Chicago’s PH Independence ’21 fete in the time of Covid-19
CHICAGO – June 12, 2021 held more than one meaning for Filipino Americans in the area. Of course, it was the 123rd year of the declaration of Philippine Independence. But on June 11, City Mayor, Lori Lightfoot declared that city folks were liberated from wearing masks and observing social distancing in public—the constraints that held Chicagoans hostage to the deadly spread of Covid-19.
Who else should lead the celebration of liberation day except the Philippine Independence Week Committee (PIWC) members who came out of lockdown and held their traditional picnic June 12 at a Forest Preserve Park District of Cook County in Park Ridge?
Since early last year, the pandemic lockdown has prevented meetings and get-togethers that are important to the Filipino American community. Independence balls were cancelled and this year’s was postponed from June to October 2021 due to the uncertainties brought about by the Covid restrictions.
“Right now, it’s pretty overwhelming because some people are not really open to come out, and not everyone is already vaccinated but some are excited to come out, “said JetJet Gruezo, 2020-2021 Overall PIWC Chair.
Gruezo continued to communicate every now and then with other PIWC members through Facebook.
“Before the pandemic, I had the chance to go to Davao City where they have a collection of the endangered Philippine Eagle, whose population has dwindled to 400 pairs,” she said.
“Philippine Eagles are just like the Filipinos. We are resilient… We just keep flying high like an eagle, just like the Philippine flag,” Gruezo said.
“Believe it or not, I got married in September.” She had found a second venue because the first venue had cancelled her reception a week before her wedding was to take place. That’s not only resilience but persistence as well.
Ernie Lapid, 2022 chair, was on hand to take charge of the picnic. Lapid said he didn’t go out for six months. He just watched the news and CNN. “You’re going to be frustrated in a lockdown, but you cannot do anything about it,” he added. He also shared also sad news of the fateful past year like Dr. Ben Butuyan, whom he describes as “more than a casual friend” dying from COVID-19.
PIWC Corresponding Secretary Myrna Mahant, a Bicolana of Palangi, Albay and her husband Visnu, both retired, are still actively involved in the Filipino American community and in humanitarian efforts.
[During the pandemic] “I missed events but attended virtual meetings. I had just formed the Chicago Global Lions Club of which I am the Charter President and I’m the president of the JDC Rainbow Foundation so I was able to take care of (our humanitarian projects),” said Myrna.
Their daughter Kinjal, 29, was with the couple for the community picnic. Kinjal, who works in memory care, said she got COVID in February 2021.
“I had a headache, chills and body aches. I was having trouble breathing a little bit,” she attested. “My coworkers who were Filipino also got it and some of them had to be on a respirator in a hospital,” she explained.
Kinjal was off from work for two weeks and her entire family was in quarantine, and kept away from each other. “It was a time for me to relax. I felt better after 10 days,” she said. She is now fully recovered and feels she got a new lease on life.
The pandemic could not keep Rey and Tina Nonato sequestered at home. MedStar Lab reached out to the Nonatos to do community outreach by Covid-testing and that is what they did throughout the lockdown.
“I’ve been serving all different communities by swab testing for COVID,” said Tina.
“The Villages of Broadview and Bellewood asked us to provide the COVID- swab tests at their city halls,” she said. The Nonatos also provided tests at Grace Memorial Baptist Church.” The results showed that six people who they had swabbed were determined to be positive with COVID-19 in December.
Eventually, a position for the Commissioner of Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago became available and Tina had decided to run for the position and campaign for it.
Soon picnic goers started to come in droves–bringing their favorite Filipino dishes to be shared, potluck style. But not before everyone remembered to give thanks during a noon mass celebrated by Fr. Carlos Llagas and pray for the souls of those who fell victim to the pandemic. Lots of dancing and singing followed.
Yes, celebrating PH Independence has added significance this year, thanks to Covid-19.