Gave Thanks to the Ancestors & Elders

Because I am still grappling with how certain cultural practices and spiritual systems are being misappropriated and/or further colonized, for Dia de Los Muertos this year, I decided to leave an atang offering instead. In the Filipino tradition, an atang is a food offering to the ancestors to ward off evil by keeping their spirits cared for and happy. This post is backdated. 


I visited the ancestors today.

Lemons for my Loleng/Jimenez lolo’t lola sa tuhod because of the calamansi tree that sprouted in my grandmas front yard, after she saved money to bring her parents over. (I didn’t have any calamansi, so I improvised with lemons from my own yard).
     A rose for my Benetua lolo’t lola, because I remember stories of how fragrant and alive my Lolo’s rose bushes were. And Lola used rose twigs to keep her ears gauged. (This single rose was the last we had in our garden for the season. Yes it is
thorny, and yes it’s rose scent is strong).
          A donut for my dad because he always took us for donuts, and now it’s my own tradition to bring him one when I visit. I also brought him a lemon from our backyard.
               Extra citrus for everyone, because it’s in season, and
                    A sprig of bay leaves – from the fallen branch I found – to remind them of adobo, the best comfort food there is.

I am thankful for their strength and struggles, and for providing me with the lessons necessary to be who and where I am today.

To the ancestors:

it is my hope we remember your stories and pass them to the generations to come so that they might know more than just your/our chronology, but your personalities as well. Y’all were wise, warm, maybe batshit cray because of the war… And loved and missed. I hope I’m making you proud. 

Your lil’ descendent.

This Thanksgiving (Thanks-taking / Thangs-taken) I will be spending time with friends and family. I am thankful to have parents and elders who had strength when they immigrated to this country, and I’m thankful that I haven’t had to face much struggle because of them.

I just want to take a moment to recognize that we are all settlers in this country unless you are indigenous. However many generations, whatever number, I don’t care – I just ask on this holiday at least admit to the fact that this day celebrates and perpetuates colonization, genocide, and continued oppression of the native people of this land. 


Retellin’ Oceania & Sensing the Self in the Other

Retellin' Oceania

This past Friday, I listened to storytelling and poem readings from Pasifika* and First Nations peoples at Heyday Books in Berkeley. It made me remember that passing on stories through oration and singing at gatherings is so important and needs to become more prominent in the way we relate to one another. It also made me realize how much of it is lacking in my present reality. Listening to these stories from our perspectives – perspectives from the margin and not from Western-centric  versions in history books – is humbling and enlightening.

We heard stories of life, of death, of forgiveness, of family and lineage, of travel and journey, and of loss – from people, to land, to language.  With each reading, we were transported into a space where the past and present intersected. The voices and lives of the ancestors washed over us in a warm embrace. Afterwards, we continued talking and sharing stories in a more casual way. We sang, we danced, we drank some kava and ate some food.

– – –

When I was saying my goodbyes at the end of the night, I thanked the owner of Heyday, Malcolm Margolin, for hosting this event. We got to talking about his friend, Darryl Babe Wilson of the Achumawi and Atusgewi tribes (northeastern California), who recently passed away. I expressed my condolences, but I could tell he still thought the world was a slight shade darker without Darryl’s presence.  Sensing his mourning and grief, I related to him by saying I never really appreciated hearing “he’s in a better place now,”  when my father passed away. It seemed either a cop-out or an implication that his living moments were full of suffering only. Either way, I used to think it was lame.

Malcolm Margolin of Heyday Books

Malcolm Margolin of Heyday Books

I quickly added that I truly believe our loved ones go to better places, now that I’m older: “He’s among the ancestors, and they were there on the other side to give him a warm welcome,” I said.  Malcolm made some noncommittal noises and shook his head, his Gandalf-like mustache and beard shuffling from side to side. The extremely long pause that followed was both confusing and uncomfortable. He frowned and curled his hand underneath his chin in thought, clicking his teeth. He sighed and scoffed and pulled on his ears in discomfort. Then he furrowed his brow, shook his head again, and said through closed eyes, “I don’t think there is another side. I don’t think there’s anything left for us after death.” He smiled apologetically, knowing that after the night of readings, our beliefs are in contradiction to one another’s.

The Morning The Sun Went Down - Darryl Babe Wilson

The Morning The Sun Went Down – Darryl Babe Wilson

It was my turn to take a pause. I blinked a few times and told him, “Well maybe so. We all believe what we do. If there is nothing for us after we pass on, I think there are ways our spirit continues its journey. Our ancestors are invoked so long as our stories are told.” It was a no-brainer really, but Malcolm finally cracked a smile from behind his glasses and beard. Waving his finger at me in agreement, chuckling slightly, he pushed himself off the bench and walked away. I started to wonder about his off-kilter mannerisms, but before giving it another thought, he returned saying, “let me give you Darryl’s book,” and shoved a copy of The Morning the Sun Went Down into my hands with a smile. I was touched by this gesture. I’m glad I could remind him that we live on past our years through the stories our upcoming generations can tell. He certainly found Darryl’s story important enough to live and pass to me.

– – –

Backtrack a couple hours and here’s where I’m coming from.

The reading delivered by scholar and activist, Fuifuilupe Niumeitolu, opened my eyes. She told of a story that depicted a dispute that occurred between Samoans and Tongans at a gathering, and her father was made to speak on the matter. Instead of giving authority to any one family group, her father recited the genealogies of the clans that brought them together in unity, across the moana and from different islands. During her reading, she iterated that the ancestors her father mentioned were beyond any of their memories’ reach, yet they were familiar and present because they were repeated so often in stories.

There was another performer and young scholar, Makaiwa Tong, who shared two songs from Hawai’i. Before she sang, she emphasized that stories also live inside songs, and perhaps the greatest thing about their power is that it must come from memory. Nobody walks around with printed songbooks at these gatherings – they are known by heart. It’s simple – if you sing, you know it. If you don’t know it, you don’t sing. During her two songs, she sat amongst us in the crowd and faced the front of the room so as not to “sing at” or “perform for,” but rather “share with.” The mana pouring from her voice was so strong; you could sense the ancestors emanating from her breath as she sang, traveling into our ears and hearts – the voices of the ancestors.

As I sat there, happy to be present and honoring the brothers and sisters in the room and their histories, I felt a little vulnerable without my kapwa.* In this case, I was truly sensing the self in the other. I was saddened that thus far, I haven’t been able to enjoy an epic telling of genealogies uniting Filipino peoples. I don’t know any songs by heart. While I feel in touch with my roots, I realized there is so much more work for me – us – to do. So much to find.

– – –

I left that night with a few things to reflect on. Knowing one’s own ancestry and passing on that knowledge is something that hasn’t always been available to me. I know a lot about my immediate family, and a substantial amount of the preceding generations…but beyond that, I can’t recall much. When I go to our Filipino community events, sometimes I feel as though the narratives aren’t mine. Sometimes I don’t feel like I’m a part of the story, because from an archipelago with 7100-some-odd islands and 170-ish languages, our clans weren’t really united (and then what about the diaspora?). There may be stories out there, but I haven’t been acquainted with any yet. It’s got me questioning: am I this family, or am I that family? Am I allowed in? Can I write myself into this narrative? This history? Who’s ancestors am I invoking if I’m singing along to a chant from a tribe I don’t belong to?

I know I can run my mouth on decolonization and indigeneity like a blabbering fool and can debate about cultural appropriation or diasporic/first world transnational communities re-colonizing or re-appropriating till I’m blue in the face. But this night of story telling has really got me thinking on ways I’ve felt both included and excluded even within Filipino communities. For a while I got lost and fortunately our Pasifik cousins helped steer my canoe back in the right direction, until I finally found some fellow kapwatids. While I have a better grasp on cultural displacement, I now have a new filter to observe it from. This story telling session taught me how I can get closer to my ancestors, yet also keep me at a distance. It also reinforced my belief that oration and storytelling are efficient ways of learning, teaching and socializing one into a community.

My head might remain spinning for another few days, but I’m just glad that I will be going to see my kapwa this week and fill up on all the good energy. I really could have used an ancestor hug at Retellin’ Oceania.

*PASIFIKA refers to people of Pacific Islander ancestry or heritage living in the islands, or in diasporic communities, away from their mother islands.

*KAPWA has become a Filipino term that defines togetherness & community as well as a shared inner self amongst others. Read more about it here via Rem Tanauan // Pathfinders Commune. Or check out fellow kapwatids’ definiton over at Kapwa Collective in Toronto.

UP NEXT on “Decolonization” – A Politically Correct Term Required?

“Decolonization” appears a scary, uncomfortable term. “Global warming” was replaced by “climate change”; “gentrification” replaced by “shifting urban economic landscapes”. Just as these monikers were deemed undesirable and ineffective to be considered important in mainstream news, it seems as though the waves of “decolonization” has also fallen into obsolescence due to overuse and righteousness. So what’s next for this term? The movement? Stay tuned, and mind your canoe!

This is a facebook status I recently posted which was inspired by numerous online discussions I have observed, participated in, and even instigated. Right after posting, I urged everyone to laugh but also really consider where the future of this whole “decolonization” tip is going.

These conversations continue. Just as I encountered more and more people stoked on decolonization and indigenization, what seemed by the masses, I have equally encountered those who shrink back in disgust at its implications. Interestingly, those who are all about it, and those who are naysayers regarding the term, BOTH celebrate cultural customs, and do work to promote ancestral (Filipino) traditions. So why the big fuss? Apparently these terms are giving us a bad rep, painting us as potentially xenophobic, new age brown folks in America. Don’t believe me? Check out Tlalli Yaotl’s blog post on Anti-Colonial Anarchism vs Decolonization, Barbara Jane Reyes’ musings on what it means to Decolonize the Creative Space, or even Michael Dalupo’s  questioning of diasporic individuals who “indigenize” but might not actively support and protect the indigenous of the homeland like Lumad’s Quest for Justice.  All of these posts hint towards the decolonizing trend being just that: trendy. Does that make us trendy brown people?  Of course not, so let’s decentralize some things just a moment –

I don’t believe decolonization and indigenization limits us to just one ethnic group. I do believe that decolonization enlightens us to knowing how systems of oppression/marginalization have permutated over the generations, leading to our internalized oppression and marginalized cultural traditions. Also, “indigenizing” doesn’t have to imply xenophobia where we must choose only one indigenous root; considering we are probably all mixed at this point, the process of ‘indigenizing’ could rather imply embracing the (spiritual) ways of life before Westernization/eradication of non-Western cultural norms. In some circles, it’s merely a frame of mind, or a lifestyle- DISCOUNTING the temporal notion of indigeneity. All things said and done, I like the thought of dissolving Western attitudes towards the Non-West. Surely, we can at least hope for equality and normalize our own traditions.

Don’t let the name scare you off track. Continue the journey and don’t let Western norms make you think being different is bad. Being Othered, however, IS bad, and we should do all that we can to abolish the systems that perpetuate such prejudices. This is, after all, why we do what we do, and we can do it with finesse and passion.  Call it what you want to call it, though, right?  If anyone has any ideas, comments, or suggestions – PC or Radical – hit me up and share them.

Watsonville is in the Heart

Watsonville is in the Heart

A couple weekends ago, I facilitated a Pop Up Museum in Watsonville about migrant farm worker history.  I work as an intern in community programs and outreach at the Santa Cruz MAH (museum of art and history), and I would consider myself a seasoned veteran at hosting pop ups.

As a Filipino American, I already knew what was in store for this event.  Normally our pop up museum themes are a so open that you never know what you’re going to get.  Lately, we have been running a series of pop up museums with local historian Geoff Dunn, so instead of being arts-based, our themes have been entrenched in local history and culture.  Watsonville is known to most conscious Filipino and Filipino Americans as being one of the main loci for rampant racism and oppression of Filipinos in America.  The Watsonville Riots in 1930 caused Filipinos in the Philippines to stand in solidarity and protested the ‘opportunity’ to send their men–sons, fathers and husbands–to such a fate.

As the intern and writer of the MAH’s Pop Up Museum Blog, it was difficult for me to represent the face of the museum while having the inside knowledge of how the manongs (or Filipinos in America in general) were treated.  This history is a part of my family history; my uncle Raymond lived through it.  We knew other men who died here with absolutely no family.  Men who worked all day, laboring in the fields for just one dollar a day.  And when they passed away, they had nothing.

When it came to write this post for the museum, it ate at me, knowing that even as harshly I could write of racism, oppression and ignorance, readers still might not grasp how much it still hurts.  The families that showed up to this event, first of all, were family.  They were the sons and daughters of manongs who were lucky enough to marry outside their race.  They were sons and daughters who lived with a sense of fear just for being mestizo/a.  This history continues; when you think of the word ‘history’ you think it is over, and that it is  a distant, far-off past removed from our own lives.  This pop up museum proved that history stays with us; this history is alive and we are still dealing with it.

As a part of the FilAm community, I have high expectations of myself to advocate our heritage, identity and position within society.  I consider myself accountable to reassert the way we have been viewed or continue to be viewed.  That said, this pop up museum hit extremely close to home, and I struggled editing my personal voice from my professional voice.  My only hope is that I’ve made people seriously consider how marginalized and invisible Filipinos are made to be in America.  Please read my original post and share what you think.

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.