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Cartwheels in Classrooms and Other Things Related to My Heritage: A Battle of the Bamboo Reflection

By Christian Paneda

Wow! Last time I was on the MAFA blog I also wrote about cultural performance (this article right here) in a more pseudo-historical perspective. This time around, I wanted to talk more specifically about Battle of the Bamboo, and my personal experiences while I’m still in the ~reflective mood~ (but when am I not?). But I digress.

I don’t go back to my small hometown as often as I used to just because my college schedule has become progressively busier. But when I do, I love catching up with my closest friends. Over plates of half-off appetizers at the local Applebee’s, one of the only finest establishments where I’m from, I tell them about my experiences with the many Filipinx American communities I’ve immersed in--one experience being my newfound encounter with cultural performance, specifically with Battle of the Bamboo.

“Whoa, you dance now?” is usually the response I get.

Photo Credit: Kyleen Jan

That usually puts a smile on my face because it reminds how far I’ve come from being an awkward high school nerd to a still oftentimes awkward college student. One major difference is that I now have the chance to explore my Philippine heritage. And who could ever predict I would want to explore it through dance?

This year, FASA at the University of Michigan performed a medley of barrio dances based on the Kasadyahan Festival. Influenced by Spanish colonization, the flurry of flowers from Bulaklakan, the daring balancing acts of wine glasses from Kumakaret, and the bounce of Kasadyahan folk dance convey joy and merrymaking.

For me, rehearsing for Battle of the Bamboo is like every other FASA dance practice. A lot of repetition. A lot of cleaning. A lot of late nights. What an interesting position to be in: to cartwheel in classrooms in the midnight hours at where people have intense history debates or cry over calculus. It’s for the culture. The competition aspect is on the least important things for me, because I believe that cultural appreciation and mindful education should always come first. That is not to diminish the hard work that my peers put into the dances. I’ll be the first to admit that my dance skills are very underwhelming, and I truly admire the elegance of the other FASA dancers around me. I give mad props to FASA’s performance chair for single-handedly choreographing and planning the entire set. On top of that, the work that went into this year’s clothing was worthy of Project Runway. It’s no easy task to hand make several 📷dresses that are fully equipped with butterfly sleeves from a couple of YouTube videos and makeshift patterns. Additionally, treading the line between cultural authenticity and overt sensationalism is a very cautious practice. Similar to previous years, I still question how truly authentic any cultural performance can be if it’s a mere recreation? When does originally and creativity stray too far?

Like many Filipinx American student organizations can relate to, preparing for Battle of the Bamboo is very difficult and time-consuming. Unfortunately, there are issues at many levels that make it even harder. Such problems for my organization and many members, in no particular order, include:

  1. Funding for pretty much everything related to Battle of the Bamboo

  2. Access to affordable clothing options that fit the needs of the particular dance

  3. Access to resources from other immediate Filipinx-American organizations around us

  4. Competing for the limited room reservations for the other hundreds of student organizations who also need space

  5. Having to actually pay money for space that fits the actual size of the Battle of the Bamboo stage

  6. Being a full-time student while trying to balance practices on top of the other student organizations you’re a part of

  7. Also, having a job (or two) while being a full-time student while trying to balance practices on top of the other student organizations you’re a part of

I will say, however, that there a lot of positives to the process of Battle of the Bamboo that make long practices and navigating through difficult situations worth it (although this does not mean that institutions of higher education should not work towards undoing many of these very real struggles that cultural organizations and student of color face daily if they really want to be about diversity, equity, and inclusion…) But anyway, there are unique euphoric feelings when performing on the Battle stage. With such an energetic dance, I can genuinely say that I am having the time of my life. I’m smiling and laughing as if I can imagine myself in a barrio with my closest friends coming to celebrate after a long day’s work. I am so thrilled to have FASA members be proud of the Philippine culture, especially when many of us come from different experiences of the Midwest—whether some still have a place in FASA to continue to celebrate the culture they grew up loving or where FASA is the very first time a person feels proud of their roots or to learn about a culture that isn’t necessarily theirs. I’m truly honored to be a part of something that brings the FASA community together.

The connections, in many senses of the word, that are made are priceless to say the least.

The theme of this year’s Battle of the Bamboo was Magkaisa: Under One Sky. While it’s essential to call upon unity within the Filipinx and Filipinx American community at many levels, I feel that it’s equally important to embrace the differences. The numerous dances from Battle of the Bamboo illustrate regional and historical differences of the Philippine culture, which is something that needs to be unpacked. I believe that the theme can be extended outside the actual Battle of the Bamboo event and is a relevant lens in seeing how we can better our communities. While we can enjoy the social spaces we have created for ourselves, I think it’s vital to learn to be more comfortable with conversations where many of us do not see eye-to-eye. To be under one sky is to accept the many nuances of the Philippine culture and diaspora. You can love something while still being critical of it.  

Acknowledging our differences is the first step to creating unity.

Of course, that’s easier said than done as I am not at all an expert, but being cognizant I feel is the first step. Acting from this reflection could occur with more dialogue or perhaps advocating for Filipinx, Filipinx American, and Asian Pacific Islander American studies in educational institutions, sharing resources for other student organizations, and standing in solidarity with other people of color could be some options. I still ask what taking action can look like.

I look forward to the next Battle of the Bamboo in hopes that we as a collective in MAFA can challenge ourselves in growing our community that is truly under one sky.

Christian Paneda is one of the co-presidents of the Filipino American Student Association (FASA) at the University of Michigan for the 2017-2018 school year. Outside of that, he is a MAFA president intern. He is also an EPYC ambassador for the National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA) for region 3-E. Christian is very passionate about civic engagement, advocacy, and building leadership in the Filipinx American community. You can email him at to discuss culture, politics, or who you thought was best dressed at the latest mainstream award show.

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