coordinator.

Since attendance is not high, the chapel is struggling. Vicky Baxa, a chairperson who coordinates the Mass, said that the chapel is under evaluation by the Archdiocese.

“Our main goal is to have more services so we have more people,” Baxa said.  “If there is no attendance, how can you support the church?  You have to maintain the financial, you know, the material as well as the spiritual.”

One worshipper in particular is working to maintain the chapel’s material assets.  Corazon Lontok, a Bayside resident, launched KCOP – the Keep the Chapel Open Project – in 2010 to raise money for the chapel.

“I felt that nobody’s going to support this church – it’s not going to be Chinese, Koreans, Italians – but Filipinos because San Lorenzo Ruiz is a Filipino saint,” Lontok said.

Her goal is to get members Filipinos to donate a dollar a month to the San Lorenzo Ruiz Chapel because it is a community church.  Lontok said the chapel is important to her and remains optimistic that her initiative will help.

“It means a lot because it is the home for our one and only saint,” Lontok said.  “I don’t think of the negative closing.  I leave it in the hands of God as long as we do our best.”

The chapel also means a lot to other members of the Filipino community, even if they are unable to attend the services regularly.  Leila Sumulong, an upper East Side resident, is a daily worshipper at a parish closer to her home.  She said she would attend Mass at the chapel more often if it were closer.  Sumulong said she feels a connection to the Chapel of San Lorenzo Ruiz because of her Filipino roots.

“It’s hard to explain,” Sumulong said.  “Being Filipino as well as knowing that you come from the same country, being in a foreign country and being in a church that’s dedicated to a Catholic Filipino saint, somehow gives you a feeling of being at home.”

That connection is why Sumulong had the Mass for her husband’s 40th day death anniversary at the chapel in 2008.  The death anniversary is a Catholic tradition that is frequently practiced in the Philippines.  Mass is offered the 40th day after the deceased “joins his or her creator.”

“He’d been wanting to go to this church being that it’s the first Filipino saint that we have, but unfortunately he passed away before we actually were able to come here,” Sumulong said of her husband.  “So I felt that having it was here was having him around on that day.”

The Chapel of San Lorenzo Ruiz opened in 2005, but the Filipino Apostolate, which is a Catholic organization dedicated to the mission of the Church, was established by the Archdiocese years earlier.  The Filipino Apostolate was originally housed in a building on East 62nd Street, but is currently located in the Broome Street chapel given to the community by the Archdiocese.

The Rev. Dr. Joseph Marabe, moderator of the San Lorenzo Ruiz Chapel and director of the Filipino Apostolate of the Archdiocese of New York, was appointed to his position in 2009.  Marabe, who is Filipino, took on the responsibility of the chapel in addition to his commitments at St. Patrick’s Cathedral because he felt it would be for the good of the community.

“Filipinos are 95 percent Catholics,” Marabe said.  “In other words, we of the Catholic Church would want to serve this people because [of their] number and also because of their faith.”

The Chapel of San Lorenzo Ruiz is not a typical parish because the churchgoers are either walk-ins from the neighborhood or community members visiting from different churches.  Most of the churchgoers are Filipino, but some are Latino or Italian so the service is administered in English with sections in Tagalog, Spanish and Italian.

Antero Martinez, a Rego Park resident and chapel choir member, is working to promote the chapel though online marketing and social media.  Martinez also acknowledged that the chapel is struggling, but remained optimistic about its future.

“And I always believe that this chapel was given to the Filipino community, the Filipino-American community,” Martinez said.  “I always believe that it’s the chapel that could.”

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Commemorating the Filipino Victims of 9/11

By Jaslee Carayol

Two days before the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, members of the Filipino American community gathered at the Asian American Writer’s Workshop in Chelsea and held an evening vigil to pay tribute to the 20 Filipino and Filipino Americans who died that day.

“We show our endless support to the families that are still grieving and healing a decade later.  We exemplify the resilience that sets us apart as Filipinos, as Americans and as New Yorkers,” said Kevin Nadal, who organized the vigil.

Following Nadal’s introduction, readers from the Filipino community took the stage in succession to honor each person lost.  Framed by a slideshow with names and photos of the deceased, the community members read biographies of each person compiled from The New York Times and Philippine news outlets.

The biographies summarized the life of each person, including how they came to America or how they ended up at the World Trade Center that day.  Mostly college students and young professionals from the sponsoring organizations, few of the speakers had personal ties to the people that were killed in the attacks.

Mark Habana recounted the life of Ramon Grijalvo, who worked as a computer analyst on the 23rd floor of the North Tower.  The biography included facts about Ramon Grijalvo’s life such as his Philippine birthplace, mechanical engineering degree and 11 siblings.  After Habana read a quote from the Grijalvos’ daughter, his wife Nenita Grijalvo took the stage.  A petite woman wearing a flowered blouse and pearls, Nenita Grijalvo was tearful and fought to compose herself as she quietly spoke of her husband.

“My husband actually died September 15, 2001.  He was still alive when he was brought by the ambulance,” Nenita Grijalvo said.  Ramon Grijalvo was placed in the hospital’s burn unit.

Recounting her husband’s death, Nenita Grijalvo said that someone from the hospital came to tell them the news.

“When we went to inquire they told us he was not there,” Nenita Grijalvo said.  “It took us 10 days to recover his body.  He was given to a Chinese family.”

The tribute readers and members of the 15 Filipino sponsoring organizations were distinguishable from the families and friends of the victims by their seating and dress.  The readers sat closer to the podium while the families and friends were further back.  The readers wore somber colors and pinned white ribbons to their shirts, while the families and friends were dressed more colorfully.

Ryan “Hydroponikz” Abugan, 25, took the stage to perform a song called “Strife,” which was about overcoming life’s troubles to become stronger.  Abugan, whose girlfriend’s father, Hector Tamayo, was honored, said the song is “not just about death and about trouble, but it’s also about the lessons that are left behind.”

“My girlfriend had lost her father in 9/11 and it just impacted me so much,” Abugan said.  “And for the past 10 years I’ve just been sort of waiting to get involved and help out, but the only thing I could really do was write music so that’s what I did.”

A slow hip-hop song with the chorus sung by a female artist, “Strife” had been in the works for eight years before Abugan wrote it.

“That piece actually is only two years old,” Abugan said.  “It just goes to show that I never forget.  The feeling has sat with me for a long time.”

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