Hundreds meet at culture center fundraiser

LIHU‘E — More than 650 people crowded into a fundraiser and dinner Saturday night to benefit a plan 35 years in the making to build a Kaua‘i Philippine Cultural Center.

“I am humbled by all of the generous people,” Kaua‘i Philippine Cultural Center Committee President Lesther Calipjo told participants. “I am truly honored to work with all of you.”

Guests paid $75 a seat at the event at the Kaua‘i Marriott Resort and Beach Club hall, where there also was a silent auction and organizers accepting additional donations. The theme was: “A Place for All.”

Calipjo said similar projects elsewhere have proven a valuable resource for cultural, economic and social training and programs in a multi-ethnic environment, he said.

 “You can see that we are serious about our project, and that it will serve various functions for the people of Kaua‘i,” Calipjo said.

County and state leaders pledged to support the project.

Deputy Consul General Paul Cortes of the Philippine Consulate in O‘ahu said the Filipino community has adapted itself and created strong communities wherever they have settled around the world. He said assimilation is important, but that strength in community also comes from heritage.

The center will be a home that is central to “becoming ‘ohana with all,” Cortes said.

“We will step up to the plate and see what we can do,” Kaua‘i Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. said. The mayor called the planned center a vision for all of Kaua‘i and lauded the Filipino community for taking the lead in providing a needed resource.

County Council Chair Jay Furfaro said the Filipino community has contributed greatly to Kaua‘i in the past 156 years. He said the project will unite Kaua‘i, and he said it sets an example of how to work together on a common goal.

State Reps. James Tokioka, Dee Morikawa and Derek Kawakami of Kaua‘i stood together on stage to pledge their support to the project. Tokioka said legislation is already in the works to request an initial $1.5 million for the design and planning stage.

State Sen. Ron Kouchi, D-Kaua‘i and Ni‘ihau, said the Filipino community was instrumental in teaching him to persevere in his early campaigns. He said the encouragement he was provided came from a community with a strong sense of family and culture.

Kouchi said it is important to celebrate all the distinct cultures and histories of a community.

“The biggest problem we face in the world is prejudice and ignorance, and that is when you don’t understand how other people live,” Kouchi said.

The Rev. Gus Uthuppu, pastor of St. Raphael’s Church, said he recalled that while serving at an O‘ahu parish he realized the important role that a Filipino community center there had in bringing the community together.

“The center is a product of culture and heritage,” Uthuppu said.

Daphne Sanchez , a business management student at Kaua‘i Community College, said her Filipino heritage is important to her identity as much as her other ethnic heritage. She said the center would be a place that kids know they can go to find that identity among others who share that experience.

Sanchez, who is the reigning Miss Island Mokihana, punctuated her message by singing “I Believe the Children are our Future” in a duet with Christine Calzado.

“I do believe in this project, and I am so happy and proud to be a part of it,” Sanchez said.

The evening featured other performances from the Kaua‘i Filipino Chamber of Commerce Chorale with Helen Sina conducting, the Kasibulan Dance Company and the Aloha Dance Studio.  Magician Rheme Ragasa also performed.

Fann Aguinaldo, a volunteer with the silent auction, said she is excited about the community center project and “all the events and all the possibilities that would benefit the community,” Aguinaldo said.

U.S. Senate candidate Ed Case was present with his spouse Audrey. He is a former U.S. congressman and state representative of the Hawai‘i County district with the largest Filipino population in the country.

“The Filipino-American community is the American dream, and it has been an amazing example of America in action — not only in Hawai’i, but around the country,” Case said.

Community building over generations has paid off for Filipino-American communities, he said. “With that foundation, I think the sky is the limit for the next couple of generations.”

There are currently two sites being considered to build the center, organizers said. The cost of the building will depend on its functionality, Calipjo said.

“Tonight’s kickoff is a stimulus for moving us forward,” he said.

Contact the committee at kpcc2020@gmail.com or write to KPCC 2020, P.O. Box 1961, Lihu‘e, Hawai‘i, 96766.

• Tom LaVenture, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 224) or by emailing tlaventure@thegardenisland.com.

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