Dignitaries at the opening ceremony of Fiesta In America's 19th Anniversary edition held on August 12, 2017 at the Meadowlands Expo Center in Secaucus, New Jersey. Front row, left to right: Consul Arman Talbo; Dr. Fely Quines, Hermana Mayor; Dr. Emilio Quines, Hermano Mayor; Arnold Gonzales, OIC of the Media Relations and Communications Division, Philippine Tourism Promotions Board; Rey Valera, OPM icon; Noven Beleza, 2017 Tawag Ng Tanghalan champion; and Fr. Dave Sison, who delivered the invocation. Second row, left to right: Rommel Rivera, Naffaa; General (ret.) Antonio Taguba, AARP spokesperson for the AAPI community; Aida Rivera, Naffaa; Zeny Pallugna, Acting OIC, New York Office of the Philippine Department of Tourism; Consul General Ma. Theresa de Vega; Nanding Mendez, Fiesta In America President and CEO; Dr. Laura Garcia, nursing educator at NYU College of Nursing and Phillips School of Nursing at Mt. Sinai Beth Israel; Susan del Mundo, OIC of the Tourism Promotions Board's Domestic Promotions Department; Jessica Sanchez, Americvan Idol season 11 sensation; and the Hon. Norman Schmelz, Mayor of Bergenfield, NJ. Third row, left to right: Roger and Spanky Rigor of Manila Sound pioneer VST and Company; Eva Caparas, Jett Montelibano, and Fe de los Reyes of OPM trailblazer Music and Magic; Roger Oriel, Asian Journal publisher; Meriterese Racanelli, MS, R&D Food Scientist/Nutritionist/Chef at Goya Foods; Rolando Lavarro, Jersey City, NJ Council President; Jonathan Wong, Mahwah, NJ Councilman; William McKeever and John Gerbasio, Secaucus, NJ Councilmen.  (Photo by Boyet Loverita)


 With dozens of fans swaying their hips to “the twist” on the concert stage and in the aisles, the legendary Drifters brought Fiesta In America’s main show to a resounding climax on Aug. 12 and 13 at the New Jersey’s Meadowlands Expo Center in Secaucus, N.J.

The East Coast’s biggest expo and cultural show of its kind celebrated its 19th Anniversary edition with a first in its history: a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame group sharing the marquee with Original Pilipino Music (OPM) trailblazers, an American Idol sensation, and a Tawag Ng Tanghalan champion.

“We knew beforehand that the combination of the Drifters, Rey Valera, American Idol Season 11 runner-up Jessica Sanchez, Noven Belleza, Music and Magic, and VST and Company would cause a sensation,” remarked Nanding Mendez, Fiesta In America President and CEO; and Founder.

“But we didn’t expect such a spontaneous and joyous crowd participation in the finale like what the Drifters roused.”

Led by lead singer Jerome Jackson — who sounded uncannily like Ben E. King, the Drifters’ late front man and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee as a solo artist — the group went through most of their Billboard Hot 100 hits, including Under the Boardwalk, Save the Last Dance for Me, On Broadway, Up on the Roof, and There Goes My Baby, punctuating each song with nifty choreography.

But it was their full-on rendition of Chubby Checker’s Let’s Do the Twist and Let’s Twist Again (Like We Did Last Summer) that brought the house to its feet and on the stage.

Opening-day ceremonies were just as filled with luminaries, although of the public service type.

Secaucus Mayor Michael Gonnelli, Bergenfield Mayor Norman Schmelz, Secaucus Councilmen John Gerbasio and William McGeever, and AARP spokesperson for the AAPI community General (ret.) Antonio Taguba graced the inaugural.

From the Philippines, the Department of Tourism and the Tourism Promotions Board were represented by Susan del Mundo, Officer In Charge of the TPB’s Domestic Promotions Department, and by Arnold Gonzales, Officer In Charge of the TPB’s Media, Relations and Communications Division.

Philippine Consul General Ma. Theresa Dizon-de Vega, standing for the Fil-Am community of the East Coast, delivered the formal opening remarks.

ConGen de Vega was joined by Mendez and the aforementioned American and Filipino officials at the cutting of the ceremonial ribbon.

According to Ogie Afable, the cultural show’s Producer-Director, this year’s Fiesta In America easily topped previous editions for its first-ever blend of mainstream and Filipino artists.

“The two-day event stays on the path of quality improvement,” said Afable.

“The success of the Drifters’ full concert tells us that diverging from a formulaic approach, but still remaining consistent with the Filipino cultural motif, can work. And who knows? Presenting other legends of American music may be a recurring or even permanent aspect of Fiesta In America. After all, that type of positive disruption may generate tremendous consumer buzz since we will mark our 20th Anniversary in 2018.”

The 200 million disc-selling Drifters aside, the Filipino performing artists enthralled the audience just as well.

Composer, arranger, producer and singer Rey Valera, who has penned hits for superstars like Sharon Cuneta and Rico J. Puno, peppered his songs with unexpected humor.

Jessica Sanchez’s version of Whitney Houston’s hits convinced the audience even more that she should have won American Idol 2012.

Noven Belleza, the first Tawag Ng Tanghalan champ, proved why he bested other super-talented singers from all over the Philippine Islands.

Sounds of Manila, Music and Magic, VST and Company, as well as the schoolboy-faced Arato Brothers and the Band of Brothers reminded fans on both days of Fiesta In America why it’s the longest-running Fil-Am indoor expo and cultural show on the East Coast.

Sponsors and exhibitors were equally vocal as the audience in their positive reviews.

“It was such a happy, positive, family environment,” gushed Meriterese Racanelli, MS, R&D Food Scientist/Nutritionist/Chef at Goya Foods, which returned as a major sponsor.

“It was a joy to work at [Fiesta In America]! The talent and entertainment were outstanding, and it was wonderful to see how the community embraced the Goya Better For You low-sodium and low-sugar products. It touched my heart, and it was an honor to see several people from last year come back to my workshops.”

Nemesio Kinsora and Javier de la Rosa, representing Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey, were just as profuse in their review.

“Fiesta In America was a great success for the second year in a row,” said Kinsora.

“It gave us the chance to connect with the community on a very large scale!”

At the People’s Ball, Fiesta In America’s companion gala that was held on Aug. 11 at the Meadowlands Hilton, new sponsor Don Papa Rum delighted numerous American and Fil-Am guests at the product tasting with the “world-class” smoothness of the Philippine-made rum.

“I could have sworn it was a French cognac that I was sipping!” a taster exclaimed as he enjoyed a second thimbleful of the amber-hued drink.

By the sheer volume of consumer “touches” (estimated number of visual and audio impressions), Philippine tourism figured most prominently at the two-day expo.

Stunning white beaches, gushing waterfalls, flavorful regional cuisine, ethnic festivals and other local attractions were projected on the outsize LED screen during concert intermissions on both days of the event.

Starring, the Fil-Am member of The Black Eyed Peas, a video of world-class tourist magnets from deep sea diving to urban amenities wowed the audience with Hollywood-level production values.

Featuring a real American tourist, the flagship “Anak” TV commercial of the Department of Tourism was beamed on the LED screen several times on both days of Fiesta In America, emphasizing the ad campaign’s theme of foreign visitors being warmly received as family.

Standing for DOT Secretary Wanda Teo, the Tourism Promotions Board’s Domestic Promotions Department head, Susan del Mundo, provided potential visitors among the audience with a rundown of current and planned tourism-boosting projects that will enhance their stay in the country.

For more information about the recently concluded Fiesta In America, log on to or visit the event’s Facebook page.