Mural spreads message of love from ‘Little Manila’
by Sara Krevoy
Jun 15, 2020 | 2175 views | 0 0 comments | 255 255 recommendations | email to a friend | print
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On the afternoon of June 12, a date that marks Philippine Independence Day, a small group gathered at the southeast corner of 69th Street and Roosevelt Avenue, a busy intersection in Woodside that is known as “Little Manila” due to its large Filipino population.

That day, Filipino organizations and businesses came together with artists, local elected officials and community leaders to celebrate the unveiling of a new mural on the facade of Amazing Grace Restaurant and Bakery, one of three Filipino eateries in the neighborhood that remained open at the height of the COVID-19 crisis.

The ceremony was also a means to extend appreciation to Filipino businesses and healthcare workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 epidemic.

Functioning doubly as a public greeting and as beautifying art for the community, the mural is a representation of the Filipino expression “Mabuhay,” which can mean “welcome,” “cheers” or “may you live."

The sunshine yellow-and-gold font used to spell out “Mabuhay” is the same lettering found on the iconic jeepneys of the Philippines, paying homage to the intersection that, with the Q47 bus stop and 7 train station, serves as a transportation hub for Woodside residents.

The mural also features bright green calamansi fruits and sampaguita (or jasmine) flowers, which are important symbols in Filipino culture.

Calamansi is offered at funerals as a way to purify the body of the deceased, and sampaguita is the national flower of the Philippines, representing renewal, purity and love.

“It is a powerful word that relates to life, welcome, unity and happiness,” said Hannah Cera, daughter of two employees at Amazing Grace restaurant. “With this mural, we want to place that spirit onto the communities of New York City.”

Cera emceed Friday’s event with fellow youth leader Princes “Diane” De Leon, daughter to the owners of Amazing Grace.

The De Leon and Cera families labored tirelessly to keep the business alive during the pandemic, while simultaneously performing duties as health care workers in Queens and Manhattan.

Cera and De Leon helped paint the mural, alongside artists-in-residence Xenia Diente and Jaclyn Reyes from The Laundromat Project, a program that partners with local businesses to create public art installations that explore the immigrant experience.

During the unveiling ceremony, health care worker and local leader Sockie Laya Smith honored those the community has lost during the pandemic, reading their names from a list by the Kanlungan Memorial Project.

“For the transnational people of Philippines ancestry, who make up a huge sector of the global health system, our gathering will keep reminding the world of the skills, dedication, and the self-sacrifice demanded of healthcare workers,” said Smith. “This is to remember them as human beings, not simply as a labor percentage, a deceased statistic or an immigration number.”

Timing for the mural unveiling also signified the completion of the Meal To Heal Initiative, a partnership for the mutual aid of Filipinos at immigrant-owned businesses and healthcare facilities across the city, predominantly in Queens.

Through their efforts, more than 300 meals were delivered from April through mid-June.

Some of those business owners were present at the unveiling, including Joe Castillo, whose parents opened up Phil-Am Food Mart on Roosevelt Avenue in 1976, at a time when there were only two Filipino stores in the neighborhood.

“The Woodside community is very special,” he explained. “We all come together, we all support each other.

“It’s true,” he continued, “all ships rise with the tide of everyone's support. To see something beautiful like this mural in the neighborhood, it's been special for me personally and I'm actually very much honored to be a part of this today."

Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer was also present at the unveiling, where he expressed gratitude for the mural and for the efforts of the community throughout the years. Standing in front of a handmade “Little Manila” street sign attached to the microphone, he committed to making the name official.

"I'm telling you today as your council member,” he asserted, “we will rename the street ‘Little Manila’ and make this happen once and for all."
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