Filipino-American artists aim to put their stamp on New York’s cultural landscape with “Tagalogue,” a presentation of original theater pieces about the experiences of Filipino immigrants and their U.S.-born children as they straddle both worlds.
Chauncey Velasco Andre Ignacio Dimapilis, director of this year’s Tagalogue show, “Within Us: A Tribute to Our Ancestors,” with Precious Sipin, who is the assistant director, producer and one of the performers in the show.
Performances will be tonight and on Oct. 25 at the Director’s Studio in Manhattan and this Saturday at the Alchemical Theatre.
Leslie Ferrer Espinosa conceived the idea for Tagalogue following her first trip to the Philippines in 2011, when she volunteered to teach art and dance to students in rural areas and also met some family members for the first time. The experience “changed me and deepened my desire to learn more about the motherland,” says the 32-year-old Espinosa, who was born and raised in San Diego. Her students peppered her with questions about life in America. Back home in New York, people wanted to know about her experience in the Philippines.
“So I thought how awesome would it be to start a conversation,” she says via email. “When I started thinking about how to tie these stories and conversations together, I figured these are monologues for theatre pieces, this is a dialogue between people.” She decided to create a movement that would help empower and unite Filipinos in both countries and, in a play on words, called it Tagalogue–Tagalog, the official language of the Philippines, combined with dialogue.
After a test run, the group had its first official performance in October 2012 (in conjunction with Philippine American History month), centered on the theme of identity. The sold-out shows and positive response proved that such a platform was needed for Filipino-Americans to write and share their experiences and document their history.
When Espinosa left New York earlier this year to become a teaching fellow for the inaugural class of Teach for the Philippines, she asked group members Andre Ignacio Dimapilis, this year’s director, and Precious Sipin, assistant director and producer, to continue the work.
Dimapilis says he chose this year’s theme, “Within Us: A Tribute to Our Ancestors,” because “I feel like Filipino-Americans don’t know much about their ancestry, so this is a great opportunity to give back to our ancestors and to the Filipino community as far as letting Filipino-Americans have the knowledge of what our ancestors mean to us.”
Sipin says the show will include pieces about “walking in two different worlds, national heroes in the Philippines, what we carry in our bodies and in ourselves, and what our ancestors have passed on to us.”
The 38-year-old Dimapilis, an educator and activist who was born in Florida and moved to New York five years ago, says his goal is “to solidify and create a Filipino artist community.”
For Sipin, a 23-year-old actress who was born in the Philippines and moved to New York with her family when she was 5, “What was really important to us this time around was not only showcasing Filipino-American artists but also continuing to create that dialogue in the community.”
Tagalogue as a movement provides a way to find a common thread in the Filipino diaspora. “I used to be one of those Filipinos that felt so disconnected from my community and I just wasn’t interested,” says Sipin, who has been involved with Tagalogue since its inception and is also among the performers in the show. Reading a novel by Philippine hero Jose Rizal inspired her to get involved. “It’s my hope that Tagalogue reaches those who I used to be,” the ones who didn’t think they had things in common with other Filipino-Americans, she says. She hopes the group will be the bridge that inspires others to think, “Hey, you guys are like me …maybe I should be more involved.”
The organizers hope the monologues and dialogues become an archive that future generations of Filipino-Americans will turn to who want to learn about their history.
Says Espinosa, “It was not until I started learning Philippine folk dance where I questioned what the Philippines was about. Why were there so many many different cultural influences? What is the history and story behind each dance? I didn’t understand or speak Tagalog so I felt there was even more to learn.”