My process of becoming the artist that I walk this world as today is deeply connected to my spiritual awakening. My spiritual practice and my artistry do not live separate from one another. I have with every choice of intention and investment to self as an artist chosen the path that would feed my spirit. It is because of this I have allowed my understanding of artistry as divine creation to unveil itself. We as human beings at our core are creators, look around you and embrace all we have constructed. I meditate on this often, taking in sight and sound and smell and taste and feeling stimulated by the creation of human beings- in reflection of the greater creation source, the great creator, God on high.
I have had the voice of an elder and inspiration in my life, Grace Nono echoing in my head the past couple of days speaking “You must find your embodied practice… When you are called, you must answer to do.” I think on all the moments I have been called to center my artistry in the spirit. I think on all the elders that have given to that and trace back the Journey of my becoming.
The root of my embodiment as an artist began at such a young age, my mother told me that when she was pregnant with me that she had cravings of seaweed, which she often attributed to my inability as a child to sit still. “Makuti” they would call me, always in movement always ready to get others up in movement with me. Intertwined with my curiousness and wonderment of the world and the courage to let myself be drawn away from comforts to explore and expand I was often ready to embrace all experiences and people. My family embraced my free spirit and often encouraged me to express myself and sometime “entertain” guests with singing on the karaoke and dancing hula for guests visiting on any occasion. But they didn’t expect me to become an artist because of practicality. “You’re so smart, you need to become a doctor.” The same story told by many 2nd generation artists of immigrant parents that wanted more for their children- stability, security, but this was not the path that would call to me.
I think of the moment when Cindy Little took the hand of a broken teenager, dealing with displacement and separation from family and introduced her to the power of theatre as the power of becoming. Embodying and honoring others in their life stories, and seeing how a piece of every being lives in us,. She taught me that we just have to dig deep into our memories to see where we can find understanding and connect. Upland High School was my fourth high school I attended in my Freshman Year alone and I was looking for something that would make me feel I belonged. I remember the first production I saw, left me in awe- the coming together of so many elements of artistry on one stage, and the mastery of the performers who made me feel alive in the way they moved my spirit. I never would have imagined myself drawn to be among them. That evening I sat in the student parking lot waiting for my sister who predictably was late, but in this instance her lateness was an act of divinity because in a moment of fate I saw the stage door cracked open, inviting me in which was my first call to walk the path of my artistry. I entered the paint room and saw stage fragments, puzzle pieces to past productions scattered amongst paint cans and tools. I entered the stage wing that would unknowingly become my sanctuary and felt a sacredness to the high ceilings with lights hanging above my head, I’ll never forget that moment. Nicole Reyes who was a Sophomore in the program at that time was sitting on a table outside Mrs. Littlest office. She watched me in my wonderment and we exchanged hellos. “Is there a phone I could use?” I asked. “Yea, I’m waiting for it too,” she replied.
We waited together and in that waiting she invited me to be open to the possibility of what I think my heart wanted to inquire of. She spoke to me of auditions for the classes for the upcoming year and encouraged me to audition with her guidance, a prophet who would help me take a risk in my becoming. Acceptance into the program became just a piece of my process, before I knew it, I was also acting as a teaching aide to Mrs. Little for the honors theatre class, having a free window in my schedule to take it on. She took me under her wing and trusted me to learn from her in apprenticeship and invited me to find home in the theatre that called to me serendipitously when I felt so lost and alone. I gave my loyalty in service to her throughout my 3 years of study and I remember her telling me time and again that I was “special”, that, I was “valuable” in my being. She gave to me the knowledge of understanding how to manage back stage and encouraged me to take center stage so the world could see me, hear me and feel me.
After high school, I felt so lost in the Bachelors in Fine Arts program I had been accepted into, the people I was surrounded by felt so connected only on the surface, relationships felt false. On our first day a professor said to us, “Look around, these are not your friends, these are your colleagues, not all of you will make it through this program. Decide if you want to be one of the ones who will.” The room shifted and walls rose up. I don’t remember that professor’s name, all I remembered was a small piece of me whispering the admonition that if the next 4 years would mean being at odds with those around me, then I didn’t want to be one of those people.
Who I do remember with warmth and a deep respect was Evelyn Case who brought Physical Theatre into my life and who told me that the way I moved so free made her see herself in me. She said that watching me move was “entrancing” that she could see me discovering my body and enjoying it, she could see how liberated I was in moving. And when I left that BFA program I carried that foundation of value in Physicality that she gifted us and the power of understanding our abilities to create character by connecting to breath- connected to movement, connected to voice- connected to spirit, into my artistry as a performer.
I transferred schools and ended up at the University of California, Irvine, where I began my path toward growing in consciousness of myself as Filipina. And I felt like I left a lot of my artistry in performance to gain knowledge in self through activism. In this time I was introduced to many artists who were uplifting the stories of our people through their song and word and imagery. One individual I pay deep homage to is Bambu. I still remember the day he and my powerful Ate, Kat Carrido asked me to take a role in support of his team to elevate his music in community. The organizing that I had given my life to brought him to see in me the supporting of his life’s work. I wanted to show them I was worth what he saw in my skill to support, even if I paid tiny roles, I gave all I could. And to this day that experience is still more than I could ever repay. He taught me to use my artistry to say everything I want to say, need to say, and especially what I’m told I’m not supposed to say.
Kababayan was the chosen family who taught me what it looked like to lead. This group of activists, learners, service men and women of our communities taught me that integrity was standing up for what was right and owning up to when I was wrong, they taught me to listen with awareness and understanding and learn when my voice needs to be heard and when silence is necesary. They taught me to manifest my words of commitment into reality. And they encouraged me to be a leader of others who lead. They held a mirror up to show me I was Somebody, who could change minds and hearts, who could change the world. They taught me all these things, that would feed into and activate my artistry in a way I never would have imagined. My art didn’t just move anymore, it was movement.
In the summer before my last year as an undergraduate student, I was given the opportunity to travel to Italy and deepen my physical theatre learning, investing in artistry of mask and body. Michele Bottini would guide us on this journey. This is where I learned true ensemble work, and the power of building in support of one another body, voice and spirit. The sacredness and ritual in our practice of mask spoke to me deeper than any learning I had experienced. The first thing he said to us in meeting was “Humans have lost their animals,” inviting us to return to our bodies and explore every dip and curve and bend and crevice of our physical being. He invited us to re-member our bodies, piece by piece and value the limitlessness of our whole selves. He told me that there was power in my movement, he told me session after session that watching me move was special- echoes of teachers in my past. And on our last day after our morning meal as I gazed out into the vineyards outside the villa we resided in he stood by me and looked me straight into my eyes and told me I had to continue to move, and that whatever I choose to do he would speak for me if I made the call. I vowed to continue giving to that movement of my spirit and make my artistry the center of my being.
1 month after my graduation from UCI I packed my bags and headed to New York, where my deepened practice manifested through the unveiling of “The Journey of a Brown Girl”. The project began as an empowerment piece, to talk through the voice of Pinay leaders about our herstory and the struggles we have endured; a piece speaking on patriarchy and misogyny and all the ills against Filipina wom*n that have and continue to exist. But then transformation came with the discovery of the Babaylan, and connection to a collective of elders who were working to build a network to share in the excavating of indigenous lineage, ritual and practice. I think on Leny Strobel, Letecia Leyson, Perla Daly and and Baylan Megino who welcomed me to see myself more whole than I’ve ever known.
Letecia taught me to back into my tomorrow’s, back into my future carrying all that served my spirit of ancestry and experience abc understanding. She taught me to rise above sadness and sorrow, taught me that it is powerful to weep. Leny called me a healer once, and it struck me in humility so deep. She shared with me many readings, connecting to many Pinay sisters who were seeking to uncover our truths as powerful warriors, healers, teachers, and visionaries of our shared future. She expanded my mind and spirit to know my ancestry beyond our migration to the United States, remembering forgotten parts of me I never knew were lost. Perla gave me opportunity time and again, to share my voice in writing online for my sister Pinays- and showed me what it looked like to create a global network of support, how to own our identity- to take power to shape it, and that presence even if not in person can be powerful. And Baylan continues to invest in every moment I rise, invests so deep- just last night we exchanged over messaging. I expressed to her that I wish to root myself in embodying deepened practices, she said to me in affirmation, “Girlfriend, you already do that!” Affirmations, affirmations and elevation of my spirit. All their words, actions and breath I keep with me constantly and they whisper to me to remember my spirit is powerful and that if I take care of it, and let it live through my artistry that my movements will move others.
They began in mentoring me through their stories of becoming, but then became such support in my process of growth. In moments of isolation and feeling myself fall to pieces Letecia would ask me “When was the last time you danced?” And Leny would share with me the comfort of words written by others in their own times of reflection during struggle and being confronted with human heart ache. Baylan would encourage practice of prayer and remind me that I had the power within myself to uplift my spirit. They all lead me to connecting to a journey toward finding and creating my own spiritual practices. They helped me to listen to spirit all around me. Because of them I feel my connection to the Great Creator and all creation in such profound ways that manifest in my full being; in the way I think, and speak, and relate to others, the way I breathe in the world and the way I honor myself as a small part of a larger creation. This has become what “The Journey of a Brown Girl” is to me, the story of finding yourself and the process of understanding how to love and honor yourself whole. This would manifest in all my work.
I recall having my final interview with Co-Founder and Executive Director Frances that began my journey at El Puente nearly 4 years ago. Almost 2 hours of exchange, I remember telling her about a project that was deeply important to my being as an artist, and that connected us together in our Filipino Heritage. As I sat in her office talking about my roots and the wom*n and artist that I sought to become, I looked around me at the celebration of culture and community that filled her office and gazed at a banner quoting Francis Assisi “Start by doing what is necessary, then what is possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” I knew I had arrived somewhere special- a place of possibility.
I have been blessed to call El Puente much more than my place of work, it has been sacred space of growing and creating self- a place in which I have been continuously supported in my growth as an artist, as a facilitator of community, as an activist and as a human being. Because of this I pay homage to El Puente because I know that the project I spoke to Frances about those years ago, would not have grown into the movement that it has become without the support of the many individuals who have crossed my path here. From Frances Lucerna who encourages us all to awaken our artistic souls as we walk through this living, to Maria Marasigan who continuously connected with me on digging deeply to re-member our Pinay selves in reflection of each other, to Gloria Zalaya who roots us all in spiritual wellness and grounding, to Afaliah Tribune whose path toward her dreams, her brilliance and her drive to bring her artistry to the next level always inspired my own, and to JLove Calderon who guided me in looking deep within myself to unveil all of my power and light to make possibility happen.
These wom*n among many other brothers and sisters at El Puente, all encouraged the creator within myself to see how my arrival at El Puente was not happen chance, it was necessary to bring my visions to fruition. El Puente would become the place where my largest supporters would be grown for that very project I spoke to Frances about in the first moment we exchanged in light. And also be the place where I would learn to share my practice with young people for future cultivation of artistry connected to spirit. My students who make up the For the Movement Theatre Collective are an ensemble of 10 students who I have chosen and have chosen me to exchange in practice and presence with. The performance art we create is a result of all of my embodied practice and calls my students to explore and own the way they move in the world and how that is reflective in their artistic being. Recently they put on their first full length play, which was such a struggle for many of them, as their spirits face constant unwellness in reflection to the way that they react to life and its ills. I call all my teachers and their spirits beside me in the moments when I am seeking ways to uplift the young people I create art with. Our collective saying is “For eachother, For ourselves, For the movement.” Inviting them to see themselves in one another and connected to greater movements in life.
Below was my most recent letter to them as ritual for me is to write to each of them before curtain at every show- “You all have the ability to rise above everything and be Great. I see glimmers of all your magic every time you individually and as a collective move forward with your commitment to fill the stage with your voice, your bodies, your light. I am always so proud of all of you, and this moment is one of my proudest, because despite every challenge you all made it to today and you will shine because that is in your nature to do so. And you believed enough in yourself to let yourself shine tonight. You will move your audience today because that is what you all do. You have moved my heart and spirit time and time again.
These stones are to help carry what will not serve you as you breathe it out and let it go. And keep the negative away from your heart. I give you these stones as reminders, that you have the ability to be amazing, to be the light that we all see in you, you just have to believe you can, and then you have to speak it as your truth and just BE YOU- BE LIGHT.
I love you and I am so thankful you all are in my life.”
When I sit with them in communion, and we find ways to hold space to hold one another’s spirits in the process of creating art together, I find myself feeling so full of gratitude and humbled to all that has been given to me so I can give to them.
I think these moments of reflection are important, you have to be willing to consistently pull yourself a part in order to behold the pieces that make up your entire being and understand why they fit together to make you who you are. Every part of my life experience connects to how I see my artist self today and are rooted in the many learnings of self I gained from great teachers of living. They offered me their own processes and encouraged me to continue creating again and again.
In this moment of existence The Journey of a Brown Girl and the work that I do at El Puente remain the greatest and truest reflections of my artistry in this moment of my life and I breathe this in with such humility and love. They are constant reminders of how I want to create in its relation, communication and exchange of energy between all those engaged in its process, production and sharing of performance. It is this because it is a realized manifestation of my spirituality embedded in my artistic practice. And I pass this on to my own students all these learnings of ritual and speaking to the power of endless story of human being and understanding of the body connected to inner and outer spirit. The youth I teach are fondly known
I walk in this, I speak in this, I breathe in this- I am a creator of spirit movement through my artistic expressions and in deep reflection, I give thanks and love to all those who have and continue to give to my becoming the creator I live as today.