This is the fifth of a five-part series on the Jose P. Rizal Heritage Center (1332 W. Irving Park Rd.) in Chicago. Today we examine what's next for the Rizal Center.
Rene Abella, head of the Jose P. Rizal Heritage Center, has some big aspirations for it, and there are some good precedents out there. One of the most impressive examples of a Philippine Center is the Bayanihan Arts and Events Center found in Tampa, Florida. Adjacent to the nearly 10,000 square foot reception hall is a five acre outdoor "Village" with stages and pavilions.
The Philippine Cultural Foundation, Inc. (PCFI) in Tampa oversees the building and serves as the umbrella organization to the local Pilipino organizations; much like the Filipino American Council of Greater Chicago (FACC) strives to be here. Several community events are held at the Tampa Center including Barrio Fiestas, fundraisers, and concerts.
The PCFI was founded in 1995, while the FACC is the oldest Pilipino organization in the nation that owns a building. Quite the disparity in age, yet the Bayanihan Center is an up and coming centerpiece in the community while the Rizal Center's place in the community is in the memories of Generation X Chicago Pil-Ams. Recently, as part of Rizal's 150th birthday festivities, the portion of Irving Park Road in front of the Center was given the honorary name "Dr. Jose Rizal Avenue". However, even with this newly christened street, it's hard to think that this is the ideal location for Chicago's Pilipino center.
As mentioned in the last part of this series, the north side is not the geographic center of Chicago Pilipinos that it once was. A majority of Pilipino parents are raising their children in the suburbs, and while there are several pockets of Pilipinos in several different suburbs, collectively they're a stronger community than what's within the city limits. Abella has looked at all the issues facing the Rizal Center today and has come to one simple solution – sell the current center and open a new one in one of those suburbs.
Now, one Pilipino group has already tried to start a center in the town of Addison, but it has already fallen into disuse. Abella wants to take a different direction by not having a center just for the sake of having a center. He wants something the Chicago community can be proud of, much like Tampa's Center. A place with a large party room, office spaces, artifact restoration, day care services, a grocery store, a hair salon, etc.; basically a one-stop shop for the Pilipino community.
Abella has a long road ahead of him before he can see his dream realized. Pride runs high in Chicago, and while most people are receptive to his ideas, it will be difficult to convince the Center's mostly older executive board. This is likely because of the most important part of his vision: he wants to concentrate on future generations, not the current one. He knows that our generation is beyond hometown territories and past personal issues, and we will be the ones to inherit the Center.
If Abella can't make progress on moving the Center, he sees no point in staying in charge of it. It's a lofty and controversial stance, but it may be the only way to revive the Rizal Center.