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Battle of the Bamboo: Being in a Bayan

When I was chosen to be this year’s Battle of the Bamboo’s Master of Ceremonies, I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on my Battle experience the past 4 years. I want to begin this reflection on a conversation I had in the summer of 2016. I attended a dual conference put together by Empowering Youth through Collaboration (EPYC) / National Federation of Filipino Americans Association (NaFFAA). This was my first interaction with other Filipinx American student leaders that are not from the Midwest. The conversation I had surrounded the topic of Battle of the Bamboo and how people who were not in the MAFA sphere viewed this event. At the time, I had not danced in any battle performances. I was always an audience member supporting my sister in Loyola Kapwa (I mean who doesn’t want to see Kapwa perform at Battle?!). From this conversation, I learned that some people did not see Battle in a positive light, associating Battle with words like “problematic.” I never saw it that way when I watched my sister perform.

In the 2017 Battle of the Bamboo, Marquette Bayanihan performed Vinta.

In all honesty though, Battle does have its flaws. I’m still going back and forth about Battle being a competition. Being in a competition mind-set can lead to opportunities of avoiding the cultural accuracy of a dance, such as choosing aesthetically pleasing moves over the traditional movements, or focusing the performance on stunts to win the crowd over. With decisions like these, it can water down a performance that was supposed to be “cultural.” But to be fair, I’m a hypocrite when I say that– I’ve been a cheerleader and dancer since I was young. I’ve competed in countless numbers of competitions and have experienced what a crowd may or may not like. When I choreographed for Marquette Bayanihan three years ago, I worked with my Co's to add a few “wow” factors throughout our Vinta performance. The idea of performance, in general, is a medium for entertainment and when you add the competition component, the criteria changes. Can you solely judge a routine on how cultural it is? Can you choreograph a routine to entertain a crowd? I feel that these questions don’t necessarily have an answer. I’ve been a dancer almost all my life, diving into different styles from poms to Indian cultural dancing to hip hop. In all of them, I have been judged in different ways, and this widened my perspective; I learned that not everyone views dance, specifically cultural dance, in the same way.

But then again, cultural accuracy is another topic to be discussed. There are some teams that have utilized their school’s resources to find more information on certain Filipino tribes, and some that have taken advantage of their network to discuss the background of their dance’s region/community with people who are from there. When my sister performed Tagabili for Loyola Kapwa in 2014, their cultural coordinator was in conversation with his dance troupe in San Francisco where this team learned the dances from the tribe themselves. However, not many students have this benefit. Not many student leaders know these types of people who have experienced this. In general, the Midwest lacks Filipinx American educational resources in comparison to other regions in the United States. However, this should not be an excuse, because in the Midwest, we still have amazing cultural influences such as MAFA and FACT–organizations and conferences that have been around for several years. And being in its 16th year, Battle of the Bamboo is a contender of this. It is important to acknowledge our privileges, our history, and the future are currently paving the way for as Filipinx Americans in the Midwest. We should see Battle as an educational opportunity that gives us a better lens of our Filipinx American/Asian American experience and allows us to stand in solidarity with other POC. Battle is a segue for many Filipinx Americans to further their knowledge on the Filipinx culture, and to appreciate our roots through dance. It can even be an opportunity for non-Filipinx Americans; we all know a handful of active, non-Filipinos in our Filipinx orgs. Battle may be their opportunity to learn more about the Filipinx/Filipinx American experience, and it could also be their segue into learning more about their own culture.

Battle may be seen as an educational platform, but I also feel that Battle is one of those events that represents the Midwest Filipinx American experience. While we are definitely not California, we have something called Battle of the Bamboo. Battle has made a huge impact on my Filipinx American experience in college. It has brought me irreplaceable memories of being in awe as a spectator to spending hours practicing as a performer, but it shouldn’t stop there. Like other events, Battle is not perfect, and there’s ALWAYS room for growth. As performers and dancers, it is up to us to reach out to each other and share our approaches in research and in learning. As the host school, it is up to UIC's Filipinos in Alliance to continue to coordinate this event, but also collaborate with other organizations in the community, and take in the feedback they receive from the general public and implement that in the upcoming years. Finally, as audience members, it is up to us to actively celebrate and share our different perspectives, but also not be afraid to critique the cultural aspects being portrayed.

Honestly, I don’t have all the right answers, and I don’t know what the right next steps are that we can take, but what I do know is that we need to continue to open this conversation and be critical of our research and performances. UIC’s [FIA]* is giving the Midwest an amazing opportunity for everyone to learn and grow with our culture together. The Battle Council chose this year’s theme to be Tadhana: Choose your Destiny. As it states in their theme explanation, “As Filipino-Americans, we have the privilege to pave our own path to the future. The idea of ‘Tadhana’ further advances on the idea of Filipino-Americans embarking on an expedition that is unique to us as an emerging culture.” It is up to us as individuals to be mindful of our history and be critical on how we interpret it, but do not go through this journey alone. For schools that are performing, especially in the midst of competition, it is important to take a step back and remember the significance of Battle: Being in a bayan to celebrate the Filipinx culture. Battle has good intentions. It is up to us to choose our next steps, our Tadhana, and continue to build our Filipinx American experience the way we want to shape it ♦︎

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