Gongs beat in a rhythmic motion. The dancers’ flick of their wrists and pulsing footwork is dramatized by the ringing sound of the Philippine gandingan. The kulintang ensemble chimes throughout, commanding the dancers. One woman, wrapped in a headscarf, throws her scarf up as it trails down across her shoulder. Another male spins as the rainbow colors of his skirt reflect away any evil spirits.
There’s another world being portrayed on that stage—and this group of students has only one night to show the world what it means to be Pilipino/a-American.
At UC Irvine, the student body has the opportunity to explore their individuality—whether through serving on student government, cultural organizations, sports teams, creative literary outlets or other organizations. Each student should feel free to embody and embrace the diverse cultures around them, while also keeping in mind the fluidity of changing cultures.
The Kababayan organization, now present for its 41st year on campus, delights in the fact that is has become one of the largest and most well known Pilipino-American organizations in the nation. With a steady influx of general members ranging from 300-400 students each year, Kababayan has made it a mission to preserve and present the Pilipino-American experience to its general members in a way that is most relevant to its membership.
I’ve been involved in this organization for all my four years here on campus. Each year, I have been exposed to different individuals who have taught me about how they feel about the lack of Asian-Americans in the media, how our veterans who served in the World War never received their benefits, how our homeland strives to be “white” and attempts to lighten their skin, or how our people are the happiest and most hospitable in the world.
As culture is a forever-changing and fluid lifestyle, I feel it is important to realize that it is not something that is fixed. Culture, as I see it, is a way of life that grows, changes and adapts to the people who are a part of it. Kababayan’s Pilipino-American Cultural Night (PACN) is a timeless event that masterfully embodies this concept.
Each year, I have seen students have the opportunity to take part in learning traditional Philippine folk dances—from the festive dances of the rural region of the Philippines, the strong yet elegant Maria Clara dances from the era of Spanish colonization, the ritualized and earth-centered dances from the mountains, or Cordillera region of the Philippines, or the untouched and highly mystical Islamic practices seen through the Moro dances.
Of course, as students living in the 21st century, our culture is highly influenced by the culture we are living in everyday, which is why elements of hip-hop, creative video commercials, choir songs and a live-action skit put the entire cultural narrative of PACN together. Having been a performer, dance suite coordinator, director of the production and now performer once again, it has been humbling to see how this production has affected its many students in different ways.
For many students on this campus, many still try to figure out who and what they are. Growing up in a society that often hides and prevents knowledge of our own cultures to be known or practiced, the importance of a culture night allows for that discussion and exposure to parts of one’s culture that some have never been exposed to. Above all, the months of practice and collaboration the culture night requires to teach and empower its students about their own culture offers opportunities for growth, leadership, education and bonding.
So, as the season of culture nights persists in the coming months across campuses around the nation, it is important to realize why these culture nights are happening in the first place. As the traditional educational system seems to promote the erasure (or ignorance) of our own cultural identities, we need to offer up a space for students to explore those cultural narratives within themselves. A part of what makes us aware of our own selves is how we identify with our own culture—and we ought to promote the spaces for fostering that.
Related: “One Girl, Four Years of PACN”