Philippine Cultural Community Center opens in Indianapolis

Growing up in Indiana, Philip Smith has often sought to learn more about his heritage.

Smith, 35, born in the Philippines and adopted into an American family, said he wanted to meet other Filipinos with shared experiences.

“I wanted to find answers about myself. I wanted to do a little bit of self-discovery,” Smith said. “So when I was 20, I decided to go spend a year in the Philippines to learn as much as possible about my roots.”

Smith’s journey towards self-discovery and self-identity inspired him to help other Filipino Hoosiers who may still seek to learn more about their heritage and culture.

Philippine Community Cultural Center co-founder Philip Smith invites everyone to the center and its Filipino Saturday Bazaars.  The center shares Filipino culture with everyone and becomes a taste of the Philippines for Hoosiers of Filipino heritage.  Photo taken on Tuesday, June 29, 2021.

He teamed up with his friend Marife Callender, 49, and co-founded the Philippine Cultural Community Center, which opened in January on the south side of town.

About 150 people visit the community center during its weekly Filipino market and bazaar featuring various food and craft vendors. A move to a larger location for the community center is already underway, Smith said.

“When I first started meeting other Filipinos here, we mostly met in people’s homes or in churches,” Smith said. “Now this is the place where we can come together, educate people and show our culture, which is very unique.”

Philippine Hoosiers

The Philippines was an American colony from 1898 to 1946, when the islands gained full independence. According to Indiana Historical Society, meanwhile, a number of Filipinos immigrated to Indiana just before World War II.

Filipinos who had served in the United States Armed Forces during World War II and their families settled in the Hoosier after 1945. The largest group of Filipinos came after 1965, according to a report from the Indiana Historical Society.

Marife Callender shows off some styles of modern clothing sold at the Philippine Bazaar on Saturday, June 26, 2021 at the Philippines Cultural Community Center.  She is the co-founder of the center.  In order to share their culture, the center hosts a bazaar every Saturday offering Filipino food and showcasing products from local Filipino companies.

Specific data on the Filipino population living in Indiana in 2020 has yet to be released by the US Census Bureau. Census data shows that in 2010 Indianapolis had more than 17,000 Asian American residents, most of them from China, the Philippines, Korea, Vietnam and Japan.

In 2019, Asian Hoosiers made up nearly 4% of Marion County’s population, and native Hawaiian and Pacific Island Hoosiers made up less than 1%.

The population has increased in some Indianapolis suburbs and surrounding counties.

Asian Hoosiers make up 6% of the population of Hamilton County, 7% of that of Monroe County, and 4% of the population of Johnson County.

Statewide, Asian Hoosiers make up nearly 3% of the population. And according to the Migration Policy Institute, 34% of immigrants living in Indiana in 2019 were Asian.

Helping newcomers and the next generation

Smith and Callender hope the community center can help support newly arrived immigrants to Indiana and educate the younger generation of Filipino Hoosiers about the culture.

Callender, originally from the Philippines, moved to the United States in the early 2000s. She has lived in Indiana since 2011. While living in Indiana, she decided to become more involved in organizations focused on the Philippines.

“I’m doing this for my kids now,” she said.

Last year, she became president of the Indiana Barangay Club, the oldest Philippine American organization in the state, established in 1974.

“My daughter was born in the Philippines and I didn’t want her to forget who we are and where we come from,” Callender said. “But we also do it for people who are like me, who are newcomers. If you need a community, if you don’t know anyone yet, this is the place for you.”

What you will find at the Cultural Community Center of the Philippines

The Philippines Cultural Community Center, located at 5401 S. East St., offers courses and resources on Filipino dialects for those wishing to become U.S. citizens and those wishing to acquire dual citizenship in the Philippines.

In an effort to get better and more accurate information about Filipino Hoosiers in Indiana, community center volunteers also help educate the community on how to complete the US Census.

Meilin Su goes shopping with her children Alexa, Bryce and Kaylah Wang and family friend Wan Chen in pink at the Philippine Bazaar on Saturday June 26, 2021 at the Cultural Community Center of the Philippines.  In order to share their culture, the center hosts a bazaar every Saturday offering Filipino food and showcasing products from local Filipino companies.

Career development resources and cooking classes are also offered.

Karaoke nights and bingo games have been a hit, and hundreds of visitors attend the community centre’s weekly market and bazaars featuring various Filipino vendors every Saturday.

Since March, Teresa Merrill has shown off her cooking skills, which have been popular and sought after in the Filipino community of Indianapolis for years, at the Philippine Bazaar.

Every Saturday, Merrill can be found at the bazaar featuring Filipino street food such as grilled pork cheek, pork belly, chicken feet, among others.

Merrill, who has been a Hoosier for 27 years, said the community center would be a home for newcomers who may be missing family and friends in the Philippines.

“We don’t just offer food, the community center offers friendship, it offers help,” Merrill said. “And it’s not just a place for Filipinos, it’s for everyone, anyone who is curious to learn more about our culture.”

The Cultural Community Center of Philipinnes is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday and from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturday.

IndyStar reporter Natalia Contreras can be reached at 317-518-2829 or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter, @NataliaECG.

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