Basketball association unifies Filipino-American culture in DC-Metro area

3 years ago by in 2013

After moving to the United States, expatriate Filipinos remain with fellow countryman through Filipino American Basketball Association in the DC metro area.

By Ben Penserga

The parking lot at South County High School shouldn’t be full Sundays, but it is.

There are no students at the Fairfax County school , but its gym is bustling with noisy activity — the squeak of sneakers, the steady thump of basketballs on the hardwood and yells of “I’m open!”

Sunday isn’t a school day at the Lorton, Va. campus. It’s a basketball day for area Filipinos.

Created in 2001, the Filipino American Basketball Association (FABA) was originally a venue to allow players with lineage to that chain of islands in Southeast Asia to train for tournaments.

But as the Filipino population has grown across the region and the United States — becoming the second largest Asian population in the country at 3.4 million or roughly 1 percent of the country’s 308.7 million overall, according to 2010 U.S. Census Bureau — the mission has shifted, says Ken Mendoza, FABA founder and president.

From just six youth teams when the association launched a little more than a decade ago to 42 teams for young and old with upwards of 500 participants. The league has become a place to help Filipinos who have recently immigrated to the area find some common ground while giving Filipino-Americans a chance to get in touch with their roots.

“That’s one of our objectives, that’s why we formed FABA — so we can bring the Filipino community closer to one another,” Mendoza says. “The Filipino-Americans get to know each other in a setting like this, through the game of basketball.”

And for Mendoza and FABA, those opportunities to bond with more than the 75,000 Filipinos in the DC-Metro area continue to grow. A Gallup poll last month said about 4 million Filipinos would like to immigrate from their native land to America.

If they do end up at FABA’s doorstep, Mendoza says what they won’t have to worry about is feeling alone in a new place.

“When they come over here, there’s an intimidation factor — they don’t know what to expect,” he says. “But we make them feel at home here.”

A group of Filipino American Basketball Association youth players pause during a game break at South County High School in Lorton, Va. on April 7, 2013. The league, which started in 2001, has grown to more than 500 players. (American Observer/Ben Penserga)

Some of those Filipinos find themselves inside South County High School’s gym on Sunday afternoon. Outside it was a sunny day, inside it was all business.

The basketball takes place on the three courts and the players varies by age — the older players of DMV Warriors and Flash square off for some quick action filled with dunks and slick passing. On the far side, middle school children mix it up. In the middle, coaches try and teach the basics of passing the ball on a fast break without traveling.

FABA Athletic Director Merwynn Pagdanganan finds himself patrolling the hallways of the school, troubleshooting problems on game day.

As athletic director, he’s seen many of these current players, including his own two children, come through the ranks over the years.

Along with fostering children’s love of basketball and preparing them to play at high levels of competition — like a national tournament in Washington, D.C., at American University’s Bender Arena this summer — he also recognizes the role FABA plays within the Filipino community.

“There are a lot of folks out there who are new to the area that don’t have a lot of friends,” he says. “This is a place to be and it’s a good starting point.”

Pagdanganan says FABA has expanded its fellowship further recently, opening their ranks to non-Filipinos. Sunday’s games include a mix of Filipino, Chinese, Korean, black and white faces all joined through hoops.

A group of players at a Filipino American Basketball Association game wait for a free throw to come completed April 7, 2013. The league recently opened its ranks to non-Filipino players. (American Observer/Ben Penserga)

The point of the mix, Pagdanganan says, is to allow players to experience both different competition and different people.

“They come up from as far as Richmond and what’s good about that is not only do (FABA) players get exposed to their culture, but they get to see Filipino culture,” he says.

After more than a decade of running FABA, Mendoza and the other volunteers of the league see more growth in their group and are happy to be cultural ambassadors and community bedrocks.

“That’s why we’re doing this,” he says. “And we love doing this.”

ABOUT THIS PROJECT: Google suggested I write a story on the Filipino American Basketball Association.

 

While searching for an idea to put a face to my statistics story based off a recent Gallup poll on immigration, I came across the website for the group, based in northern Virginia. The pairing was a natural fit.

 

As a teenager, me and my fellow Filipino friends all played basketball. A cousin from the Philippines spent a summer at my house and all we did was play basketball in the driveway of my house. We didn’t have much else in common, but we had basketball.

 

Looking at FABA, I knew that the association would have the same effect on Filipinos in the the Washington D.C.-metro area, bringing together Filipino Americans such as myself with expatriates like my cousin.

 

My big regret with this story is that I didn’t delve into why basketball is such a unifer among Filipinos. I could have really gone into the history and connection between the sport and the people. It would also been good to see what the numbers were with other Filipino-based basketball leagues (which there are several across the country) to bring some context into my story and add some scale.

Ben Penserga is an editor of a Gannett-owned newspaper in Salisbury, Md. and an Interactive Journalism graduate student at American University.