November 29, 2021

A Follow-up Interview with Parol Festival Founder MC Canlas

Interviewed by Leonard Chan

MC Canlas is a community organizer, South of Market Filipino community historian, and author, in addition to being the founder of the annual Parol Lantern Festival in San Francisco.

Parols are traditional Filipino lanterns that are usually made for the Christmas season.

In 2020, because of the pandemic, the Parol Lantern Festival was virtual – with online parol making workshop videos and streamed performances. This year the in-person pre-event parol making workshops are back and so is the culminating December 11th in-person Parol Lantern Festival.

MC did an article for us back in November 2009 about “What We Should Know About Parol.”

MC, please give us an update on the Filipino community in the South of Market (SoMa). From what I’ve read online, the Bayanihan Community Center has been closed since the start of the pandemic and at the writing of this article it is still closed. How has this impacted the community?

There is a now SoMa Pilipinas as a Filipino Cultural Heritage District which was adopted by the City and County of San Francisco in April 2016, and a year later, in July 2017, the California Arts Council selected SoMa Pilipinas as one of the 14 Cultural Heritage Districts in the State of California. Being such, there have been a resurgence and thriving cultural activities and community events in the district until the pandemic and the Shelter-in-Place became the new normal in 2020.

The Bayanihan Community Center (BCC) has to close its door, until the present 11/21, and it is being used by the Bayanihan Equity Center, formerly named Veterans Equity Center, for their weekly food and grocery distribution program to serve the vulnerable members of the community such as seniors and immigrant families.

Lately, the space is also being used for rehearsals for Kularts’ dancers and BEC’s senior choir. Before the pandemic, from October to December, BCC brought the community together with the parol making workshops and festival. Last year the Friday workshops were all done via Zoom and Facebook Watch. Nevertheless, the demand and orders for parol making kits soared from all over the place, even outside the United States such as participants from Austria and Germany.

How hard has the community suffered directly from the pandemic? I don’t think it’s mentioned much in the news about how individual communities within San Francisco have been affected. I believe SoMa is home for many elderly Filipino Americans that may be more vulnerable to the virus. Is this the case and is that one of the reasons why the community center has been slow to reopen?

The City, as well as the SoMa Pilipinas community, has responded effectively to the challenges and adjustments brought about by the pandemic relative to other cities and neighborhoods.

What have the SoMa Filipino community organizations been doing to help during the pandemic and what can we do to help them? Are there still some needs?

Various organizations and community groups have been working together in getting back the lives in the neighborhood back to normal; this is to help our neighborhood recover from the devastating mental, physical, and economic effects of COVID-19; among these are groups that response for the basic essential needs of families such as food and groceries, access to health and public benefits, including financial assistance, public information, and community education.

Kapwa Gardens was opened during the pandemic by converting a parking lot into a garden as a healing space for the community.

There are still enormous needs in the community such as the needs of families in getting their children back to school, jobs, and loss of incomes of small businesses and entrepreneurs, and physical and mental health needs.

In your 2009 article for us, you mention how parol making was a community activity that helped bring people together. Parols are also symbolic in bringing light and hope to the darkness of bad times and conditions. They also serve as a reminder to each of us to have concern and care for others.

Can you elaborate on this some more for those that did not read the 2009 article? How important do you think parols are, especially for our current times? How can the simple act of doing an arts and crafts project be so impactful? Can it even help with cross community harmony?

Parols as objects or material things are not essentials or among the basic needs that people are wanting to have during the pandemic. Nevertheless, having the parol making workshops and the festival events conducted virtually, just like how we did it last year during the holiday season, may have provided a flicker to some people, amidst their dire and isolated situations, to their families and communities.

People were seeking for something to do, something that is creative, shared and expressed hope and positive outlook. At Bayanihan, the demand for parol supplies and materials soared much higher than of the previous years, and most of the orders come from various cities and countries, and from groups such as Google groups, Golden Gate Warriors’ employee groups.

Tell us about your books – what are they about? Can we still get them and where?

The SoMa Pilipinas in Two Languages (2002) and the SoMa Pilipinas Ethno-tour are out-of-print, but the demand is still there. There are many changes in SoMa Pilipinas since their publications, and I am working on these book projects.

Next year, it will be the 20th anniversary of the Parol Festival, I would want to see a publication of our twenty years’ experience of organizing the parol festival, and also that of the San Fernando’s Ligligan Parul (Giant Lantern Festival). A sort of sibling parol festivals. San Fernando is my hometown. San Francisco (SoMa Pilipinas) is my new home. Both shares parol festival. I am planning to bring the San Fernando lanterns and master lantern makers to showcase their arts and crafts in San Francisco and other cities.

Are there other projects and things that you are currently working on that you would like to tell our readers about?

I am working on ethno-tours, the SoMa Pilipinas Neighborhood Heritage tour, and the Philippine American Tour of History in San Francisco highlighting the Spanish-American and Philippine American Wars. I would like to transform the ethno-tour guide booklet into a phone App that could be accessed by anyone interested.

Thank you very much for your time with this interview and for your work. We wish you much success with the Parol Festival and everything that you do. We hope you have a Merry Christmas!

Additional information and links supplied by MC Canlas -

Parol Lantern Festival Website

SoMa Pilipinas Website

How to make a parol guide and video

Video: American Parol - Illuminating the Filipino Community

Video: GMA TV Parol Making Tradition

Video: 2003 Parol Lantern Festival & Parade - Balitang America

In-person Workshop Information


Yerba Buena Center for the Arts - Grand Lobby

701 Mission St. , San Francisco, CA


Learn the art of making parol! Workshops are free and family-friendly with a suggested donation of $15 per parol kit and $5 for seniors or youth, 18 and under.


Proof of vaccination (ages 12+) and personal ID (ages 18+) required. Masks required.


Link to Sign-up for the Workshop


Workshop schedule:

• Saturday, November 13, 1-3pm

• Saturday, November 13, 3-5pm

• Friday, November 19, 1-3pm

• Friday, November 19, 3-5pm

• Saturday, November 20, 1-3pm

• Saturday, November 20, 3-5pm

• Friday, December 3, 1-3pm

• Friday, December 3, 3-5pm

• Saturday, December 4, 1-3pm

• Saturday, December 4, 3-5pm