By TERESA ANICOLA
Words of love floated through the air, stirring the hearts of those who gathered recently at the historic Hopkins House to hear "Love Poetry in the Philippine Tradition" in honor of Valentine's Day.
Guests readers from the Philippine Community of Southern New Jersey, whose members include Burlington, Camden and Gloucester county residents, read poems in native dialects of the Philippines, including one Spanish and one English poem.
"Love poetry is a long-standing tradition in the Philippines. They are usually written for courtships, especially in the provinces. They do that instead of writing love letters and it's either sung or recited, like serenading," said Emma DeJesus, co-chairwoman of the Filipiniana, a committee within the community devoted to the promotion of Philippine heritage and awareness.
She said there are more than 90 dialects spoken in the Philippines, and one common language - Tagalog. Both Tagalog and English are taught in schools there and 99 percent of the people speak English.
Chelle Jose is a native of the Visayas Islands where the Cebuano dialect is spoken. One of these islands, Cebu, was discovered by Ferdinand Magellan in 1521. His cross is still planted in the soil there.
Jose began with a poem written by Carlos P. Garcia, the sixth president of the Philippines. Garcia was better known for his poetry than his presidency, Jose said.
The poem, "The Filipino Maiden," extols the virtues and physical attractions of Filipino women. She translated it loosely into English and recited the poem in both languages.
"We believe the arts help create bridges of of understanding that cannot be bridged in any other way," said Ruth Bogutz, director of the Camden County Cultural and Heritage Commission, which hosted the event.
Another reader, Bert Querido, recited a poem about the national flower, the Sampaguita, which is a member of the jasmine family and "loved by all Filipinos", he said.
Querido was dressed in native clothing consisting of a sheer, eggshell white, button-down shirt which was hand embroidered using pineapple fibers. Filipino men wear their shirts outside of their trousers and not tucked in. This was a requirement when the people were under Spanish rule so nothing could be hidden by men under their clothing.
After a brief intermission during which native desserts were served, the floor was opened to poems from members of the audience.
The program, "An Evening of Poetry at Hopkins House," is now in its fourth year, and is held once each season in the spring, summer, fall and winter, said poetry coordinator Therese Halscheid.
"Our goal is to unite people who enjoy poetry and who appreciate the spoken word," said Halscheid, a published poet.
DeJesus said the Philippine group holds other events to promote their culture, including Christmas caroling in their native dialects and a summer picnic where traditional games are played.
According to recent census data, the Philippine community is growing in South Jersey. In Burlington County, there was a 35.53 percent increase in the population from 1990-2000, from 1,272 to 1,724. Camden County experienced a 29.65 percent growth over the same period, from 2,614 to 3, 389 and Gloucester County grew 9 percent from 1,067 to 1, 163.