“It’s hard to be a Filipino in California” – Carlos Bulosan
Last January, I had the opportunity to join our fellow EPYC ambassadors at our retreat in Seattle. Our weekend was jam-packed with meetings at Microsoft, late night boba runs, and visiting Carlos Bulosan’s grave. Seeing Bulosan’s tombstone left me thinking and contemplating what it means to be a Pilipina in California. Being far away from home, (both LA and the Philippines) as we were gathering in Seattle, the same city where Bulosan attempted to find the American Dream, woke me up to my reality.
It’s been 4 years since I left the Philippines, and everyday, I hear the motherland calling me back. My parents decided to settle down in Los Angeles in 2015 as they hoped to provide a better future for me and my sister. As the “VISA approved” stamp was pressed on our passports, the Filipino value of “Utang ng loob” was engraved in my heart. I know that the sacrifice my parents to migrate and leave everything behind is something I cannot fully repay with my life. And so, everyday, I struggle to prove my worth for the risk they took by taking on the roll of a first gen immigrant.
First. First in the family to move to the States. First in the family to attend college. First in the family to navigate the system that has proven time and time again that this is not a space I belong in. First in the family to attend a LAUSD school only to find out that almost none of her classes from the Philippines were accredited and so she had to complete four years of high school in a span of two years. First in the family to pursue a double major in Dance and Asian American Studies at UCLA. First to become an EPYC ambassador. First — but not the last.
Four years in a different country changes you. A new soil can either destroy the roots of a flower or strengthen it and make it sprung anew. There were times wherein the uncertainty and missing home made me want to stay away from the sun, but one thing that brought me out of the shade was dance. The arts has always been a crucial part of my life and it was only by moving away from the motherland did I realize that dance was the string that connected me back to the Philippines.
The retreat allowed me to fully reflect on my experience as a first gen immigrant when we were walking around chinatown for our tour. What pulled on my heartstrings the most was being on the sidewalk where Filipinos were murdered for voicing out their opinions against the administration back in the Philippines during their time. This empowered me the most to keep continuing the work with our community in order to pass on the legacy of advocacy and resistance to the next generations. I was able to do so through my medium of dance.
My current work, “Light in the Shade” , explores a traditional Filipino dance, Pandanggo sa Ilaw with Hip-hop vocabulary. Pandanggo sa Ilaw, translating to “dance of the light” is a celebratory dance in the rural areas of the Philippines to culminate a hard day out on the sea by the fishermen. The track used for the piece was made by Nicole Cohen, who utilized Ruby Ibarra’s spoken “What is Hate” in the song. Ibarra’s work was very fitting to the piece because it addresses different kinds of man-made hate that are heavily ingrained in our cultures. The use of Pandanggo is metaphorical to shed light on the hatred imposed not just in our Filipino community, but also addressing that towards the Hip-hop community. Although this is still a work in progress and as I continue to opening conversations for the dance, I aim to utilize this as a catalyst for critical participation in the communities we claim to serve.
Bulosan was right. It is definitely hard to be a Filipino in California especially if we are in pursuit of the American Dream, because it is not for us. That dream was someone else’s heavily imposed in our mind and hearts, causing us to be blind to the truth. Although it may seem difficult, Filipinos share that struggle and come together as a pamilya to help each other. If not, then we defeat the purpose of Isang Bagsak and put our hundreds of year of resistance and resilience to an end.