Transformative Community Building: The Journey with Kapwa Collective

I have learned more and more, how I want to create my existence in this living- through deep and continuous building of communal exchange that allows me to discover myself in all those I encounter, with wonderment, humility, and gratitude for betterment and transformation of self and other. We are all mirrors to one another, we all have a piece of shared humanity to reflect to any living being if we allow ourselves to be present to it, we are all Kapwa, we are shared selves and this acknowledgement of truth is something I feel so rooted in.

My entire life has been blessed with communities that have surround my being and that I have worked with to understand, protect, maintain and create our human existence for the benefit and prosperity of all of us. They have helped me to see myself in them, time and again. Every community that has opened themselves to these connections has helped me to find the wholeness of self more and more. This past week was filled with experiences so profound in this notion.

In the past 6 days, me and 4 of my sisters of the Journey of a Brown Girl and my god daughter Talia -were given an opportunity of divine making to build in this way with the Kapwa Collective in Toronto, ON. I will attempt to describe the magic of the transformative community building that took place this week and honor all those who chose to be present with our presence in Toronto and who held us and exchanged with us in light, solidarity and tremendous love.

Firstly, I want to acknowledge the feeling of open, welcoming embrace that we felt in every moment with the Kapwa Collective. And how much Care was taken of each and everyone of us. From the meals prepared to nourish us from our trip’s beginning to end. A first communal meal Aimee and Jo where we exchanged in conversation and laughter as if we had known eachother for lifetimes with, a small gathering on the grass of the Mabuhay Festival with Lilac talking about our paths of knowing self deeper and the continued journey of discovering our indigenous spirits, the endless bags of food and snacks backstage and at the font of the house provided by Kapwa Collective and Kanto to feed our souls, the closing celebration dinner at LaMesa with a whole banquet of the community we built with all of this not just to physically nourish us, but nourish our hearts with the intention of every meal to be held by community building.  

 Then there was the home of Kim who upon us arriving with welcoming, trust and warmth gave us the key to her 3 bedroom home to shelter us and give us comfort after long days of exploration and energy exchange. And provisions to fill the fridge gifted by our Kapwa, and most of being given the space to call our own for 6 days, to find release and solace in.   There was also an air of great excitement that kept us in-joy throughout the trip with the sharing of community day to day, experiences unique to summer in Toronto, from small businesses like A Homerun at Kensington owned by Jodi who also runs the dance troupe Hataw, the Toronto Expo where Tina got her fix of Poutine and we explored international crafts and goods and the experience of Filipino gathering at the Mabuhay Festival meeting elders who were leading the community in gathering under the sun, and the opening up of a session with JB Ramos and the Combat Science Kali collective to connect us to practice of martial art in our own heritage.

Along with all of this was the care taken of the experience we were bringing through our movement work of The Journey of a Brown Girl. Kapwa Collective secured a beautiful playing space at the Factory Theatre and filled it with so much extra care, from providing Vanessa with care for our baby goddess during rehearsal and performance, to the preparation of the entrance space of the performance surrounding gusts with cultural images and textiles, right down to the beautiful professionally printed posters, flyers and programs. Each performance also had food offerings to the community.

And every night began with community filling the stage with lifted energy that we would take on with our movement on the stage. Our first evening we were blessed with a prayer and ceremony circle of intention and gratitude with Amy Desjarlais (Earthtalker Water Project) and Michelle who were invited by our sister Jen, indigenous drumming and song filled the space and we washed ourselves with life giving water to initiate a blessed performance and gathering of community exchange. We were honored to also have the altar created by Amy sit beside our own in shared sacredness which we honored throughout the show.

They then opened up to our audience in ceremony similarly preceding a sacred sharing of the Ifugao voice and story by Ester Dulawan Tuldague (Ifugao Association of Canada). In day two we had the Combat Science warriors give energy to the playing space bringing spirit of all who fought for our freedoms to the space as well as the playing of an all sister Kulington collective- Pantayo which we (unknowing to them) took in and moved to offstage as the audience enjoyed and connected in their divine, elevated sound. All these sharings energized the space and called the ancestors closer to us before we even entered. 

Following the performances were talk backs with the community who gathered to hold space for our sharing and the conversations were filled with uplifting honoring of our sisterhood, but also was process of understanding and conversation as a community. We engaged with elders who spoke to us of the importance of integration in our stories, to move away from airiness of superiority as Filipinos and explore how to find deeper humility to our shared humanities, and who also spoke with us about how “I Love You,” for them is rooted more in action than word and that understanding is so important for all of us. We heard youthful voices of all generations speaking on the healing that our sharing brought, and how the exchange helped them to bring more clarity and light and acceptance to their own Journeys. We also exchanged with academics and organizers the need for these created community spaces to learn, to speak what is not spoken and to uplift art as a powerful means of doing so. We met so many people who wanted to go deeper with us, as we have many times before, but this time it felt we were ready to also go deeper than ever.

Our performances were blessed with the energy of the full moon (as many of our recent performances have been) and after Saturday’s closing we all took to the waterside and sat with all those who wanted to gather in community under her light and shared intention.

And amongst all of this were most importantly the, intimate exchanges with Kapwa Collective, the sun of motherland rays felt beaming through each of them- whose presence was in all ways always warmth, power, energy and light. Jo, whose smile illuminated spaces of exchange, and who had a gentle fire that spoke on justice and humanity with us and was always in a spirit of honoring- setting atang (offering) aside at every meal, giving of laughter in every meeting, speaking to us with urgency and truth of the inclusion and importance of the trans-sister voices. Christine Balmes, who was a calming magic and joyous presence, giving of her music and her knowledge to our sisterhood exchange. Kristen Jordan who arrived from a sacred gathering connecting in community with the Earth who brought back such hopeful and readied energy to call to all of us to awaken, sharing the importance to connect to the sacredness of all things the waters, the land and each other. Jen Maramba, whose divine mothering was felt in every moment, the magic of her embrace of Talia, and of all of us, I have deepened more and more my admiration of her being with every exchange as she is the keeper of many sacred experiences connected to the ancestors and has time and again used that to uplift herself and numerous communities’ spirits.

And Aimee Gomez, the center of all that was manifested this past week, she not only is the fiercest organizer I have ever met, she does everything with such grace and joy. She breathed with and through every experience with us and her care for us as individuals and as a group was tremendous. She held every detail with intention of elevating our experience and was so present to every moment with clear mind and spirit. In moments of stress, she helped me trust the universe and laugh at the challenges life presents. She also kept us connected to the depth of every experience and showed us why she with genuine intentions of love saw everything that she does as a part of such greater purpose. She was everything to us.

I recount all these things because they brought us to build in community that was so deeply transformative. This was what 6 days in Toronto brought so greatly to our minds, spirits and physical beings- what my Kapwa and I in Brooklyn at El Puente refer to as Transformative Community Building.

In this transformative experience my sisters and I were gifted blessings of affirmation and growth through challenge individually and as a collective. And it moved us in great change and recognition that we were all in the right place.

My sister Karen, learned just how sacred her singing is, as elders spoke on how her voice boomed Bayan Ko into their souls with honor of those in their lives they lost in the revolution and who were taken in as political prisoners- a Tito in the audience gifted her with the affirmation “you sang that song like a true revolutionary.” She also shared her understanding that the Journey has strengthened her relationship with her parents and elders at home and she advised to others, that even if they continue to not respond there is value in being present to asking questions, engaging with our elders and urged “to keep trying.”

My sister Lee, was given opportunity to embrace her needs outside of the experience and what it means to be taken care of while moving in and out of responsibility to other passion projects, and need to focus on self amidst also welcoming community exchange. The community and our sisterhood circles held space for this for her, and helped her move through the challenge with ease and support.

My sister Tina showed up in her power as usual, but this time demanding what she needed to feel successful and in order to honor the work and herself in the process. We all acknowledged that we could not do anything as masterfully as we do with out her and she grew deeper in her craft as not just a technical wizard, but also as our link to the sacred spaces we play in, holding the utmost professionalism, patience and love- she is our backbone and I believe she is seeing and feeling that more too.

My sister Vanessa and I experienced with each other the depth of what our meeting through this work 6 years ago and continuing to deepen has created for our sisterhood and what it means for her as a mother. She saw how the community gathered around Talia, how there was a want to uplift her as adescendant of all our ancestors, the next generation, who we do this work for. She experienced what it really means to have a village raise Talia as for the past 6 years, it has raised Vanessa.   

And I recognized my purpose in building this way- Transformative Community Building is my calling, and I seek to let this move me in my adventures in this living. I reaffirmed that as I rise to this light of being, not everyone will follow, or understand, or desire to deepen in the same way- and as they fall away, I will be surrounded deeper in the presence of those who do wish to rise beside me and exchange with me in their own shared self that they see in me.

What we experienced with the Kapwa Collective this past 6 days, was example of how I always seek to build, with care, with exchange, with gratitude, with understanding that all of this is so much larger than just ourselves, it is those around us, before us and after us. And as we transform so do all of the countless communities that connect to us in light, love and solidarity of shared selves.



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