ABME: Barcelona’s newest Filipino organization

by Evans Yonson

(Note: This article was originally published by Roots and Wings, The Filipino Online Magazine in Europe, for its Autumn 2012 edition.)

Barcelona – When you think of Barcelona, what exactly comes into your mind? Certainly, the flamenco dancers, the matadors, and the infamous football team, FCBarcelona are the quintessential replies. The Catalan capital city is certainly more than that.

Barcelona is home to more than 30,000 documented and undocumented, nationalized and resident Filipinos. Most of these kababayans are from the north of the Philippines (the Ilokano speaking regions) and Batangas. There is a growing population from the Visayas islands and Mindanao.

The early mass migration of Ilokanos started in the 1970s. There is even a running joke among the older Filipinos that the doves of Plaza Catalunya (the city’s main square) spoke Ilokano. The next three decades saw the rise of Filipino workers coming to this side of Spain –the 1992 Olympics, the booming of the Spanish economy in the late 1990s, and the present young Filipina au pair Scandinavian movement.

With these changes came the need to mobilize people to form organizations – the Ilokanos, the Kabalens, the Batangueños, the Bikolanos, and recently the Bisayans and the Mindanaoans.

The Asociación Bisayan ug Mindanaoan en España (ABME) is the latest addition to these organizations. Started in May 2011, ABME promotes friendship and solidarity with the aim of helping each other with common problems for mutual benefits.

“ABME has helped me a lot, in terms of homesickness,” Emerald Obtiar said. One of the founding members of the association, She believes meeting friends who speak the same language and sharing experiences is a way of alleviating the longing for home.

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One of the projects that ABME has ventured into is participating in the Filipino community’s annual ladies’ volleyball summer program. The association finished second in 2011 sports fest despite the limited time for practice. This year, the ABME volleybelles started training earlier. They are expected to win the much coveted winner’s ttropy by the end of September.

“We started our training in May,” Emma Oquias said.  Oquias is the team´s captain ball. ¨So far, so good,” she added.

Learning from their experiences in 2011 and this year, ABME is planning to sponsor the 2013 basketball for women summer league. Obtiar, one of ABME’s sports committee leaders, believes that the association is ready to lead a sports program where women will take center stage.

“It’s about time that we introduce women basketball in our community here in Barcelona,” Obtiar said.

In order to promote camaraderie among members, ABME also embarked on a monthly exposure trip to different parts of Spain, France and Portugal.

“I enjoyed the Lourdes (France) and Fatima (Portugal) pilgrimages,” Rosell Cabales said. Being a religious and devout Christian, Cabales added, “with the company of my ABME friends, my faith in the Almighty has been strengthened even more.”

During summer, the members went to various water theme parks – Port Aventura, Waterworld, and Marineland- for several weekends in July and August.

“This is fun and fulfilling for every member to be with friends,” former ABME vice-president Evelyn Racho said.

“We plan to have more field trips this year like going to Valencia, Madrid, Zaragoza, and maybe Ibiza next year,” she added.

Another objective of ABME is to raise cultural and social awareness of its members. The members have already performed before an international crowd when they were invited by UNICEF-Barcelona.

The members danced the Sinulog during this monthly gathering of international migrants composed of Africans, Latin Americans, Eastern Europeans, Asians and a bigger Spanish crowd in the audience.

“Our performance made us proud of ourselves as Filipinos,” Elena Sampan said. “We showed a different side of what we can do. We are not only workers but we can also dance and we presented the cultural pride within us,” she added.

In 2011, a photography workshop was conducted for the members and has produced great photographs.

“I’m so glad to have attended the seminar. Now, I can take well-composed photographs,” Glecyl Garay said.

To celebrate its first Christmas as an association in 2011 and raise funds, ABME held two memorable activities –the caroling project and the annual party.

“I really enjoyed the caroling rehearsals with the others,” Michelle Santos said. The group prepared three sets of Christmas carols. Each set contained the infamous Bisayan carol –Kasadya Ning Takna-a.

In order to appreciate and get to know more the Catalan and Barcelona culture, ABME members regularly visit the Picasso Museum and the Barcelona Museum Contemporary Art. Visits to the Sagrada Familia, Casa Milla and Batllo, Parque Guell and Palau Guell were also done in the past.

ABME also helps its members and their families in times of their direst need. When typhoon Sendong (Washi) hit Cagayan de Oro, ABME members held relief operations and asked friends for financial and other donation.

“I think the organization has successfully taken off as a group,” Marijen Bequilla, ABME’s incumbent vice-president said.

“We just need to more fundraising projects to make our group sustainable,” Bequilla added. Last year’s projects included the Christmas caroling and raffles.

“We have more projects in store for the association and our members,” Arcille Napone, ABME’s incumbent president said.

Projects include more partnership with local and international organizations, increased membership, more exposure and field trips, and workshops for the members.

“We maybe a new organization but we’re sure to have taken off good. Stronger, too. And we’re always ready to take it to a higher level,” Napone added.