By Giovanna Vicini
With vibrant cultural dances, powerful vocal numbers, and heart-wrenching dramatic performances, Kapatirang Pilipino’s 28th annual Pilipino Cultural Night lived up to its reputation as UCSB’s largest student-run event earlier this month at Campbell Hall.
Pilipino Cultural Night (PCN) is the ambitious year-long project organized by students in Kapatirang Pilipino (KP), an organization which fosters a close-knit network of Filipinx-American students at UCSB to promote social, cultural, political, and academic ties within the community. The Filipinx student group just celebrated its 40th anniversary on the UCSB campus and serves as the powerhouse behind nearly three decades of Pilipino Cultural Nights.
The 2019 program, which showcased over 100 student performers in front of 800 guests, featured a two-act dramatic play intertwined with dance, spoken word, music, and vocal performances. The show featured the Romero family, consisting of siblings Gemma and Rex, their parents Marie and Alonzo, and family patriarch Lolo Ronaldo, all living under one roof.
When Marie experiences complications with her pregnancy, a family that had once been excited about growing faces an unexpected tragedy and begins to unravel at the seams. In order to mend their family ties, the Romeros must confront their own personal problems and afflictions.
“This year, specifically, we have chosen to destigmatize issues surrounding mental health within Filipinx-American households,” wrote Kapatirang Pilipino Co-Chair Angela Calaguas in the event’s program. Event Coordinator Christiana Boado issued a trigger warning before the show began, warning that the play explored a variety of sensitive topics including mental illness, alcoholism, and self-harm.
Dana Dela Cruz, the fellow KP co-chair, wrote in her program notes that these themes reflect larger discussions that students in the Filipinx community at UCSB have been having. “By covering mental health for our biggest event of the year, we’re making it clear that this issue is extremely important to us,” Dela Cruz wrote. “We hope that this conversation, no matter how difficult, continues off the stage.”
Nine dance performances were staged in between scenes of the play and ranged from traditional Filipinx styles to modern hip-hop choreography. Cultural dances showcased different aspects of Filipinx culture with traditional costumes, live musical accompaniment, and eye-catching props used throughout the pieces. Takiling, a dance hailing from the Kalinga group, featured dancers adorned with spears and beaded accessories that paid homage to historical warrior culture. Other dances, such as La Estudiantina, featured Spanish-style music and demonstrated the lasting influence of Spanish colonization over the cultural practices of the Philippines that has lasted to this day.
Vocal performances in English and Tagalog featured full choirs, spoken word poets, and striking soloists whose voices carried throughout the packed Campbell Hall house. Ashley de Leon, a third-year Film & Media Studies major who was a promotion coordinator, scriptwriter, and vocalist in the show, believes performances are the perfect way to showcase Filipinx culture while educating both audiences and participants on the rich history of the Filipinx community.
“I learn about different indigenous cultures, and the dances that originate there and what inspired those performances,” de Leon said. “I learn about the hardships of the Filipinx people and become aware of matters in the past and present.”
The well-attended event provides an outlet for creativity that keeps students coming back to participate year after year. “Being in PCN for the last four years has been an incredibly fulfilling experience,” said fourth-year Communication major Pamela Santos.
After serving as a scriptwriter for the 27th annual event, Santos returned during her final year at UCSB as its graphics coordinator and a performer in a number of dance pieces. “It gives me a feeling that nothing else can compare because it is so beautiful to be representing the diverse culture of my country: from dances, to singing, and more.”
As the Pilipino Cultural Night tradition approaches its 30th anniversary at UCSB, the show has become an integral part of the Filipinx-American experience for Gauchos. According to the 2018-2019 UCSB Campus Profile, only 3% of UCSB students identify as Filipinx. The annual event allows these students to share a cultural celebration within their community on campus and with the world at large. De Leon says Cultural Night has had a significant impact on her own self-concept as a Filipinx-American. “I grew up in neighborhoods where there was a small or non-existent Filipinx community and my culture was often erased with others in the mix. In this show I learn that I do in fact belong to the Asian American community. And I am proud of being Filipinx.”
Giovanna Vicini is a fourth-year Film & Media Studies and Communication double major graduating in June.