MANILA: When Brian Asinas Mendoza left the Philippines for Saudi Arabia in 2002, he took with him some postcards and stamps — just vintage objects that would remind him of home. But the collection grew, and continued to do so, ultimately becoming what is now the Pinoy Museum on Wheels.
Mendoza, who comes from Calapan in Oriental Mindoro, lives in Dammam, where he works as a designer and contractor in the aluminum industry. He became a collector in high school in the mid-1990s.
“I started with stamps and postcards. Then, when I came to Saudi Arabia, I (started to) collect paintings, banknotes … (all kinds of) Philippine memorabilia,” Mendoza told Arab News. “I collect everything related to the Philippines.”
Inspiration for his mobile museum came six years ago, when he observed the Embassy on Wheels, which the Philippine mission in Saudi Arabia uses to provide services to any of Saudi Arabia’s 1 million or so Filipino residents who are living in remote areas of the Kingdom.
“I got the idea to build a museum that could also go to different places … a traveling exhibition that would bring Filipino culture and history to communities across the Middle East,” he said. “I wanted to make it accessible to people who may not have the opportunity to visit traditional museums.”
Mendoza launched the Pinoy Museum on Wheels in Alkhobar on Aug. 23, 2018, and has since taken it to several cities in central Saudi Arabia and the Kingdom’s Eastern Region. He even displayed his collection at the Cultural Palace in Riyadh in 2018, when he was invited by the Philippine embassy to an anniversary of his country’s establishment of diplomatic ties with the Kingdom.
The Pinoy Museum on Wheels features coins, banknotes, letters, old photographs and paintings that offer a glimpse into the culture and history of the Philippine archipelago, which includes three centuries of Spanish colonial rule, half a century of US tutelage, and popular independence movements.
“The most precious (items) in my collection, to me, are the banknotes,” said Mendoza. “I have a wide collection of guerilla notes (issued) during World War II. (The notes) were printed by each province, so there were different banknotes in different provinces.”
For many Filipinos who visit the museum, it is the first time they have ever seen such banknotes. Many of them also become nostalgic when they see traditional objects that take them back to their early years at home, such as the bunot — a dried coconut husk used for scrubbing the floor.
“Some people say they haven’t seen a bunot for a long time, and it reminds them of their childhood, when they used it to clean the floor at their home or school,” Mendoza said. “Nowadays, it’s no longer in use, and then they see it again, here in Saudi Arabia.”
There is also an item of great emotional value to him: a photo of a baby girl.
“It’s almost 70 years old,” Mendoza says. “Some people ask me, ‘Who is that baby girl?’ I tell them ‘That’s my mother, Mercy.’ My mother was my number one supporter from the beginning. So, anywhere I go, I bring her picture.”
Mendoza’s mobile museum has won several awards in the Philippines, including the 2020 Outstanding Overseas Filipino Worker, as well as numerous others related to promoting his homeland.
He maintains the museum himself, and does not charge people to see the displays.
“This is my advocacy, so all the expenses I pay with my own money,” he said. “As long as I’m here in Saudi, or even when I go to other places, I will continue to roll out this museum and to promote Philippine culture and arts.”