THE Philippine Independence Day celebrations came a bit early in the United States. Though Independence Day in the Philippines is celebrated every 12th of June, the popular parade commemorating the occasion was held last Sunday, June 6, in New York City. This year we celebrate 117 years since the country has declared its independence from Spain.

For many years, Filipinos living in the United States have celebrated in their “home away from home” and time has only made the annual event bigger and grander. It is through the efforts of the Philippine Independence Day Council, Inc. (PIDCI), a nonprofit organization, celebrating its 26th anniversary that we are able to celebrate the parade. Groups of Filipinos decked out in the national costume, cars, and floats decorated with Filipino designs paraded down Madison Avenue as the yearly tradition of bringing awareness of Philippine culture and presence in the community.

The 2015 Philippine Independence Day Parade in New York City is the biggest among the many celebrations held by Filipinos in the United States. This year's theme is "Kalayaan 2015: Tagumpay Sa Pagbabagong Nasimulan, Abot Kamay Na Ng Bayan." Among those in attendance are our local celebrities, officials, beauty queens, and other notable people. Actress Cherie Gil emceed the program and performances were by balladeer Nonoy Zuñiga, YouTube sensation and son of Gary V, Gab Valenciano, and Kundiman Queen Sylvia La Torre.

Among the many ongoings during this big event, a small part of Bacolod has managed to make itself the center of attention. Bacolod MassKara New York Edition (BMNYE) has consistently been named the grand winner of the parade, winning every year since 2012. This performing group brings to the Big Apple our famed MassKara festival dance, the familiar beats we hear every year, and the gaudy, colorful masks with the signature smile.

While it would be safe to assume that BMNYE must be local MassKara dancers invited to perform each year, they are actually a group of Bacolod nurses living in the New York area and they have been living there for the past two decades. BMNYE was created by Imelda Genovea-Gargarita and her Nursing classmates, hoping to represent Bacolod City in the parade.

Through the collective efforts of their groups as well as their families to create the choreography (with the help of YouTube), pool money for costumes and props, as well as to rehearse, they have earned the spotlight for themselves and the city, and have brought positive publicity to our local festival.

Of course, groups hailing from different parts of the Philippines brought their famed festivals to the stage. Cebu's Sinulog dancers, Kalibo, Aklan's Ati-Atihan, and even Igorot dancers proudly paraded down New York City to carry the colorful Philippine identity and contribute to the cultural showcase.

In the recent years, they have also included food fairs in the parade to allow everyone to enjoy delicious Filipino cuisine. Filipinos living abroad can once again taste the best of home cooked food they have missed and visitors can have a taste of something new to their palate.

The Filipino presence has never been as felt as it is today with Filipino entertainers, professionals, and achievers always in the headlines. With the country slowly making its way up, it is quite touching that our fellow countrymen who have left for greener pastures and work abroad have gathered to bring together a grand celebration for our country. Though having lived abroad for many years, our countrymen are still proud of our homeland and parade down the streets just to tell the world who they are.

Today, as we celebrate Philippine Independence Day, let it be known that we are not alone in celebrating this occasion, but we are joined by the thousands of Filipinos all around the world. This holiday is not only an anniversary of a momentous event in history, it is also a challenge to continue our efforts of bringing the country up to the dreams our revolutionary ancestors had for it.