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Tribu Ilonggo and Dinagyang sa Chicago


By: Ryan Tejero


Ilonggos in Chicago honor their rich cultural heritage by launching, for the first time, “Dinagyang sa Chicago.” This is the first time that Ilonggos in Chicago made a unified effort to introduce Iloilo City and Dinagyang Festival in the Filipino American community. This event was held at the beautiful Venetian Ballroom of Drury Lane Theater in Oakbrook, IL on September 22, 2018. Two weeks before the event, this event was sold-out at over 350 confirmed and prepaid guests. There was a long waiting list of people trying to wait for cancellation, and there were still people calling on the day of the event hoping to get an open seat.

Founding member of Tribu Ilonggo and co-organizer of Dinagyang sa Chicago, Gemma Esmalla-Kosanam said, “We were so overwhelmed by the turn out of guests. The calls to ask for available seats are unstoppable. We have to turn down our close friends and even relatives who are looking for tickets on the week of the event, because we reached our seating capacity in the ballroom.”

RJ Turija – Joliet, IL, a strong supporter of the event said, “At some point during the program, I can’t help but feel very proud of being an Ilonggo, as I watched a lot of people getting excited and feeling amused by the Dinagyang tribal costumes worn and presented by the Lin-Ay sang Dinagyang.”

In his written message, Iloilo City Mayor Jose Espinosa III expressed, “I commend each and everyone for actively participating in this cultural celebration highlighting the Ilonggo heritage and showcasing a sense of pride and ownership in the global stage.”

It all started in the Fall of 2017 when Tribu Ilonggo was organized. Seven highly-motivated Ilonggos met in Oakbrook, IL to discuss the possibility of bringing together all Ilonggos in Chicagoland into one venue, with the goal of capturing the unique experiences that every Ilonggo is longing for. The founding members of Tribu Ilonggo are Gemma Esmalla (Igbaras, Iloilo), Joe John Natividad (Iloilo City), Richie Gil (Duenas, Iloilo), Sally Train (San Jose, Antique), Ben Inventor (Negros Occidental), Ebenezar Jereos (LaPaz, Iloilo City) and Ryan Tejero (Tigbauan, Iloilo).

What is known among Ilonggos in Chicago is the fact that they are all over the Windy City. While many came to Chicago as nurses and other healthcare professionals, there were those who migrated to re-unite with their families, and those who came as spouses of their foreign nationals. The increasing number of Ilonggos here in Chicago was manifested by the rise of different alumni groups from Iloilo colleges and universities. A number of Iloilo town-based organizations were also organized. This is the biggest reason why Tribu Ilonggo was serious in looking for a unifying factor that will host all Ilonggos in one setting, and have them enjoy the spirit of one strong and vibrant community.

In the centerpiece of the gathering is the spirit of merry-making that only Dinagyang sa Chicago can bring. Dinagyang Festival is trademark festival of Iloilo Province in the Philippines. In history, this festival reminds us of how our ancestors celebrated thanksgiving in honor of Senyor Santo Nino (Holy Child, Jesus), and the jovial celebration following the purchase of Panay Island by the 10 Bornean Datus from the early natives, known as “Ati.” This Festival completes the whole being a true Ilonggo. It is surely a reflection of Ilonggo’s rich cultural heritage. Today, this festival is world-famous. It has brought Iloilo in the world map or tourism – making Iloilo City as a center of attraction among tourists, and a source of pride for every Ilonggo across the globe.

Tribu Ilonggo takes pride in giving this rare opportunity for guests to listen to the sounds and dance in the beating of the drums, be amazed with the festive and colorful costumes of Dinagyang, and feel the strong sense of oneness among Ilonggos coming together in one venue – enjoying the festival that everyone is dreaming about to happen here in America.

In lieu of the traditional performance of a Dinagyang tribal group, the event highlight was the parade of colorful Dinagyang costumes by the Lin-Ay Sang Dinagyang. They are the second generation of Ilonggo Americans composed of Audrey Esquivel, Kayla Tejero, Megan Namojlik, Bea Cronologia, Dawn Pendon, Megan Despojo, Abigael Turrija, Shelcy Altis, and Shelly Toledo. The musical entertainment were provided by Ilonggo artists based in Chicago – Nina Mae Vidal, Jojo Villaruel and Chito Ilonggo and son, Aybil. Founding member and co-organizer Richie Gil was the DJ, Emcee and over-all production director of the program.

Dinagyang sa Chicago 2018 is in partnership with Filipino American group Chicago Nightingales. The major sponsors are the Madrid-Crost Law Offices, Global Forwarders, Megaworld, Pinoy Grill and Mr. Joe Jan Natividad.

This launching event is just a glimpse of what Dinagyang sa Chicago will become in the years to come. The possibility is endless, and it will be the festival that everyone will definitely talk about, and re-visit year after year!


Bea Cronologia in a costume created by Jeomel Jaleco


Kayla Tejero in a costume created by Jeomel Jaleco


Abigael Turrija in a costume by Jeomel Jaleco


Tribu Ilonggo and Organizer of Dinagyang sa Chicago (L-R): Ebenezar Jereos (LaPaz, Iloilo City), Ben Inventor (Negros Occidental) Joe John Natividad (Iloilo City), Richie Gil (Duenas, Iloilo), Gemma Esmalla (Igbaras, Iloilo), Sally Train (San Jose, Antique), Ryan Tejero (Tigbauan, Iloilo).


The Lin-Ay Sang Dinagyang with event Host and DJ (center), Richie Gil.

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