By James Tabafunda
Northwest Asian Weekly
Having a place to encourage diversity and fellowship has been important to many Asian American groups throughout the decades. This has been especially true throughout Washington state. Opening such a place is an entirely different matter and requires perseverance.
The Bainbridge Island Filipino Community Hall, built in 1930, was among the first Asian American cultural centers in Western Washington to be a social center for local Filipino farm workers and residents. In October 1965, a Seattle bowling alley — the Empire Bowl — was converted into the city’s Filipino Community Center.
Recently, the Pacific Northwest Ilocandia Association (PNIA) Multi-Cultural Center in Port Orchard became the newest addition to this group — but with a twist.
Formerly the home of Grace Community Fellowship, the PNIA Multi-Cultural Center, by its name, was to be a constant reminder of its purpose to promote diversity, also being the newest meeting location for PNIA members.
Many of these members emigrated from the Northern Luzon area of the Philippines where the Ilocano dialect is spoken.
“We are a multicultural center,” PNIA President Rudy Nartea said. “That means we are not just Ilocandia-oriented. We want the Visayans and the Japanese-speaking people also to participate — the blacks, the whites, the Hispanics, and the Native Americans — all those types of people.”
“I think the secret of this organization right now is that everybody seems to be quite motivated to go ahead and get things moving,” he added. Those “things” include Tagalog, Ilocano, Japanese, and Spanish languages classes, computer classes, a Chuck Wagon nutrition program for seniors, and a basketball court for youth, among many other activities.
When its remodeling is complete, the $333,000 building will be available for rent to other cultural, community service, and family-oriented organizations.
Former PNIA President Hermie Cu and his wife Evelyn began efforts to build the multicultural center when he was elected as an officer in 1995. Nine years later, he and other PNIA officers worked with state Sen. Phil Rockefeller, D-Bainbridge Island, and state Rep. Sherry Appleton, D-Poulsbo, to seek state funding for the project. Sen. Rockefeller visited the proposed construction site in September 2004.
The association received a $250,000 grant from the state Department of Community, Trade, and Economic Development in 2005 and another $10,000 from Kitsap County. After raising more funds, they bought 5.5 acres of vacant land near the Bangor Naval Submarine Base.
Port Orchard becomes the nonprofit organization’s second location of choice after the Suquamish Tribe challenged PNIA’s original plan — to build a 9,180 square-foot multicultural center in Silverdale. Alison O’Sullivan, a Suquamish tribal biologist, claimed community centers should be in urban areas instead, in order to protect the salmon habitat found at Clear Creek, according to the April 30, 2007 online edition of the Kitsap Sun.
PNIA Vice President Bob Meria credits Frank Leach, Rob Hartman, and their associates at RE/MAX Platinum Services for helping him carry out PNIA’s new plan to find an existing building that could be converted into a multicultural center.
“Our purpose in being together here is, number one, to help out the community, especially the elderly,” he said about the facility.
PNIA bought the Port Orchard property with additional financing provided by Viking Bank in Poulsbo and has owned it since July.
“After the closing, a few [PNIA] members celebrated with champagne and said some thank-you prayers, and then, we started the repairs,” said PNIA Special Projects Director Evelyn Cu. Those repairs included fixing gutters, painting, and replacing tile in the basement.
By the end of August 2009, the association held its ribbon-cutting ceremony, one complete with approximately 150 attendees, Filipino food, and such cultural exhibits as a miniature calesa (a horse-drawn carriage).
Grace Community Fellowship Pastor Bart Baril led the people who attended the ceremony in an opening prayer. Sen. Rockefel-ler, his chief administrative assistant, Mike Hatchett, Rep. Appleton, Port Orchard Mayor Lary Coppola, Kitsap County Sheriff Steve Boyer, and the Filipino Community of Seattle’s Efren Belleza also attended the event.
“Because of your perseverance, we could do no less than to help you succeed,” Sen. Rockefeller said to PNIA members at the ceremony.
“One of the remarkable things to me is how the Filipino American community is so family-centered and so deep rooted in its concern for the well-being of one another, and I think that that is a model for the rest of our society,” he added.
Rep. Appleton said, “I know that all of you have worked very hard to have a gathering place to feel peace, to help your fellow community members, and not only members of the Filipino community, but the community at large.”
“I have a feeling that this community center, as Sen. Rockefeller said, is going to grow and become a very important place in this community,” she continued. “And I hope that you will invite me back for many functions.” ♦
James Tabafunda can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.