Fil-Ams mark longest running Santacruzan in Maryland

by Rodney Jaleco, ABS-CBN North America News Bureau
Posted at 05/18/2012 9:46 AM | Updated as of 05/18/2012 9:46 AM

GAITHERSBURG, Md. - Filipino-Americans at the St. Rose de Lima parish have been celebrating the Flores de Mayo for nearly 2 decades – making it the longest-running Santacruzan festival in Montgomery County.

Santacruzan in Maryland
“We were the first to do the Misang Pilipino,” revealed Cezarina Cornejo Alzona. “The Flores de Mayo is a big celebration in Montgomery county because we invite other parishes not only St. Rose de Lima and we’ve been doing this for 18 years now.”

The county hosts the large Fil-Am communities in Rockville and Gaithersburg, among others.

“I started talking to the church in 1993, with the Catholic multi-cultural committee and they agreed because we have a lot of Filipinos who were very active in this church and its different ministries,” Alzona told the Manila Mail.

“They opened their arms to us,” she stressed.

The Santacruzan at St. Rose de Lima has become a spring fixture in the county. For many, it’s a way to bring a part of the mother country to their new home in America.

Introduced by Spain in 1867, the Flores de Mayo (Flowers of May) is a popular festival honoring the Virgin Mary. Over the years, it melded with the Santacruzan, a village-based religious-historical beauty pageant that depicts the finding of the Holy Cross by Queen Helena, mother of Constantine the Great.

Matthew Aninzo, 27, has been teaching kids Filipino folk dance since his family moved into the Montgomery area in 1995. Born in Pensacola, Florida, his family had an opportunity to return to the Philippines when his father – a US Navy corpsman – was assigned there.

“It was the time of coup d’etats,” he recalled. They flew back to the US in 1994 and settled in the area, primarily because of the proximity to Bethesda Naval Hospital. His years living in the Philippines provided Aninzo with a greater appreciation of his roots.

“I’m doing this because I love my Filipino heritage,” he explained.

He also discovered that many young Fil-Ams were curious about their roots and realized he could help quench this thirst for the culture of their forefathers.

“I now see it as a personal duty to stick around and teach them,” Aninzo averred.

This year’s Reina Emperatris is 17-year-old Irene Fletemeyer who immigrated from Calbayog, Samar 4 years ago.

“It’s an honor to be one of the ‘reynas’,” she enthused, intimating that this was actually her 2nd time to join the Santacruzan but her first as a queen.

Back home, the town elders choose the prettiest girls to be the “reynas” of the Santacruzan. They are dressed in the best, more colorful and regal gowns and walk with consorts holding flower-covered arches.

Alzona said the Fil-Am community has grown through the years. “We’re not as large as Oxon Hill but Montgomery County has grown tremendously because of the hospitals. Bethesda Naval Hospital (which has its own Fil-Am organization) draws a lot of people, Filipinos who’ve moved into this community,” she explained.

And with that rapid expansion Filipinos find the urge to keep the old traditions alive.