By Anna Ven Sobrevinas
SAN DIEGO — Inside historic Balboa Park is the House of Pacific Relations (HPR), a village of small dwellings housing 33 countries to promote intercultural engagement and education.
Inside HPR is HOP. Established in 1961, the House of the Philippines shares its space with France and opens each third and fourth Sunday of every month from noon to 4 p.m.
The rising need for a common area for Filipinos to gather in San Diego is greater than ever. The House of the Philippines aims to be that, but it needs a bigger space.
“The weird thing about San Diego is that there are so many Filipinos, but there’s no cultural center,” said Alexander Areta, vice president of HOP. “The first time I started volunteering here, a lot of the Filipinos came by and it’s embarrassing because it’s so small. It’s kind of sad that we can’t get together and do something.”
In August 2015, HOP’s president Romulo Sarno, Jr. said they are campaigning for a new House inside the park amounting to $350,000. The money will be used to build the new house, purchase equipment to show educational and cultural videos and showcase Filipino artifacts.
Josie Robles, the House’s HPR delegate, said the City has offered land for the new house three times in the past. She said with 200,000 Filipinos in San Diego, they could have come up with the money a long time ago.
“I’m not campaigning negatively but it’s the truth,” said Robles. “I’m hoping that Filipinos in San Diego will really appreciate what we are doing here. It’s an opportunity not everybody has – to have a house in Balboa Park in San Diego.”
For the two days in a month that the House opens, visitors are welcomed to various displays on the geography, history and culture of the Philippines.
Filipino-European Stephanie French has been a HOP volunteer for 10 years. Wearing a colorful baro’t saya top, she said people did not believe she was Filipino because she is mestiza. She felt the need to prove herself, and took up classes to educate herself with her Pinoy heritage.
“We started this as extra credit that we needed for class but we just ended up getting interested in helping other Fil-Ams get reconnected to their Filipino roots,” said French. “A lot of Fil-Ams, they’re full-blooded yet they don’t even know as much as I do.”
French added that they promote the bayanihan spirit in all their campaigns – a trait she hopes will become a reality in the Filipino community and not to remain as just a saying.
Though not geographically correct, HOP’s neighbor is the House of England. The House’s president Frances Weekley said they have always worked with the Pinoy house.
“We enjoy having our house next to theirs,” said Weekley. “They’re always very pleasant to work with and fun.”
For the four hours that the House opens, financial support is not the only call that needs to be heard.
“At this point, we encourage young people to get involved in this house,” said Robles. “We need young Filipinos here that are very cultural or will develop a cultural attitude towards our country.”
For donations and more information, please visit www.houseofthephilippines.org.