In the bustling Iznart street of Iloilo’s downtown, two gigantic symbols highlight the ever-diverse cultural identity of Ilonggos. By the street’s entrance, a “Friendship Arch” stands proud, gleaming red, orange, and yellow, representing the long-standing history of the Chinese community in the City of Love. 

The Year of the Metal Ox

The beginning of the lunar new year was celebrated on the 12th of February this year, welcoming the Year of the Metal Ox. In many East Asian countries, the festival is highly anticipated. This year’s celebration was different as the world’s continuing battle with the coronavirus persists. 

One stall owner of ready-to-wear clothes along Iznart recalls, “May ara pa sina sang-una sang mga saot-saot kag parada (Before, there used to be street dances and parades),” she says while folding and organizing her merchandise. “Subong ya daw waay na gid, biskan mga dekorasyon gani diri sa street gamay na lang gid (It’s different now, there are barely any decorations even on the streets).”

There used to be a week-long celebration in the city’s “Chinatown”. The festival was always spearheaded by the City Government together with the Chinese New Year Task Force, and the Filipino-Chinese schools in the city. This year, the streets remained their usual business on a Wednesday with locals walking to and fro, buying and selling anything from food to fabric to automobile parts. 

Just two days before the city’s 18th celebration of the Lunar New Year, the usual preparations for the festivities are missing. No food stalls selling authentic Chinese cuisine, no marching bands playing traditional new year songs, and no students in dancing formation wearing changshan and cheongsam – a far cry from the lively community gathering of the past two decades.

Despite this, the presence of the Ilonggo-Chinese community is still very much felt by the locals. In 2012, the Filipino-Chinese Chamber of Commerce of Iloilo (FCCCI) launched the organization’s centennial project in honor of the long-standing relationship between the Ilonggo-Chinese community with the good people of the province. They officially named it the “Filipino-Chinese Friendship Arch” and many walk under its tall columns every day.

A relatively young passerby remarked, “It’s really a symbol of friendship, diri gid sa area nga ini naga-celebrate sang Chinese New Year (It’s really a symbol of friendship, people celebrate Chinese New Year in this area).” 

This is a testament to not just the significant impact of the Ilonggo-Chinese community in the city, but proof that the Ilonggo people treasure and celebrate all types of friendships, even amidst a pandemic that has challenged their way of life. Xīnnián kuàilè to you and yours!