Pacquiao a hero in Filipino communities ready to celebrate

LAS VEGAS — Filipino communities are all ready to celebrate Manny Pacquiao as he stars in the world’s most anticipated boxing match.

Here in Las Vegas, home to one of the largest populations of Filipinos in the U.S., it’s icing on the mocha cake to have the heavily promoted fight in their own backyard.

“It’s like watching the Super Bowl,” said Wilfredo “Jing” Espiritu, a regional officer in Las Vegas for the National Federation of Filipino American Associations. “They’re going to have beers and food. And most Filipino houses, those with the biggest TVs, that’s where they’re gathering.”

Pacquiao, one of the Philippines’ most beloved native sons, will face Floyd Mayweather in the ring Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.

Win or lose, Espiritu said he’s lobbying Las Vegas officials to proclaim an official Manny Pacquiao Day because of his importance to the local community. The boxer already got a key to the city in 2009.

Nearly 5 percent of Nevadans — more than 138,000 people — identify as Filipino, making the sparsely populated state home to the fifth-largest contingent in the country, according to Census data. Other states with more than 100,000 Filipinos include California, Hawaii, Texas, Illinois, Washington, New Jersey, Florida, New York and Virginia.

Of the 3.6 million people who identify as Filipino in the U.S., one out of 26 live in Nevada and mostly in the Las Vegas area.

“They say Las Vegas is ‘Mayweather Town,’ maybe because of the mainstream (media) -- they don’t know that the Vegas community Filipinos is one of the biggest,” said Arturo Garcia, of the Los Angeles-based Justice for Filipino American Veterans.

In a nod to the 1.5 million Filipinos who live in California, the largest total number in the U.S, Our Lady of Loretto Elementary School in Los Angeles’ Historic Filipinotown is also scrambling to host a watch party.

Principal Nivia Aldrete-Brito said she is concerned about the violence that will be shown but that scores of families would be disappointed otherwise.

“Everyone’s been wanting to come and join in and make it a pot-luck event,” she said. “He’s very loved, and he’s very charitable. They have him on a hero pedestal, which is awesome.”

Back in Las Vegas, it’s a safe bet, too, that many of those large family house parties will host out-of-towners.

Among them is Rogel Carlos, 50, who said he flew in to Las Vegas from Phoenix on Friday just to be in the presence of the buzz. He said he is watching the fight at a friend’s house west of the Strip, which will be catered with Filipino food in the same typical fashion of a family Christmas or birthday party.

“It’s really the first time as a Filipino-American person that I can proud of my heritage and I’m proud to be Filipino because of what Manny Pacquiao has accomplished. It’s almost as if all Filipinos feel like this,” Carlos said.

Espiritu also offered this anecdote to sum up Pacquiao’s icon status for Filipinos everywhere: “Every time Manny Pacquiao fights, there’s zero crime in the Philippines because everyone, including the criminals, they all stop and watch.”


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