I have enjoyed learning Laga from my Master Teacher, Jenny Bawer Young. One of the things I’ve enjoyed most is our developing friendship and the passion we share for weaving. We are preparing for one last demonstration at Manilatown Heritage Foundation and I am humbled to bring laga to the former site of the I-Hotel, with its rich history and the legacy of the Manongs, like my grandparents, who immigrated to the United States in the earyl 1900s. It feels like a homecoming to me, brought to the I-Hotel by my father as a teen, Rudy Caluza Calica, to meet his friend Manong Al Robles, and to observe how my father’s deep respect and admiration of “Our Father of Filipino American Poetry of San Francisco,” devoted his life to the elderly Filipinos of Manilatown. I was inspired to write poetry and make art by the Kearny Street Workshop artists, muralists and photographers. I have always been more involved in community arts, rather than walk the road of a fine artist. It’s really true that what we know runs in our blood, exists already in our DNA, and comes to us through dreams and visions from our ancestors and forces unseen in the Western World which attempts to erase us. After viewing my paintings, my painting teacher observed the colors I used and asked me about my heritage. She commented afterwards that she thought I was a Filipino because another Filipino student of hers used similary vivid and bright colors. Colorful paint covers our colorful heritage.
It is an honor to have this opportunity to weave at the former site of the I-Hotel, as the land there is sacred ground. It’s a site where many of our community members struggled to bring the building to code, to fight for affordable housing, to embrace the beloved I-Hotel in a protective hug as they held off the SFPD before the elderly were forcibly evicted. It’s a great homage to our elders that Jenny and I bring Laga and Christian Cabuay brings Baybayin (ancient script), to Manilatown Heritage Foundation, precolonial arts that reach back into our past and spring us into our future. Embracing the traditions of our people moves the generations that follow forward in a way that honors our ancestors, honors our memories as a people and honors our connection with the Earth. At an ACTA seminar we talked of how traditional art heal us and heal our community. I am so honored to be a part of this healing. I am so humbled by the company I walk with, my good friend and Master Teacher, Jenny Bawer Young.
If I am successful in uploading, I hope to upload video in my next post, which takes us back to the beginning of the ACTA Master/Apprenticeship I’ve had with Jenny Bawer Young. I chose this video because a part of it includes the Kalinga language lesson I am receiving from her. Being a “Fil-Am” (born in U.S.) Pin@y, one thing immigrants always commented on was my lack of knowledge of “Pilipino” (Tagalog). Being Ilocano & Pangasinan, my exposure to Tagalog was non-existent until college. I grew up hearing my grandparents speak Ilocano & Pangasinan, and Tagalog was foreign to me. I had a brief lesson in Tagalog before I first went to the Philippines, but it was funny because that particular visit was mostly to Mindanao, where people speak their tribal or Bangsamoro languages and then Visayan (the lengua franca of the Southern Philippines)…so I had to quickly pick up terms in Visaya, which helped a bit, but it ended up that I always needed translations anyways when meeting tribal or Bangsamoro people. There is one Tagalog word I love ~ Mabuhay ~ not only because the Manongs used it constantly, but because Apo Reyna, a Primary Babaylan, advised me not to use the Tagalog word for thank you, as it’s root meant “to cut.” In Tagalog, the root buhay means life.
When I visited Jenny’s family, her father, Manong Cirilio “Sapi” Bawer and I had a long discussion about the need for the Kalinga people to have bilingual education in the schools so that the children would not lose their mother tongue of Kalinga to Tagalog & Ilocano (the lengua franca of the Northern Philippines). In my discussions today during a brunch held for Latino volunteers for AARP, we discussed the importance of knowing more than one language, how “ENGLISH ONLY” policies were hard to bear for immigrating children in the schools…we discussed the beauty of being multilingual, with one young man sharing his being trilingual. The video shows the struggle I have with language learning, but it also demonstrates the importance of the words I am learning… come to think of it, as I write I am not even sure what the ENGLISH word for sakyotan or ipitan is… I post this video because language is our identity. Language holds our past and denial of our language attempts to wipe us out as a people. Just as many of the first nations of the Americas are working to teach the young their original mother tongue, I post this video to encourage young Kalingas to be proud of their heritage and language.
Being a third generation Fil-Am, I know the pain of losing one’s mother tongue. My grandparents’ generation is gone and many of my parents’ generation are leaving, so I do not hear the wonderful “sing-song” like melodies of Pangasinan anymore or my other grandmother’s voice calling her husband lovingly, “Lakay.” My knowing Tagalog is helpful, but my learning Ilocano or Pangasinan, even Kalinga because they are located closer to my homeland than Manila, brings a source of pride and inner healing. I encourage our folks back home to speak their original languages to their children and make sure that it is taught in the schools as well. Learning English is helpful in the modern world, but it takes us away from our heritage, our richness, what makes each humans uniquely different and beautiful wherever they are in this world. Words belong to places and that is the difficulty in being in a diaspora.
Today, ENGLISH as an international language has its benefits, but the methods of acquiring it shouldn’t erase the language, culture, heritage and history that we each carry. The use of ENGLISH and other “official” languages help us communicate across borders, but these languages are used to create real borders, as it does through local, state, national and international law by restricting people from crossing borders, whether over land or sea. We should be like the birds, who fly when the seasons change. Languages should be the same. If our words are free, we too are free. Our traditions continue with the words and songs needed to continue properly.
As Jenny & I weave, I am able to learn new things about the Kalinga people and their language. With this post, she is able to show her pride in being Kalinga and teaching not only weaving, but sharing vocabulary from her language that is bound in the weavings we do. Now that my tapis is almost completed, I have only one thing I can say about my Master/Apprenticeship experience with the Alliance for California Traditional Arts ~ napintas = marakep = maganda = linda = beautiful ~ & continue my language lesson ~ ok Jenny, how do you say that in Kalinga?