For Sylvia de la Cruz, life has been filled with what she calls "little miracles."
Like the time she was accepted into a worker program in the United States, after inquiring about coming to this country from her native Philippines.
In 1967 she moved to Portland, Ore., where she became active in the area's small Filipino community. She became an American citizen and later moved to Tallahassee, where she worked as a secretary at Florida State University.
While in Tallahassee, she saw a newspaper article with a picture of the Gasparilla parade.
"I said, 'That's where I want to go,' because it reminded me of Portland and the Rose Parade they had there."
Six months later, de la Cruz was living in Tampa and, yes, she ended up on a float in the Gasparilla parade.
Growing up in the Philippines, de la Cruz could never imagine these and other opportunities she would experience in the United States as part of everyday life.
Now, during this weekend's PhilFest 2012, she is expecting others to enjoy another opportunity:
A Filipino-style house made of bamboo, or bahay kubo, will be on display for the first time in the area, organizers say.
PhilFest is a three-day festival sponsored by the Philippine Cultural Foundation and is expected to draw about 12,000 people, catering to many who identify with the heritage. According to 2010 Census figures, there are more than 13,000 Filipinos in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando counties, and more than 90,000 statewide.
Some can relate to the one-bedroom replica of a Filipino home, one of the festival's major attractions this year. Organizers say it is likely the only one of its kind in the United States, offering a unique chance to experience their culture from half a world away.
"This is a typical symbol of the Philippines and a typical home, but it's more upscale," said de la Cruz, who is active with the cultural foundation. "It's rare because our community is small and many don't have the resources to build and host things the way we do here. It's really a learning opportunity for all of us and for us to appreciate our culture."
The $60,000 hut was initially built like a house to meet local building standards. Workers then covered the outside in bamboo. Plants and flowers from the Philippines surround the house, which de la Cruz tends. A "kalesa," or horse-drawn carriage like the ones used in the Philippines, sits in the front yard.
"I tell you, these little miracles always happen to me, and this is another one," de la Cruz said this week, smiling broadly.
PhilFest is one of the largest — if not the largest — gatherings of Filipino and Filipino-Americans in the country, organizers said.
"We are very pleased because our participation grew 10 percent every year," said Roger Caculitan, chairman of the foundation and PhilFest 2012. "Other cities might have a celebration for a day or an afternoon but none have three days like we do."
The foundation's 10-acre parcel, at 14301 Nine Eagles in northwest Hillsborough, will swarm with folks from today through Sunday. Nearly 50 exhibitors and vendors will sell everything from authentic Filipino clothing to traditional foods.
There will be nonstop entertainment and a Mrs. PhilFest competition. Through a program known as "Consulate on Wheels," workers will help with passport applications and renewals, dual citizenship applications and other immigration issues. People with prearranged appointments will come to PhilFest from all over the state.
Caculitan, 70, came to the United States in 1972 and made his way to Florida in 1978.
"This festival is very important because it's a way of promoting our culture through the arts, dances and food," said Caculitan, who lives in Auburndale. "People come from all over the nation; some are even coming from the Philippines to attend. This is a way to touch our culture."
The Philippine Cultural Foundation was incorporated in 1995 and is the umbrella organization for several smaller entities that focus on Filipino culture. In addition to purchasing the 10 acres on Nine Eagles Drive and hosting PhilFest, the organization built and manages the 14,000-square-foot Bayanihan Arts and Events Center on the property. It helps to sponsor cultural groups and builds homes in the Philippines as well.
Letty Lancaster of Seminole has been a vendor at PhilFest for 15 years. The 71-year-old sells traditional Philippines attire, including wedding dresses.
"It's just a beautiful time," Lancaster said of the event. "It's just a chance to meet and greet people from all over. It's just a beautiful time and we do very well."
This week, de la Cruz was busy getting the bamboo hut ready for its first official showing.
She arranged furniture and made sure there were enough plants and flowers from her native land to provide a learning experience for those who attended. She rattled off a list of names of all the people who have been active in helping to grow the cultural foundation and the festival. And, like most them, she has been active since she arrived in the Tampa Bay area in the 1970s.
"It's in my blood," de la Cruz said of being active. "I believe that the good Lord did not enable me to come here, to be sponsored, make those little miracles happen and then to do things just for myself. You should also give back to the community."
Demorris A. Lee can be reached at [email protected]