RP officials celebrate opening of community center in Hawaii

HONOLULU (AP) — Officials from the Philippine government joined local leaders for a blessing and ceremony marking the grand opening of Oahu’s $14.2 million Filipino Community Center.
The structure, located near the Oahu Sugar Mill and Hans L’Orange Park in Waipahu, is being touted as the largest such center of its kind outside the Philippines.
“The launching of the Filipino Community Center is more than the construction of a building,” said Merlin Magallona, the Philippines’ undersecretary of foreign affairs. “You have put together a structure of the Filipino dream.”
Magallona said the work of Hawaii’s Filipino community in building the center should serve as an example to promote peace.
“You have put together, in enduring form, a monument to multicultural harmony,” he said.
Magallona joined local leaders including Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono, Honolulu Mayor Jeremy Harris and members of the Legislature to dedicate the center and celebrate with traditional Filipino music and dance.
Children from the Filipiniana Dance Troupe performed a “putong,” or welcome dance, before presenting community leaders and lawmakers with leis. Officials also unveiled a statue of the Philippines’ national hero, Jose Rizal, whose writings are credited with inspiring the revolution that led to the country’s declaration of independence from Spain on June 12, 1898.
The community center’s opening completes a 10-year effort by architects, engineers, businessmen and volunteers who raised much of the money through local fund-raising efforts, but also received sizable corporate donations, including $3 million from the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation.
According to 2000 Census figures, Hawaii’s 170,635 Filipinos make up about 14 percent of the state population. But community leaders said the center will benefit not only Filipinos, but all of Hawaii’s immigrants.
Flores said the center represents the economic and political empowerment Filipinos have achieved since the days when most arrived in Hawaii about 100 years ago to work on sugar plantations.
“We are no longer second class citizens,” Flores told a crowd of about 200 people. “With the center, we would like to help other immigrant groups to help them realize the same American dream.”