Saturday, November 19, 2011

Sonoma County, CA: Singgalot, The Tie that Binds

When the Sonoma County Museum notified the local Fil Am community that the exhibit will have its last stop in Sonoma County, it excited us tremendously. I have known of the Smithsonian traveling exhibit since it started making its rounds years earlier. I know some of the folks that put this project together and have had the curriculum project part of it presented at the Kapwa conference for K-12 educators at Sonoma State U in 2007. I knew it was making the rounds of the big cities -- San Francisco, Chicago, Seattle, etc...I just didn't imagine that it would make it to our local museum.

Perhaps what brought the Museum's attention to focus on the Fil Am community was the 2008  Remembering Our Manongs Project of the FANHS Sonoma County chapter. This important documentary did put our local FIlipino community on the map and created much needed visibility to our history locally and nationally.

Leaders of the local Filipino community came together to plan for the supplementary events and exhibits to Singgalot. Alexis Canillo, who has kept records of his father's sojourn to the US, offered these as part of the exhibit and so did other descendants of Manongs who have kept memorabilia.

The opening ceremony to Singgalot on November 18 carried our intentions to remember, to honor, to heal. We felt guided by our ancestors that this was an occasion to bring together the past and present, our memories and stories, to make visible what is often invisible, to acknowledge what is often taken for granted, and to manifest the beauty of being Filipino. The night before we gathered at the museum and created this intention via ritual of dance, music, and chanted prayers in Pomo, Kapampangan, Bicol, and Tagalog.

For the opening reception, we created a ritual and an altar that represented our Filipino indigenous spirituality because we wanted to signal that our history does not begin and end with colonialism and empire; that our Story is much larger than history and when we are able to uncover the ways in which we still carry our wholeness in spite of the wounds of history, then we are able to heal and live with dignity and grace.

About ten descendants of the Manong generation each brought to the altar a sacred object that represented the Manongs' connections to us in the present. Items included a fragrant azucena flower that comes from a Manong's garden; seashell from a Philippine beach, photographs of Manongs, a coconut shell, ancient beads, a certificate of military service, a news article about the Asuelo family, an apple and a bunch of flowers that represented the labor of the Manongs, a hand-made memento.

Manang Betty, one of our elders, offered a prayer of thanksgiving in English and Noemi offered its translation in Pilipino.

These offerings to the altar were then followed by a poetry and dance performance reflecting on history and the healing that we need. Alexis read his poem and then Holly followed with a dance symbolizing the Manong's work that included stoop labor -- the aching body that worked hard to tend to the earth, raise a community, and build a future.  As her body fell to the ground in exhaustion, the spirits of her ancestors came to her symbolized by a Kalinga dance from the northern Philippines and a Tiruray dance from the southern Philippines connecting the north to the south and creating a lineage of unity. The music faded and then there were only the rhythms of indigenous instruments -- bamboo tongatong from Kalinga and then the brass gongs from Mindanao.

We continued the celebration with kulintang music with no less than Master Danny Kalanduyan and his ensemble of master musicians and dancers. Jenny Bawer, Kalinga culture-bearer and Porling gave us the Banga dance. Lizae and Alexis gave us the Pangalay dance.

I felt my heart was full and my spirit was soaring. Alexis said it best afterwards: This is a project that needed a community. This project was supported not only by the folks who came from the Bay Area to support us (Thank you so much!), I felt the ancestral spirits moving about last night, all pleased and happy that we have come together to honor and remember them.
Days before this evening, I had a dream. In the dream, I was with a shaman and we were studying together. I stood up and told him that I needed to take a shower and so I stood up to go. He followed me and then he wanted to look over the shower door. I asked him what he was doing and he said: I want to see you naked. Aghast, I bonked him in the head and told him to go away. Later, as I reflected on this dream, this is the message that came to me:

I want to see your radiance, without the veil of timidity
I want to see your courage, without the mask of fear
I want to see your beauty, without the mask of vanity
I want to see you shine
Take off everything that covers

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