In the latter part of 1973, a small group of Filipino Americans in Atlanta got together and decided to form an association, now known as The Filipino-American Association of Greater Atlanta. With its initial constitution and by-laws in place and Ely Abellera as the President, the inauguration of its first set of officers was in February 1974 at the old Squire Inn which has since been torn down.
That same year, the association was faced with its first challenge. With the arrival of many Filipino nurses to Georgia, some of them who had problems with their employment and placement, the association stepped up and came to their rescue. In addition, the Philippine Embassy sent Blas Ople, the Labor Attache, to extend assistance on their behalf.
The following year, in an effort to be an integral part of the state’s ethnicity, it participated in the annual WSB Salute to America July 4th Parade, with its own float showcasing the first Miss Fil-Am, Ningning Encisa and 4-year-olds, David Apanay dressed as Uncle Sam and Ronnie Abellera as Juan de la Cruz. With not enough funds, the float was built on top of a pick-up truck under the supervision of a highly skilled engineer, 1982 President Mario Valenzuela and artfully decorated by members of Fil-Am. In the middle of the parade route, the float almost fell off the truck so it had to be repaired, but still won one of the prizes. Hence, every Fourth of July, Fil-AM had a float, no longer “homemade” but professionally built and winning more awards. The float was always graced by the presence of Miss Fil-Am of that year. Once, Tinikling dancers performed live on the float as it moved. Again, to show Filipino presence in the workforce, Filipino professionals in uniforms were also with the group.
It was decided to have the inauguration of officers on New Year’s Eve the following years. One year, showing it naivete, there was an open bar and of course, drinks were freely poured and wasted. The officers and some members willingly and voluntarily dug deep into their pockets to defray the cost. Lesson learned - Never an open bar again.
In the early years of its existence, to make much-needed money, the selection of Miss Fil-Am was a popularity contest. Whoever sold the most tickets won. Later, the pageant’s format was changed, more like the traditional, based on talent, poise, and interview. The pageant used to be held on or around July 4 to commemorate Filipino-American Friendship Day. Somewhere along the way, it was changed to a date around the Philippine Independence Day June 12, as proclaimed by Emilio Aguinaldo.
The spring and fall picnics have always been well-attended. Sack races, tug-of-war and some relay games were popular activities. Easter egg hunts are the highlights of the spring picnics. For a few years, the basketball tournament, initially spearheaded by Ramon Marquez and Vic Romero, was an activity that the young and not-so-young wannabe athletes looked forward to.
In 1987, a bold venture was taken by its president, the late Johnny Pellicer, in an “all-star cast” of “Sayaw Himig,” a song and dance, 2-hour long production involving the entire membership, young and old alike, with artists Marites Pellicer and Zennie Mendoza, and choreographer Didi O’Connor at the helm, It took months of preparation and was a resounding success.
The Debutantes’ Ball was the brainchild of Gloria Sabiniano, 1984 president, in which 12 young ladies, in flowing white gowns, were presented to society that year, with dashing young men as escorts. A huge undertaking involving several months of preparation and rehearsals, this event as in the subsequent ones, held every 3-4 years, has always been elegant and grand! Most of the time the debutantes and escorts would be quite reluctant at first, but all of them later realized that it was a very enjoyable and great way to know and bond with other young Filipinos here.
The Olympics came to Atlanta in 1996. Didi O’Connor, that year’s President, helped welcome the Filipino athletes. There was a lavish reception at a dinner hosted by the association with internationally renowned singer, Lea Salonga, as the main attraction.
To recognize the natural aptitude of a young Filipino among high school seniors in Atlanta, the annual scholarship award was established. In 2009, the scholarship monetary award was increased to $1000 under Marites Pellicer’s administration supported by the Philippine Golf Association holding tournaments with Manny Pellicer as the chairperson.
Another worthwhile tradition that has been carried on through the years is Christmas caroling. A group, organized by the versatile Vic Romero, sings carols in other members’ homes. This has afforded the Fil-Am community a chance to get together and observe the Yuletide custom back home and, of course, enjoy Philippine delicacies.
The Fil-Am Association is not only a socio-civic organization but has also been an institution, which promotes the Philippine tradition and culture here in Georgia. Furthermore, its doors have always been open to extend assistance to the community in any which way they can. FIl-Am has reached out to other Asians in the community, establishing a strong organization. As Atlanta became the gateway of the South, more Filipinos moved to metro Atlanta from other states and the association became even more diversified. Individual interests were poured into the association, making it richer and more relevant. Now entering 2019 and celebrating 45 years of its meaningful existence, the Fil-Am Association is the longest surviving Filipino organization in Georgia and it stands proud to be the home to the Filipino-American community.