Here's something I will willingly admit: I believe that I am generally a very lucky person. I'm not necessarily exceptional at winning raffles, nor do I have some insane power to always win a coin-toss. What I mean is that I think that life has been rather fortunate to me. I'd like to believe that one makes his or her own fortune, but I've learned sometimes it's not the truth. Regardless, I say this not because I'm trying to flaunt, but because I'm always grateful.
So why am I saying this? I'm very happy - actually, ecstatic - to say that I have been rewarded an Oberlin Shansi In-Asia Study Grant for this coming Winter Term! I hope that my words come off as graciously as I want them to, because really - I am so thankful for such an unbelievable opportunity.
Oberlin Shansi awards 5 students $1,500 every year to fund activities in Central, East, Southeast, or South Asia for either Winter Term or summer. These grants can be used for language study, for internships or non-profit work, or just about any individual project you can think of. Within the 90 days after returning, I'll be expected to share my experiences through an exhibition, paper, or performance, and I'm sure that I'll be blogging a lot of my thoughts along the way.
Just so I don't leave you guys hanging, I'm sharing my project proposal.
In my career as an Oberlin silk screener, I have designed and printed dozens of posters for a variety of clubs, groups, and organizations, from the OC Circus to the American Cancer Society. In my interactions and discussions with these diverse groups, one theme always seems to emerge: the importance of identity. I take a considerable amount of care in creating posters that are not just aesthetically pleasing, but also representative of the personality or ethos of the organization. For instance, a poster for my fun-loving friends in the Oberlin Student Cooperative Association prominently featured a spotted unicorn in heels next to a hilariously overgrown carrot. By contrast, a poster for crude, rude, and lewd hip-hop duo Das Racist depicted a large, triple-decker hamburger with oozing, space-green ketchup. The process of engaging in dialogue with students and groups around campus to discover their inspirations is one of the many reasons I enjoy poster making.
While I spend a considerable amount of time dissecting the character of student organizations at Oberlin, I have only recently begun to explore my own cultural identity. Though both my parents were born in the Philippines, my connection to its history and heritage is regrettably weak. I have never visited, nor can I speak a lick of the national language, Tagalog.
Until recently, this disconnection never bothered me. For most of my life, I wanted to claim a nationality other than Filipino. It's not that I was embarrassed of my heritage; I was disappointed by it. Throughout high school I envied the camaraderie of my Korean-American friends, who always sported their "Be the Reds!" Korean pride shirts every time the World Cup or Olympics came around. I was disappointed by the failure of Filipino cuisine to catch on in America, especially given the abundance and popularity of Japanese, Chinese, and Thai restaurants. I always wished for a different nose; one more pronounced and more defined than my rounded, flattened, admittedly Filipino nose. And when I learned of the horrible and widely practiced phenomenon of skin-whitening in the Philippines, I thought to myself, how can I be proud of a people who want to be something else themselves?
My Oberlin experience has drastically changed my perception. In what seems to be a reversal of worlds, I now find myself chair of Oberlin's Filipino American Student Association (FASA) and an active member in the Asian-American Alliance (AAA). Not only am I accepting my Filipino American identity, I am looking to share my experiences and spread awareness. How exactly did this change happen? I do not have a simple answer because, truthfully, there isn't one. But since arriving on this campus, I have been motivated -- by peers, professors, and an atmosphere of self-questioning -- to look inward and see myself in a larger context that stretches back generations.
If awarded a Shansi In-Asia Study Grant, I would spend my Winter Term with my mother and her side of the family in the Philippines. This would be my first trip to the Motherland, and my first travel outside of North America. Not only would I be able to meet relatives whom I've only known through photo albums; I would also learn more Tagalog and gain a stronger, more personal connection to the customs and culture of the Philippines.
After photographing and blogging my experiences, I would like to conclude my trip with a series of silkscreened prints exploring my own identity. For once, I will be examining myself - not some event, organization, band, or concert - and I look to illustrate a part of me that I am proud and willing to display. In many ways, my love of silkscreening mirrors my self-exploration of heritage at Oberlin. My interest in art, like my relationship with my Filipino ancestry, has played a much smaller role in my life than it does now. Since my arrival at Oberlin, I have begun to fully embrace both, and I hope my Winter Term can combine these newfound passions. I have spent the first seventeen years of my life downplaying if not downright resenting my Filipino heritage. This Winter Term, I'd like to start making up for lost ground.
I've got a ton of emotions running through my head right now. I'm nervous. I've never been out of the country (besides Canada, but who's counting?) and I can't speak any Tagalog. I'll be meeting tons of relatives who I've probably never even heard of. I have to present the project to the Oberlin and Shansi community at some point, meaning this shit has to be good. And I'm going to be coming face-to-face with a part of myself that I've kept tucked away for a long time. The more I think about these things, the scarier and scarier it gets.
And at the same time, I've never felt more ready. I can't wait. I'm brimming with delight.
Also, the weather's going to be fantastic. That, I am more than willing to flaunt.