What Food Means to Me: Kamayan during Homecoming and Fil-Am History Month

By Miguel Locsin, FINDink Contributor

It was late 2006, a few months before moving the America, when my Aunt issued this dire warning to me: “There are no mangoes in America.” I remember being so conflicted, so distraught, so confused. How could the fabled land of the free and big hamburgers not have my favorite dessert fruit? To me, mangoes, together with all my other favorite Filipino foods are my ultimate connection to my homeland culture. How was I supposed to survive in the United States

I moved to the US in 2007, and time went by steadily. One day went by, then a week, then a month. I eventually learned, of course, that there was this country called Mexico that was right next to America, and they made mangoes there that were about on par to the Philippine Mango, for my standards at least. I also learned that my grandma, who had been here in America since the 70s, was as amazing as a cook as the legends foretold. It has been about 10 years since immigration happened, and self-evidently, I am happy to say that I am still alive.

So why is food so important to me? The answer goes way beyond the fact that I biologically need food to survive. I enjoy eating. It nourishes my senses. Newly cooked, fresh food utilizes all my senses. I can see its different colors, smell its distinct odor, and hear a food’s unique sizzle and crackle. And there’s taste, which of course, is my primary predictor of one’s favorite cuisine. Through food, I relive experiences from the past. It makes me happy. And with the simple act of sharing a meal with other people, I realize that I can share my happiness and experiences as well.

As a board member at the College of William and Mary’s Filipino American Student Association, it was my goal from the very beginning to share these experiences with my fellow members, and just today (October 22 2017), we successfully did just that. Notably missing from my list of sensory nourishments was the lack of touch. People rarely feel their food with their own skin these days, and this is important, as touch can impart a lot of information. Eating a full meal with hands is an experience everyone must have at least once in a lifetime. So today, W&M FASA had a feast today to celebrate homecoming and Filipino-American History Month in the style of Kamayan, a traditional style of eating that predates the Spanish Colonizers. Contemporarily called “A Boodle Fight,” people dine with traditional Filipino food with no silverware of the sort, and with food sitting on top of banana leaves, only eating with hands.

By all accounts it was a fun and fulfilling experience, as we not only became really full, but also were able to connect with the Filipino Culture in a way that only Filipino food is capable of.

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Disclaimer: The views of the author do not necessarily represent the views of FIND, Inc. 

Tinikling: Toying With The Traditional

By Athena Abadilla, FINDink Contributor

But first, what’s this “tinikling” you speak of? To quickly explain, tinikling is a traditional Filipino dance that originated in the Philippines during the Spanish colonial era. It involves the rhythmic clapping of bamboo sticks on the ground and against each other while dancers step over and between these sticks on timing with the beat.  

It’s become a trend in the Filipino communities that I’ve met to take this traditional tinikling and perform it with a twist: contemporary hip-hop/pop music and modern clothing.  What are the ramifications of fusing American pop culture into this traditional dance from the Philippines? Can this new-age style of tinikling still even be called tinikling if it doesn’t honor its roots?

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Last semester, our Filipino club at Columbia University got an invite from a professor to perform tinikling at her son’s birthday party.  It was an around-the-world themed celebration, and we were there to represent the Philippines.  While deciding what our performance would look like for the party, the birthday boy’s parents informed us that their son had been really into the, at that time, newest Ed Sheeran chart-topper “Shape of You” and if we could incorporate that into our performance set that’d make him so happy.  Needless to say, we did.  It also wasn’t the only time we’ve choreographed tinikling to non-traditional Filipino folk music though.  We’ve clapped our bamboo sticks and danced to famous artists such as Bruno Mars and the Chainsmokers.  One of our performances even included moves to that once popular “Juju on that Beat” dance craze.

At various events and parties, to get young people more hyped about this special part of our Filipino culture, clubs and dance troupes often modernize the traditional tinikling like we did.  A popular group back home in Hawaii, called the Tekniqlingz, are famous for doing so.  Their mission is this: “to strengthen ethnic identity and cultural awareness through education and the perpetuation of the Filipino culture in art, music, and dance.”  Some people, however, may argue that altering the sound and sight of a traditional tinikling performance is an erasure of its significance.  I see the validity of this point but do believe that a well-executed modern tinikling performance could lead to a stronger embrace of our Filipino culture; this’d be okay only if done appropriately and with good intentions like Tekniqligz has (for example, groups could consider starting the set with the traditional folk music and telling the backstory before switching up the beat).

But do we all really know the history of tinikling enough to share it through our performances?  “Tinikling” directly translates into “tikling-like” referring to the certain species of “tikling” birds.  Back in the rice fields of the Philippines, farmers used to set bamboo traps to catch these birds who were always a nuisance to the growth of the crops.  However, the birds were swift, running over and avoiding the snaps of the traps.  The quick clapping of the bamboo sticks and equally quick but graceful movements of the dancers are actually meant to imitate these birds in the traps and be reminiscent of the beautiful simplicity of farm life in the Philippines.

Let’s not forget this story that has been passed down generation to generation with this traditional dance.  It’s crucial, and especially important during this month celebrating Filipino American Heritage & History, to make sure that the tradition behind the tinikling dance and other cultural practices that we choose to bring into the 21st century does not get lost in translation.  

 

BamBOO! Happy October & Filipino American Heritage Month! Remember, the views of the author do not necessarily represent the views of FIND, Inc.


 

Pasalubong! A Community Exercise

By Athena Abadilla, FINDink Contributor

As the Cultural Chair of Columbia University’s Liga Filipina, I wanted to infuse a little lesson on Filipino traditions into the introduction portion of our club’s very first general body meeting this school year.  So, I thought of one of my most favorite parts of my culture: pasalubong.  

In the Filipino culture, when a family member or friend travels somewhere far away from home, it is expected that they will bring back some type of souvenir ― often in the form of region-specific snacks or foods ― upon returning.  This souvenir is known as pasalubong.

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It’s a way to share a small piece of one’s experiences with the people they care for.  Pasalubong, in my life in particular has taken form in my Filipino friends bearing gifts of pastillas and polvoron from vacationing in the motherland; my non-Filipino friends sharing keychains and postcards from their respective college visits;  and my dad bringing back some of Hawaii’s best manapuas and rice cakes (my mom’s personal favorite) when his job would require him to leave the island of Kauai and go to the island of Oahu for a few days.  Therefore, pasalubong becomes a way of remembering and a custom of love.

So I chose to take this concept of pasalubong more figuratively and apply it to the club community that we’re forming at Liga.  (It might be a bit of a stretch, but try to follow the progression of my thoughts). The goal of introducing the “introduction - get to know each other” part of the meeting using the idea of pasalubong was this: 1) to establish the student organization and space that we inhabit as a place we can call home, 2) to recognize that we are all coming from different backgrounds and identities, and 3) to emphasize that the sharing of one’s unique experiences from wherever they are in life will always be welcomed with open arms.