The Montclair Public Library was transformed by an infusion of Filipino culture last week as it presented “A Journey Through the Philippines,” which included music, dance and art. 

The library’s Adult School department, in partnership with Ameurfina Nazario and Kristine Massari, presented the show on Wednesday, July 13. 

Working alongside Alay Philippine Performing Arts, a nonprofit organization dedicated to honoring Filipino culture through different art mediums, Nazario and Massari wanted the event to be inclusive.

 “I love to do this because there's a lot of connection with the Philippines and the United States,” Nazario said. “And there's a lot of people in contact with a lot of our culture, so we're able to put it all together alongside the indigenous culture of our country to be able to share it.” 

Focusing on highlighting the culture of Mindanao, an island in the southern part of the Philippines, children from the community participated in a variety of art activities that paid homage to the culture. 

When participants first entered the recreational area of the library, Jordan Erz and Ally Myers, relatives of Nazario, gave children temporary Batok tattoos. The tattoos are traditionally done with a hand-tapping style and represent a pivotal moment in a Filipino’s life. 

“Usually what happens is like everyone gets tattooed in the tribes, and it's a sign of, you know, you're ready to be in, like, womanhood. Like you're ready to get married,” Erz said. 

“For a man, it's like warrior stuff. So they'll put, like, snake skin or like an alligator and it's when you get it tattooed on yourself you're kind of getting the spirit of that animal.” 

Jordan Erz giving a Baktok tattoo to an attendee. (TALIA ADDERLEY/STAFF)
Jordan Erz giving a Baktok tattoo to an attendee.

The Alay Philippine Performing Arts organization was started by Nazario and her sisters, Mirinisa Myers and Lyrissa O’Brien, in 1991. Alongside being on the board of the organization, Nazario and Myers also play in the Alay Philippine Performing Arts Rondalla, which performed for the first time since 2019 at the event. Instruments such as the laud and bandurria, both originally from Spain but are now traditionally used in the Philippines, were used in Filipino songs such as “Dahil sa Isang Bulaklak,” which translates to “Because of a Flower.”

Parents watched as their children danced to the music while holding their various art projects, which were reminiscent of crafts that Nazario did when she was younger and lived in the Philippines. 

Parent Bianca Chua brought her three children to the event so they could learn more about their culture. “This event means everything to me because my kids, they’re half-Filipino and half-Mexican, and it helps them identify with our culture,” Chua said. “It's just like a reminder that everyone is the same, but then your roots are different.” 

A choreographed routine that incorporated storytelling and an array of colors was performed by Nazario and her family. Each routine was introduced by Amber Myers, who gave historical context to the different props and movements used in the performance. 

In the first performance, titled “Janggay,” Elizabeth O’Brien, Nazario’s niece, wore long yellow fingernails that represented the native birds of the Philippines while her dance mimicked the movement of water. Nazario and her sister Ally played traditional instruments to match the flow of the choreography. 

Jordan Erz and Elizabeth O’Brien performing the dance “Janggay.” (TALIA ADDERLEY/STAFF)
Jordan Erz and Elizabeth O’Brien performing the dance “Janggay.”

Being able to share their culture with the Montclair community is something that Nazario and her family are proud to do, and they hope that events like these will continue to foster a kinder community.  

“I think there's really nothing better than being able to relate to other people and see other people appreciate your culture and have a better understanding of the world,” Elizabeth O’Brien said.