Americans, highly educated, pedigreed, with everything and so much more, have a hard time
hurdling obstacles. The roadblocks to making it in the “queen city” of the
United States of America are just too many and formidable that they can force
an aspirant to retreat mode, if not at the very beginning.
Full-fledged Americans with master's degrees, PhDs, or experts in the University of Life or
all of the above, have a hard time cracking the Big Apple. How much more
difficult can it be for those with color, foreign blood, Asians, and Filipinos,
for that matter?
Against all odds, one man, Fernando 'Nanding' Mendez, has bravely faced the challenge. He broke
barriers, challenged established norms, and generally dreamt big as soon as he
set foot in New York in 1986.
Today, Mendez, 69, is known as the Chairman of the Board, in homage to Frank Sinatra, the
legendary singer who recorded the song New York, New York in 1978 as a tribute
to what is possibly the world's most coveted city.
Mendez is also the power behind Fiesta In America, the largest indoor Filipino event of its
kind on the US East Coast, a one-stop shop featuring Philippine music and
dance, local products, tourist attractions, real estate investment, retirement
options, native cuisine, financial, health, and other immigrant-tailored
services. Everything under one roof.
Fiesta is set for its 26th edition at Court A of American Dream (the second-largest mall in the
USA), East Rutherford, New Jersey, on Saturday, August 19, 2023.
For his civic engagement, Mendez received the 2016 Phoenix Award from the JCI Philippine-New
York (Jaycees) in recognition of Exemplary Community Leadership. He has also
been profiled several times in the Fil-Am Who's Who. In 2021, he received the
5th Dr. Jose Rizal Circle of Excellence Awards for his ability to get people to
work together through the annual Fiesta in America. He was also
"knighted" in 2022, with the Order of the Knights of Rizal, Long
Island, Chapter (KORLI).
Speaking from his midtown-Manhattan office, two blocks from Grand Central Station and Pershing
Square, Mendez, CEO and President, says he did not come from nowhere or just
about anywhere. He had just finished a four-year stint as Art Director in an
advertising agency in Billings, Montana, when the urge to move to the biggest city
of them all nagged at him like the heckling sound of a hundred chickens at his
grandfather's backyard poultry farm in Caloocan, where he grew up.
In Billings, he established himself as an award-winning graphic artist, with a portfolio that boasts the rare
distinction of having won a competition to design the logo of the city of
Montana in 1984. It's an unimaginable feat that a Filipino designed the seal of
Mendez also designed the winning logo of the Philippine Independence Day Council, Inc.
(PIDCI) in 2003 upon incorporation from being a Committee. Winning art contests
is nothing new to Mendez, who started his apprenticeship and future career in
design as art editor of The Varsitarian, the student newspaper of the
University of Santo Tomas, where he graduated with a Fine Arts degree, majoring
Back then, Mendez won a number of in-and-out-of-campus art competitions that served as his
passport to key positions in Manila's advertising industry upon graduation in
1974. Notable among these was his last position as art director at Philippine
Advertising Counselor (PAC), a leading ad agency in the Philippines, prior to
moving to the United States. He became the youngest art director at the agency,
where he worked on blue-chip accounts, including San Miguel Beer, Marlboro,
Singer, and Scott Paper. Among the many logos he designed were those for
Insular Bank of Asia & America. He also won awards as art director of these
multinational accounts on top of many other distinctions won in numerous art
competitions in illustration, painting, graphic design, and print advertising.
NEW YORK, NEW YORK
Through it all, Mendez felt restless. He felt he was destined for something more, something
bigger. He searched far and wide, read and researched more until an opportunity
came one day by snail mail.
"Accepting a position as Art Director in Montana in the early-1980s was the most important
decision I've ever made," Mendez says. From living a hectic lifestyle in
bustling, metropolitan Makati, he and his small family (wife Mila and their two
sons, Nathan and Mervin) moved to Billings, then a laid-back rural community in
the mountainous west with a small population and absent nightlife.
"But the people were nice and friendly," he says.
Mendez bloomed as an artist at Alpine, the Billings ad agency, winning awards and gaining respect
and recognition from his peers. He had started to embrace the good life, though
slow yet simple and carefree, in Billings.
Wanting to tap into his other potentials, he made the big step to move his family to New York
in 1986, where he felt the high action was. While warming his seat in New York, in 1992, Mendez hooked up with some of his former Makati
advertising colleagues. They nabbed contracts to produce two annual editions of
the first Indian, Pakistani, and Bangladeshi American Yellow Pages. The team
worked out of a cramped, little apartment in Astoria, Queens, in those early
days of desktop publishing. He now laughs at the memory of a small bunch of
Filipinos writing and designing a phone directory for South Asians in New York.
"Can you imagine that?" he laughs.
Mendez's next step was publishing a glossy, nationally circulated Filipino-American quarterly
magazine called Special Edition Press (SEP) in 1990. The magazine chronicled
political, social, and economic issues vital to Filipino Americans. SEP's
seven-year run beefed up his connections with ethnic-marketing experts and
major U.S. consumer brands.
From publishing, Mendez embarked on commercial printing, advertising, and PR, and staged events
in New York and Atlantic City. Mendez's entrepreneurial spirit was further
fueled by his wife, Mila, who majored in Math. The couple launched what would
become their most successful venture, the Fiesta In America Expo and Cultural
Founded by the couple in 1996 (Mila passed in 2012), the indoor festival, popularly known as
Philippine Fiesta, has been attended by more than 250,000 consumers, primarily
Filipinos, since its inception. The festival is also supported by hundreds of
brands from the Philippines, the US, and other countries eager to tap into the
lucrative Filipino-American market in the New York-New Jersey area.
"Stewarding Fiesta in America is my little way of promoting our culture, our products, and
the beauty of our land as Fil-Ams' beacon of pride," said Mendez.
"Our mission has always been to connect Filipino entrepreneurs with
mainstream business and Fil-Am consumers through a festival that highlights
immigrant-centered services, Filipino products, heritage, and talent," he
Fiesta in America brings together big-name brands in the US and the Philippines, along with local
small businesses, all under one roof. The event has grown so much that it has
become one of the most effective platforms to promote micro, small, and medium
enterprises (MSMEs) as well as Philippine tourism. Over the years, it has
evolved into a melting pot for Filipino and multicultural engagement.
Fiesta In America will mark its 26th anniversary at Court A of American Dream (the 2nd largest
mall in the USA), East Rutherford, New Jersey on Saturday, August 19, 2023.
Over 10,000 Filipino-Americans and 50,000 additional mall visitors are expected
to attend. "If you're thinking of capitalizing on the growing Philippine
market and the strong household income of Filipinos in the United States, this
is the event to go to," said Mendez.
Mendez and his love, Laura Garcia, are also organizing the People's Ball Gala on Aug. 13 at
the Marriott Newark International Airport, New Jersey. The gala will be
attended by over 400 influential leaders, movers, and shakers in the Fil-Am
community in the US East Coast.
Organizers are inviting sponsors, exhibitors, advertisers, and attendees to participate in the
2023 Fiesta In America and the People's Ball Gala. For more information, email