UCLA Samahang Pilipino Cultural Night, May 19, 2002

UCLA Samahang Pilipino Cultural Night, May 19, 2002

Cast of 300 enthralls audience of 2,500 at Royce Hall for 25th annual performance of Filipino music and dances. Skit probes tense relations between the Philippines and developed countries.

By Barbara S. Gaerlan and Jennifer Winther

Pilipino Cultural Night (PCN), performed by UCLA's undergraduate student organization Samahang Pilipino, celebrated its 25th Anniversary, May 19. As far as we know, PCN is the premier cultural night of all the international student organizations, and 2002 lived up to expectations. A tremendous cast of 300 students, and an audience of 2,500 screaming alumni, family, and friends filled Royce Hall. As usual, the show took four hours to perform -- a real marathon.

Students performed at least twenty dances, both Filipino folkloric dances, and American hiphop. A huge chorus sang several songs, primarily in Filipino language. There was a large live Western orchestra, as well as a "rondalla" string quartet, and another quintet playing the kulintang brass gong-and-drum ensemble. As usual the costumes were spectacular. Over the years PCN has developed fantastic resources so that music and costumes are of the highest quality.

This one performance was the culmination of ten months of planning and rehearsals -- a tremendous expenditure of time, effort, and money organized totally by the students themselves.

PCN grew up in the many years during which UCLA did not offer any courses on Philippine language, history, or culture. Students had to look to themselves and to a few off-campus supporters to learn about their Filipino heritage.

Philippine Studies at UCLA

The first relevant course, offered in UCLA's Asian American Studies program, was "the Pilipino American Experience." However, this course focused on experiences of Filipinos in the United States, not on those in the Philippines. Over the past ten years, as the Filipino American student population at UCLA has increased and articulated demands for such courses, UCLA has gradually added Filipino language and history courses to the regular curriculum. But this PCN illustrated dramatically the fact that Filipino American students are much more aware of Filipino American issues than they are of actual conditions in the Philippines.

Currently the regular UCLA faculty teaching these courses include Profs. Michael Salman in History, Pauline Agbayani Siewart in Social Welfare, and Dr. Diosdado Pascual in the South and Southeast Asian Languages and Cultures Program. The Department of English has scheduled a search for 2002-03 to hire a ladder faculty person to teach both Filipino and Filipino American humanities courses such as literature and/or film. But the offerings by this group are extremely limited.

With the creation of the Center for Southeast Asian Studies and the Interdepartmental Program in Southeast Asian Studies in ISOP (International Studies and Overseas Programs), UCLA has supplemented these courses with those taught by visitors. In Spring 2002 the Center is sponsoring six courses by three Philippines experts, Prof. Walden Bello in Sociology, Prof. Joi Barrios in SSEALC, and Prof. Coeli Barry in History. It is a good beginning, but a tenuous one for Filipino Studies at UCLA.

We mention this context because the PCN featured one additional aspect of exceeding interest. The dances were woven together by a skit -- actually a very ambitious musical complete with elaborate solos and duets which showcased the considerable musical and acting talents of the performers. The storyline of the skit revealed a great deal about the present state of Filipino Studies at UCLA.

A Vision of Vanished Filipinos in Cultural Night Skit

On the one hand, students have been able to study Filipino language and history so that they are not totally dependent on outsiders for their knowledge of the Philippines. The skit of the 2002 PCN was able to throw in references to Filipino language and history and assume student understanding in a way previous skits could not. However, the overall vision of the skit revealed a profound alienation from the current reality in the Philippines that illustrated the long road that must be trod before Filipino American students at UCLA are deeply familiar with the homeland of their parents.

The first act of the skit featured an alarming premise: all of the "native Filipinos" have mysteriously disappeared. A Filipino American reporter and an anthropologist are searching for the key to the mystery. One last "Filipino" remains, an old woman who seems to represent "mother country." The old woman flits in and out of the action, coughing as if in poor health. However she stimulates a number of gorgeous dances, conjuring up the "lost Eden" of a vanished past.

The action quickly takes on a sinister aspect. Evil military characters appear and some of the anthropologists' assistants are taken hostage. The military are revealed to be employees of "David McNamara," a corporate capitalist (with World Bank overtones) who has spent the past thirty years shipping Filipinos overseas to work.

As a money-making replacement, McNamara has hired dancers (from the Filipino American community!) to perform native dances in the Philippines to fool the tourists. In a quite sophisticated portrayal of folkloric dance as developed in the 1970s and 1980s under the Marcos dictatorship, the PCN dances in the second act are presented in this light. The skit includes an emcee introducing the dances who is a nonhuman experimental creature created by the laboratory of the dastardly McNamara.

McNamara is able to charm and to bribe with gorgeous gifts the otherwise gutsy female reporter so she remains blind to his schemes. The fabulous hiphop number is performed by dancers supposedly working as slave laborers in McNamara's factory.

In a final blockbuster number where good overcomes evil, the Filipino American dancers McNamara has imported use Filipino martial arts to overcome the military goons. In spite of their victory, the elderly "mother country" character dies. The reporter is left musing that the Philippines has not really died -- its spirit will live forever in the hearts of Filipino Americans.

We found this conclusion incredibly sad because it saw no role for the Filipino people themselves as agents of their own liberation. We were left wondering how the script would have been different if the authors had been able to take advantage of the new U.C. Education Abroad Program enabling U.C. students to study in the Philippines, or had been able to study about current conditions in the Philippines in a comprehensive way at UCLA. While the script's concern about the exploitation of the Philippines by global economic and military forces is commendable, what was missing was an appreciation of the strengths and resourcefulness of the Filipino people.

In her address to the Pilipino Cultural Night crowd, Samahang Pilipino President Janice Lee Quindara articulated a strong community commitment to support affirmative action and the need for documentation of Pilipino identity and achievements in U.S. government statistics so as to overcome the current situation rendering Filipino Americans "invisible." Her advocacy stems from a conviction that without recognition of ethnicity, the Filipino American community will remain invisible to the government, the state, and the nation. Our hopes for UCLA students are that the IDP major and minor, Education Abroad, and other programs will continue to be strongly supported by UC. If students can take the opportunities available to them to learn more about the realities of contemporary Filipino life and culture, there is less danger that they, themselves, would make invisible their relatives in the Philippines.

Published: Thursday, May 23, 2002