Dreamweaving

Dreamweaving* = Nic and I both had dreams about tattooing, on consecutive nights from one another’s. There is some potent energy at work here; it only gets stronger as we all get closer. The threads of our generation, we are all woven closer to each other and closer to our ancestors – intertwined by our dreams, blood and ink.

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Yesterday, I went to my friend Mike’s house for his birthday.  Another of our friends, Nicanor, was up from LA to visit and tattoo some folks.  For Mike’s birthday, Nic gave him a tattoo.  A few of us gathered to hang out and be present during the tatok ceremony.  Prior to Nicanor’s arrival, I had a vivid, beautiful dream about tattooing.  It may have been my subconscious reflecting my intuitive energy back to me in a visual way; it might also be a message from the ancestors.  The scene was as such –

I remember rushing with urgency to be somewhere.  In my dream I was running – actually running quickly – not the slow motion, sluggish-leg, dream state running.  I was charging down a rolling, grassy hill until, finally, I reached a meadow.  When the hill leveled out, it was as if I broke through a barrier – some permeable bubble, that once I stepped through it, all senses came to life.  The soft, baby-grass-green underfoot; the electrified blue of the sky overhead.  The whisper of wind through the trees; the kiss of sun on my skin. When I arrived, a group of friends were sitting in a circle on woven mats in the grass.  I was the last to take my place, completing the circle.  As I sat upon the mat, the voices and laughter of the circle rang like a melody – there were no words; everything was communicated through song, smiles and eyes.  As I looked around, we all had markings on our bodies as if to gather as one family.  Off in the corner was Nicanor tattooing and working away with several people around him.  There was a hint at a ceremony or ritual from what I could tell in my periphery.  As I turned my focus back to the group, in my dream, I closed my eyes.  It was then that I woke up.

When I left my room, now in my waking state, I went to facebook and found Nicanor’s post about beginning his journey up to the Bay Area and manifesting growth through tattooing.  I wrote that I had dreamt about it, and he immediately messaged me to ask what it was.  It was then that I gave him the story of my dream.

The next night, Nicanor had a dream about carrying the responsibility of his tattooing practice.  I cannot speak for his dream, but as he described it to me with such spirit, there was a very strong, very profound message for him.  When he woke, his friend who tattoos in the traditional manner (hand-tap) in the Philippines reached out to him through Facebook, similar to the way Nic reached out to me the day previous.  The day after Nic’s dream, he tattooed Mike and they gave a ritual food offering to the ancestors.  And wouldn’t you know it, I was the last to arrive.  Mike’s tattoo includes two words written in baybayin: “infinite” and “mystery.”  …There are too many parallels between our experiences to be coincidence.

Please learn more about Nicanor Evans’ tattooing journey by visiting his Facebook and Etsy.

Cultural Appropriation vs Cultural Exchange

Earlier this morning, I came across an article  written by Jarune Uwujaren that discusses the difference between cultural appropriation and cultural exchange.  I have been following a lot of websites and blogs that have attacked those who misappropriate cultural/native/indigenous forms for quite some time.  As someone who knows the histories of colonialism, missionization and imperialism upon ones country and cultural heritage, I clearly position myself on one side of the line.  Western expansion from the 18-20th centuries has obviously effected cultural mixing, hybridity and certain appropriated traditions.  To say that I only live, eat, speak, dress and think in a Filipino mindset wouldn’t be true.  I was born and raised in the diaspora, was brought up monolingual, and thus have a very American upbringing.  Sure.  But I know that we all get a knee-jerk reaction when hipster kids don their Native American feather head dresses, or when you see a bindhis on the forehead of a really trashed, scantily clad somebody out at a club.  “Do they know what they’re doing??” is really the only thing I can allow myself to think without getting infuriated.

Now sometimes even I get really insecure about my own interests.  I respect all native/indigenous traditions, and I come from a place of understanding.  I have dedicated the past almost 8 years of my life studying material/immaterial cultural heritage, and the majority of it hasn’t even encompassed my own heritage.  And I’m not talking from just my interaction with books and scholars, but I have gotten to know artists who were integral in causing cultural awareness and social change, as pillars for a cultural renaissance and art activism for their communities.  But just because I know it and understand it does not give me agency to adopt their materials, their designs, or don their ancestry by wearing their textiles.  That would be in direct contradiction to what I stand for, not to mention complete disrespect.  Just because I am in the know, does not make it okay.

But of course, there are those who have no clue.  And sometimes this is completely innocent.  And sometimes, they are brought up thinking that just because America is a huge melting pot (I like the word potluck) of cultures, food, expression, that all of these outwardly forms of self-representation is there for the taking.  Personalizing one’s style and world view is or should be a good thing.  But it’s really not that easy.  When someone who has taken a visual design that is directly linked to the spirit of my ancestry, all I want to do is acquaint that person’s face with my vicious backhand.  When something I consider sacred, that I would have to go through rite of passage for, that I have to gain the honor and respect first before gaining knowledge of its meaning, it is nothing short of blood boiling that someone thinks they can easily wear it around because it looks ‘cool.’  This is offensive, and I know we need to be patient with those who aren’t aware.  As Uwujaren puts it,

“True cultural exchange is not the process of ‘Here’s my culture, I’ll have some of yours’ that we sometimes think it is.  It’s something that should be mutual.”

Preach, sis, preach.  The line between cultural appropriation and cultural exchange is a fruitful intersection for dialogue.

A Tale of Two Trees

When speaking of cultural heritage and knowing your roots, I often smile to myself because I have an actual tree for that.  Yes, we all have a family tree, but my family came from a mango tree.

During WWII when my grandma on my mother’s side was a child, they abandoned their home and their town to go into hiding.  They sought refuge under wild mango trees in the forest, and there they lived.  There they made themselves a home.  My grandma of course told me this story in snippets, when I was a child.

She used to tell me when they were being mischievous and ‘snuck out’ to go play and run around.  They used to pull pranks on each other and pretend to be aswang and scare each other.  Their innocent shouts for help would alert the parents, and when met by giggles, heavy reprimanding was still in order.

When I was little, I thought we were pretty similar, my grandma and I.  We just wanted to play outside all the time and have fun.  We wanted to be loud and feel free.  As my grandma gets older, she speaks less and less of those days under the canopy in the forest.  As I, myself, get older, I understand why.

The innocence of playing was a privilege for her.  During Japanese raids, it was safe only at certain hours of the day to leave the shelter of the tree.  Playtime itself was scarce – what precious time you did have, was used to hunt or gather any food or supplies you would need.  At nightfall, my great grandparents, whom I never had the pleasure of meeting, would take turns keeping watch.  And it wasn’t just their nuclear family, it was a community of several families.  If there were any noises that raised suspicion, a chain of alarm or warnings would travel through the area.  Children at play who spooked one another was not taken very lightly.

I remember my grandma telling me as if they were fun adventures.  I thought it would be so cool to live the way she did, only to learn later that it was not by choice but by extremely unfortunate circumstance.  The reality of my grandmother’s childhood story – a story told when I myself was a child – is harsh and saddening, so much so that I have been graced with it’s telling only twice in my lifetime.  My grandmother might be frail and unable to move on her own now, but through her stories, she has remained a icon of resilience, strength, and courage.

I now proudly weave my own tree story into my grandma’s.  I describe my tree as a quiet provider for my family.  Ever since I can remember, we have had a lemon tree in the corner of my backyard.  This tree is certainly older than I am, and it sports some nasty inch-long thorns.  Of course, I learned this at a young age when I thought I would be brave and try to climb to the top to get the biggest, ripest of fruits.  It never worked out too well.  I used to think it was a ‘mean’ tree for pricking its caretaker (me) but I realized as I got older it was giving me a lesson in patience.

Instead of lumbering about and haphazardly launching myself into the tree, I had to learn how to carefully maneuver around its branches and delicately pluck the lemons lest I tear open my skin from its vicious nature.  In this way, my tree also taught me respect.  I also learned coexistence.  One year, the tree experienced a terrible frost and we expected it to die off.  Within one year, it recovered and started producing fruit once again.  The qualities of strength and resilience around a tree becoming present once again.

A week ago today, I was given the honor of receiving my first batok.  *(I will give the story of my batok it’s own dedicated post at another time).  When it came time for Lane to fill in some details, he used a citrus (pomelo) thorn to tap ink into my skin.  As I lay on the woven mat, I thought about the physical and spiritual space around me – all the intersections between my immediate environment as well as different points in my life colliding at that very moment.  The strength and spirit of my ancestors, their eyes, their voice, their wisdom coming together to be present through my body.  So many things whirled through my head, but as I told Lane about my lemon tree’s thorns being very similar to the ones he used to tattoo my arm, it finally hit me that our story of family trees – lemon and mango – were eclipsed by time and ancestry, and being forever present in my skin.  Things have finally worked themselves into a balance.  When I got home from the Babaylan conference, I showed Lane a couple pictures of my lemon thorns to see if they could be used at all.  There’s a chance we will use them to my arm later in a few months time, bringing it all full circle.

Note: Relevant to my lifetime, I constantly hear from 1st , 2nd, 3rd and so on generation Filipino Americans – or any other culturally displaced youths, for that matter – the statement: know your roots.  Or: know your history.  The idea of ‘roots’ and ‘trees’ are constantly brought up and worshiped.  Sometimes its hard for me to envision people in my and future generations that they truly know what it means to come from such humble beginnings.  In the age of modern technology and instant gratification, it’s easy to lose sight of who and what brought you here.  However, the more people I encounter, the more beautiful and equally as heart filling stories I have heard.  Please feel free to share yours with me.  I would love to re-post them.

TribeFoot History

In my previous blog post, I said I would share the story of how I came to the alias, TribeFoot.  I understand this name ‘TribeFoot’ might insinuate a lot.  Well, in short, it is actually a nickname given to me by a friend.  He and I have a mutual affinity for kicking off our shoes and wandering barefoot in natural environments – on a hike in the woods, near the ocean, playing ball in the grass in a field.  But here’s the story:

I told him about my grandmother on my mom’s side living in/under wild mango trees on Palawan during WWII.  You can read a more in-depth story in another post I titled ‘A Tale of Two Trees‘.  As relates to my writing alias, I’ll keep the story here short.  My grandma was only allowed to wander away from the canopy at certain hours to hunt or fish to make food; otherwise, she stayed near the tree.  I remember when I was a kid and she would tell me these stories as if they were fun adventures–I thought it would be so cool to live the way she did, only to learn later that it was not by choice but by extremely unfortunate circumstance.

Anyway, I was joking with him about my grandma running around and scaling trees barefoot and that someday, I will be able to achieve feats like that.  I guess the idea of going back to my cultural roots reminded him of a tight-knit community – a tribe.  We applaud the native and indigenous knowledge of working with the land for sustainable life styles, and having an overall deeper connection to your surroundings.  My bud noted my enthusiasm, and thus gave me: TribeFoot.  The cultural roots and the grounded nature I’ve always felt is well summarized by this name, and I hope with this back-story you can come to appreciate and respect it as well.

Where I’m At

*If anyone happens to have a copy of Paul Gilroy’s “It ain’t where you’re from, It’s where you’re At,” please holler atcha girl.  My blog title is more or less inspired by all the things I’ve read about his influential paper, although I haven never read it.

Now that that is out of the way, here’s a little more about me.  I grew up in California to Filipino immigrant parents.  That makes me second-generation Filipino American, I suppose.  When I was a kid, I would live for family gatherings and yearned for the moment we all sat around exchanging family history stories.  Attentive to a different way of life both temporally and culturally, I always wondered what that world looked like.

Well, I grew up – and am still growing up – and went into learning history through material culture, visual studies, and art history.  Being exposed to history through my heritage and family lineage has had the most profound impact on me, so much so that I became extremely passionate about identity politics and cultural interventions/intersections.  During my college career, I encountered two influential professors whose focuses I blended together.  My adviser, Stacy Kamehiro, opened up a beautiful world of Native Pacific cultural studies, and more importantly set me in the direction of researching native/indigenous societies and their transformations through the actions and reactions of colonialism to post-colonialism and contemporary struggles.

You can probably tell where this is going–eventually she encouraged me to explore my own heritage.  She shoved research scholarship applications under my nose and I came out with around $2000 from the UC to research and write a paper about the Philippines.  I love her.  My other huge influence was a UCSC grad-student turned professor, who is now the Contemporary Art History and Theory Chair at SFAI, Nicole Archer.  She became a sort of role model to me in various art history classes.  While studying for her Ph.D. in History of Consciousness, she dissected textiles and fashion and how it functions in a given society, culture, or subculture.  I love her also.  Taking my cues from both Stacy and Nicole, I created my senior thesis topic around changes from native, colonial, and post-colonial identities through textiles, clothing, and fashion.  Seeing these stark contrasts–from bark cloths, woven materials and natural elements adorning the body, to pressed white, bleached and starched linens–highlights a dynamic shift in how a society defines themselves as ‘insiders’, and how ‘outsiders’ may define them as well.  So, I’m all about native textile and clothing forms, colonialist photography, and cultural revival/activism/awareness.

I hit a two-year period where I tried making it in the mundane work force but eventually admitted I was just dicking around.  I had to motivate myself somehow, so I went back to school for a MA in Museum Studies.  I am currently finishing my thesis to defend in December.  In the year it took to finish my coursework, I have presented papers at a two international conferences, and networked myself with artists, curators, scholars, culture-bearers and healers at others.  I have been invited to guest-lecture at University-level undergraduate courses in Anthropology and History of Art/Visual Culture departments – in Italy and California.  I have a forthcoming publication for review (fingers crossed).  I suppose you can say my growth has been explosive in just a year, but I know this is just the start.  This is a very pivotal time for me, as I believe we are on the brink of a Fil/FilAm artistic and cultural revolution.  After having felt sidelined at all of the Pacific arts goings-on that I have followed for the past several years, I can finally say I belong on the Filipino wave that’s starting to break.  So from the storytelling during my childhood, to inspiring my reach for higher education, to now learning and unlearning my identity, this is where I’m at.

Introduction

Welcome new readers, and hello old readers.  I have decided to leave my old blog and give it a makeover on wordpress.  My previous blog served as an outlet for me during a lull in inspiration, content, and deep writer’s block.  Now that I have solidified my aims and interests, it is time for a new look.  Thank you for remaining curious and patient to what I have to say!

So hi, hello, and thanks for stopping by.  TribeFoot is a social media alias of mine, but my actual name is Lauren.  The name TribeFoot has it’s own story which I will dedicate another post to in the near future.  I figure I’ll first start with this inaugural post by saying that I have finally come to the point of reawakening my ancestral spirit.  I suppose this was always very strong within me, as many things in life – as I was growing up and now – never really made sense until I allowed myself to believe that I actually had an unknown source of wisdom.  Once I got past that hurdle, everything started to make sense.  Everything started to become connected.

Through this blog, I am beginning to explore my own cultural displacement as a first generation Filipino-American, born and raised in the diaspora.  Despite my very Western upbringing and existence, I am beginning the journey of learning and unlearning some rules and ways of being.  I am claiming my identity as a descendant from an indigenous ancestor who was colonized, other-ed, and transported to a foreign place to be heavily marginalized.  Now I endeavor to unravel this story by entering into the various dialogues of native/indigenous practices with a keen interest in the interconnected values and world views many communities share.  Help me flesh out the discussions I have been hearing amongst generations and across oceans!