I’m Rozlind and I’m 21 years old. I just finished undergrad at UCSB with a Bachelor of Arts in Comparative Literature and Education. Right now I am dabbling in the education field as an after-school instructor and private tutor. My future goal is to get my Master’s in School Counseling for either K-12 or community college. I’ve been doing spoken word since I was 14 or 15, but I’ve been writing poetry since I was 10. My pronouns are she/her.
I have actually been trying to find the answers to this question about my family’s immigration story, but I didn’t start until my late teens and early 20s. On my father’s side, my great-grandmother, who was a dentist or a schoolteacher depending on who you ask, was the one who came here first and brought the rest of my father’s side of the family here. As for my mother’s side of the family, I had always thought that my mom was the first one to immigrate here, but it turns out that it was actually her grandfather, a WWII veteran, who came here first and settled in Northern California. I also found out that my mom was once an overseas worker in Japan when she was younger, with an entire life in Japan where she had a career and even a fiancé. But then because of societal pressure and family pressure, my mom dropped everything and was able to petition to move to the States since her grandfather was a veteran. Then my parents met in East L.A. I do still have relatives in the Philippines, with most of my dad’s side still based in Manila and some of my mom’s family in the Pampanga area, but both of their immediate families are here in the States in SoCal.
Finding out about all these bits and pieces has been really fascinating because I thought I had had a very clear idea of my family history, but then I discovered things like my great-grandfather’s roots in NorCal, my mom’s time in Japan, all the internal migration on my mom’s side of the family: Zamboanga to Iloilo to Pampanga to Manila, and then to the United States.
I was born in East L.A. and spent my formative years being babysat in East L.A., but by the time I started school, my family had moved to West Covina where there is a very big Filipinx-American (Fil-Am) population. What is really interesting about East L.A. is that there is this big mix of cultures, which I reference in my poem: “I am from East Los Angeles trilingual confusion.” I was thinking about my aunts who speak fluent Tagalog and fluent Spanish because their mom married someone who is Mexican, and they also speak fluent English because they are born and raised here in the States.
Another thing a lot of people don’t talk about is how these cultures get mixed when you factor in gangs. I had relatives who were involved in gangs and some who were in and out of jail. This is a dark topic to discuss, but it’s actually an interesting lens to view the relationships between different cultures, whether in animosity or in solidarity.
When it comes to Fil-Am role models, I remember when the artist Bambu released his newer album/project Exrcising a Demon. In his music he talks about the relationship between different ethnic groups and gangs, where despite how it was a violent and hyper-masculine culture, it somehow also brought people together under a system that was out to get to them. Lately I’ve been listening to Klassy, Ruby Ibarra, and Rocky Rivera. I really love this wave of Fil-Am artists who are not only talking about Pilipino culture and history and bringing them into their art, but also bringing in critical perspectives of politics, and how we can go beyond just “We are Filipino” and “We eat Filipino food,” to how do we engage with other people? How do we build solidarity; how do we fight for our community so that we all reach victory?
Growing up in West Covina, my high school actually had a Tagalog class, which a lot of high schools don’t get to boast about, though it was only offered as a 2-year program. However, I was never able to take it because my counselor at the time told me that many of the UC schools would not be impressed if I took Tagalog, and that it would not look prestigious enough on my transcript compared to four years of French or four years of Spanish. But I did join the Tinikling (traditional Filipino folk dance) team at my high school, and continued performing in my college years as well.
In terms of the moments when I was ashamed, there were a lot of Fil-Ams where I grew up in SoCal, but at the time, people were not good at distinguishing them from other Asians. I remember when I was little, my classmates would do things like conflate Chinese with Filipino or use racial slurs. I remember how there were kids who would say, ‘Oh Chinese rhymes with slimese so we’re just going to call you Slimese from now on.” They would look at my lunches and ask, “Are you eating dog?” There was definitely a lot of Othering going on.
However, I became really proud of my culture in high school. I think a lot of it has to do with how I was writing poetry at the time. The first time I performed Maputing Babae, I had someone come up to me and say, “No one is doing this. No one talks about this. No one is bringing this up. And you did it so beautifully and the fact that you sang ‘Reflection’ in Tagalog just had me feel all sorts of things.” And that was the poem that I didn’t feel at the time was enough, that it was barely scratching the surface of all the things I wanted to talk about. But performing it, getting scored, and hearing the feedback, and that first step of creating a conversation and putting myself and my story out there — I realized that it was enough. I remember my coach telling me how I was one of the few Filipinos in the competition and she hadn't heard many talk about what it means to be Filipino or what it is like growing up Filipino American. I think part of it is when Fil-Am poets did speak up before, we wouldn't really get recordings of it and perhaps there wasn't as much as an audience for Pilipino/Fil-Am content like there seems to be now.
Kapatirang Pilipino (KP) is the first organization I got involved in. We just actually celebrated the 40th anniversary of the organization, and it was so exciting because we had a lot of alumni come back to talk about their experiences and remind us of KP’s foundations and tradition of finding community while finding identity. KP and the other organizations I am part of, like Anakbayan, have taught me so much about history, something I was actually really disconnected from. I learned about everything from the roots of Spanish colonization to the colonial hangover that still exists in present-day Philippines, gaining an understanding of what has happened and the forces that led to the diaspora. In terms of diasporic identity, I think I grew up with this doubt that I wasn’t Filipina enough, mostly because I am part Irish and also so Americanized, both often used as a way to Otherize me at times. It didn’t help that I didn’t really speak Tagalog, and that I was ashamed of even trying.
What I am starting to figure out is that a common part of the diasporic experience is that when you are so far away from the Philippines, you’re always going to have a sense of attachment, a yearning for connection. And being part of a diaspora, there is a lot of experimenting, whether it is taking a Tagalog class, joining a Fil-Am organization, trying dinuguan for the first time, learning cultural dances, etc. Maybe it’s not quite advancing justice for the Pilipino/Fil-Am community, but it’s a first step in this journey of trying to figure out who you are and how you can benefit your community. I want to express though, once this step is taken and realized, when we embrace ourselves and our community, then we can come together in the struggle for our people and community here in the U.S., the Philippines, and those of us around the world.
There are a lot of studies about how when you Otherize yourself and being culturally different can have negative effects on your self-esteem. For me, these past few years have been about unlearning all this and understanding how being closer to my Filipina identity can actually help boost my self-esteem, my self-love, my patience with myself, and to stop discounting who I am. Everyone will have an opinion about what the “right way” is to be Filipino, but we’re so far away from the homeland; we have to realize that the diasporic experience is one that is complicated and messy and unique, and these community organizations are great because they give folks the space to experiment, to challenge who gets to decide whether you are Filipino enough.
The name actually means “as the tikling bird” and it originates from the Visayas in Leyte. The dance mimics these birds escaping from bamboo traps set by farmers who are upset that the birds have damaged their crops. The dance includes people clapping long bamboo sticks in specific patterns as dancers jump and dance in and out to avoid being caught by the sticks.
I started doing Tinikling in high school, but back then it was about 30 seconds of Tinikling followed by hip hop the rest of the way — another example of that experimentation and fusion. I joined the UCSB Tinikling team in my second year, and here it was different because each performance was entirely just Tinikling. We even handmade our own costumes, and because the team was part of an organization that emphasized educating and connecting us to Filipino history and culture, I was able to gain a much deeper understanding and appreciation of Tinikling.
In my third and last year at UCSB, I became the co-coordinator of the Tinikling team, and the other co-coordinator was actually Vietnamese — it was so amazing to see how this group could bring in other Asian Americans and other allies to support our efforts to share our culture more broadly. Pilipino Cultural Night (PCN) is a student-written, student-choreographed, student-planned production and so we are not attached to any big industry that gets to call the shots. Every year, the PCN coordinator(s) works with the students to put together this whole production, and I loved being a part of this team, being able to share my love for my Filipino culture and my own identity journey, and having the opportunity to push the boundaries of creativity in our Tinikling community. Being the co-coordinator was an incredibly difficult challenge for me because I had never done Tinikling choreography before, but nowadays there are many more online Tinikling resources available, which allows us to build this online community and also connect people globally. There are also more variations of Tinikling now, such as folks now singing while performing Tinikling, and I’ve seen more and more professional Tinikling troupes.
I chose Singapore because it was the only Southeast Asian country my school had a Study Abroad program in for a full semester, and because much of Singapore’s education system is conducted in English. While I was in the Asian American Studies department at UCSB, I thought a lot about how for the most part, the field as a whole is bound to focus on Asian-Americans, which leaves room to marginalize Southeast Asian and South Asian perspectives and experiences. And at the National University of Singapore (N.U.S.) they had a huge Southeast Asian Studies program and I took all of my classes from that department. I gained a much more nuanced understanding of what it meant to be part of a diaspora and the politics and social justice issues that shape these migration flows. I learned that these Southeast Asian countries have their own issues and controversies that they were dealing with, things I had never known about. I also finally had the opportunity to take a Philippines History class and since I was in Southeast Asia, had access to so many resources.
Another big reason why I chose to study in Singapore was its proximity to the Philippines. I am currently writing a 30-page thesis on Filipina poetry and so I was able to find a way to make a research trip to the Philippines where I had the chance to talk to and interview different professors at the University of the Philippines. We talked about what it was like to be a Filipina writing poetry, their experiences with representation in the Philippine literary institution, the nuances of Filipino poetry, Filipina poets.
I also met with a really cool Filipino poetry group, Kamandag (@kamandagph on Instagram!) who does workshops with indigenous communities. The workshops guide these communities in writing their own poetry and demonstrate how poetry can not only be used as a tool for expression but also for social change and advocacy. Indigenous communities in the Philippines go through so much, from massacres to bombings, which is why having this venue and tool to educate others about their plight is so important. It’s also interesting because many elite poets in the Philippines don’t see value in indigenous poetry or consider it the same as a published written work. They argue that it’s not accessible because it’s not in the “right” language and that the indigenous poets are not educated, but these advocates argue that these communities are already poetic, that their language is rife with metaphors and figurative language, that they are natural storytellers. Language, therefore, isn’t the only issue, but who gets to decide what is poetry, who is a poet, and whose voice matters — this also matters. I don’t think people realize that poetry is in our blood because we are communal people who have an epic oral history. We also don’t talk enough about that colonial hangover, how colonizers came in and began dictating the rules and standards for everything — not just things like our government and education system, but even our poetry.
The first time I performed this piece was at that 2015 BNV Qualifiers. I wrote it for Sunday Jump, a Fil-Am-dedicated open mic space in Historic Filipinotown that is part of the Festival of Philippine Arts and Culture (FPAC). At the time, I didn’t have any pieces that were about being Filipina, and it was actually my coach who pushed me to write about this topic and to incorporate singing, which is supposedly a huge part of Pilipino/Fil-Am culture. We had originally tried classic Tagalog love songs that my mom used to sing to me, but none of them seemed to really fit with my piece. My coach then suggested that I try a song I already knew, which is how we landed on “Reflection,” a song that resonates with so many Asian Americans. Even though the song is part of Mulan, a film about a Chinese warrior, “Reflection” is actually sung by Lea Salonga, a Filipina singer. I don’t speak Tagalog so I had to look up different translations and splice together my own version.
The writing process was very smooth, where everything just kind of spilled out. The poem is about the different stages of coming to understand what it means to be Fil-Am, something I strongly identified with. It actually began as a free write because I didn’t know where to start, but I tapped into all the things that I knew made me Filipina: growing up in East L.A. where Spanish and Tagalog flowed together, the dishes that shaped my childhood, the histories of my grandparents. Then I weaved in the experiences that make me Fil-Am: eating chicken nuggets with rice and soy sauce, the hip-hop aspects we tied into our Tinikling performances. Some of these things might be contradictory to some people, but this hodgepodge is representative of my diasporic experience. It's messy and incredibly personal, but everyone's is and will be.
I actually wrote this poem back in high school, but it was not until one winter break during college, when some of my high school friends and I got together, that the idea for collaboration on a spoken word video came about. Our main team consisted of Aser Santos, a Filipino videographer, Dianne Roquia, another Filipina digital creative who helped so much with editing, and our mutual friend Serena (Filipina) who did a lot of the photography. Some of our ideas about what we wanted this video to look like were inspired by my love for Asian American musician Amber Liu and her music video for “Beautiful,” which has all these old pictures of her in the background. We actually created our entire set in Aser’s living room: I printed out all those personal pictures, we went around and collected props that we felt would match the shoot’s aesthetic, and in Serena’s behind-the-scenes photos, there are shots of me and my friend Alissa taping the pictures I printed out onto the wall, Aser lying on the ground to get those cool angles for the B-roll footage, me recording the audio on an Apple earphone mic. Aser was able to take our very budget-friendly set and limited time frame (we filmed the entire thing in a day) and create something that looks so incredibly professional, and I can’t thank him enough or recommend him enough: go check out @asersantosjr on Instagram! Also, it was so cool to have a predominantly Fil-Am team working on this project because it gave this added layer of significance. I know it’s a touchy issue, but we can be creatives! We can make it out here.
Alongside Anakbayan and KP, there are a plethora of college youth organizations and alliances throughout CA dedicated to Pilipino/Filipinx-American culture. Locally, there is a new group in Fullerton called Bayanihan Kollective where students can have critical discussions and learn about Pilipino history and ways to analyze and understand it. They also send students and folks to conduct medical missions in the Philippines, meet with Philippine activists, etc. If anyone is in the area, you should definitely check them out, and catch me there.
There also is K-mB (Kabataan maka-Bayan)/Pro-People Youth, an organization that does lots of work centered in LA in Historic Filipinotown and a lot of community organizing with and for students. They also have a hand in supporting Sunday Jump, the only Filipino-led open mic in the area.
As I mentioned before, I was denied really the opportunity to learn about Pilipino culture in the education system. Whole history textbooks would leave out any history on Asian Activism, let alone Filipinx-Americans. It wasn't until UCSB that I was able to take Asian-American Studies classes on Gender, Sexuality, Community, Resistance and my Southeast Asian Studies courses at N.U.S. that any solid lessons about our culture or history was able to be taught.
I would definitely recommend Brown Skin, White Minds by EJR David. I feel like it's such an eye-opener discussing our violent colonial past and how we may have internalized it in a way that affects our self-image and self-consciousness.
Because of my thesis though, I'm obviously attached to more representation of powerful Filipinx-American womxn when discussing our history so books like Pinay Power; Babaylan: An Anthology of Filipina and Filipina-American Writers; America is Not the Heart, which I haven't read it yet but it's by a Filipina author named Elaine Castillo and it pays homage to the Filipinx community in the Bay, and there are also apparently some Queer elements in the plot as well -- This. Is. Everything.
Lastly, in my undergrad, I've read so many compelling studies by Dr. Rhacel Salazar Parrenas. She writes so passionately about globalization, Filipina domestic workers around the world, and the power dynamic between countries. I'd definitely include any book or article by her.