MILAN + LORENZO
This is the first of a series of projects focusing on the Asian North American experience. More specifically the Filipino one. I don’t want to tell any special or particular story. I want to document the life us filipinos that are living & growing outside of the Philippines. How we are forming new identities of Filipino culture and what is associated with it. I want to show that these same stories that have been told with white faces are stories of brown faces too. My goal for these projects are to show that the country you’re from and it's traditions doesn’t necessarily have to correlate to who you are and who you have to be. Rather that who we choose to be only expands the idea of what's possible for a person who is from where we are from can be. However distant or close we are to the roots of our DNA. It neither makes you more, or less than.
A friend of mine asked me years ago, "what does being filipino mean to you?". I've never really asked myself that question. I've never had a second thought about who I was or where I'm from. It was pretty straight forward to me. I'm Filipino. I didn't really think there was anything deeper than that. I am proud of being Filipino and I'm proud of where I am from and I wouldn't trade this life for anything else. After talking with more friends and their thoughts of being Filipino, I realized that not many of my friends shared the same sentiments or experiences as me. Some even had negative thoughts about who they were. I started to think about this more which led me to do the thing that every person learning about their heritage does. Booked a trip back home. I thought that maybe this might give me more insight about who I am and where I'm from. Although I had visited the Philippines many times before I thought it would be different if I had went alone. So off I went.
I had a great trip but I wasn't sure I had gotten what I came there for. When I got back to Canada I had more conversations with friends and asked myself more questions and came to this thought. A thought that I am settling on for now.
I feel like Filipinos outside of the Philippines have always tried to equate their connection to their heritage with how much they know from the motherland. Do we speak the language. Do we understand it. Do we eat the food. Do we cook the food. Have we been back home before. If so, where are we from. Do we know traditions, garments, folk tales etc. It's this checklist of things in our mind that equals the amount of Filipino points we have in the game of "how Filipino are you?". This way of thinking has affected kids abroad on their own identity and worth. Often times we feel guilt, embarrassment and sometimes we completely abandon the thought of our identity because we don't feel any sort of connection at all. This way of thinking comes out in our attempts to reconcile with these feelings. Specifically when I see it in art. DJ's trying to remix old school Filipino songs, Fashion Designers trying to reference traditional garments and Photographers trying to tell stories of people who mainly have had negative experiences with their identity. I am not saying these are invalid. I'm not saying not to explore the history of our country and it's traditions. I am saying that we are trying to connect to these things that aren't really who we are. The people who we've become and who we are becoming. The imaginary checklist is just imaginary and doesn't define who are as a Filipino.
When we're kids. We don't know who we are. We don't really know who we want to be. Besides the things we see and the people around us. Whether that's our parents or our friends. Most of us just want to fit in so we try to be like our friends. For us kids growing up outside of the Philippines, our friends don't always end being Filipino. Some of us might be the only Filipinos in town. So we become a melting pot of all these different people and places. We adopt mannerisms, language, interests from the environment we grow up in. I don't think these things we take interest in, the people we become because of the environment we live in, should be something that we exclude from our cultural identity. It shouldn't make us feel farther away from our heritage but should be something that pulls it forward. Who are we to say that the girl living in rural Indiana is less Filipino because she loves country music and horse-back riding. Who am I to say that I am more Filipino than her. Who's to say the Filipino living in Italy dreaming of being a pasta chef is less Filipino because they don't want to cook Filipino food. Whatever it is that you do, claim it as something that someone that looks like you does.
Growing up I never saw someone who looks like me do the things I wanted to do. Like the things I liked. I didn't see Filipinos in the NBA. I didn't know any Filipinos leading fashion houses, singing in stadiums and photographing magazine covers. All of these things I see today. There is more to those things in life for sure. Just as much as I wanted to see a familiar face in these industries, I'm sure other Filipino people want to see them in science, in politics, in activism and everywhere else.
I don't want to tell any special or particular story. I just want to tell real ones. I want to tell the same stories that have been told over and over again with white faces but instead with people that look like me. Because who is to say that a movie like "Superbad" is only a story about 4 white boys. Those experiences were my experiences too in high school. It was a Filipino boy story, a Chinese boy story, an Indian boy story etc. If my stories call for a little sprinkling of my culture then we can do it. But if it doesn't need it then we don't have to find ways to include it. Just look at my face, just look at the faces in the photos and the videos. That should be more than enough. The way I want to connect with people and Filipino people through stories like this one is not with snacks, garments, traditions and trauma but through the feelings and experiences that all people go through. Happiness, Love, Sorrow, Redemption etc.
I just want to let Filipino people who are living an growing outside of the Philippines that whatever they do, whatever they like, whatever they feel is not outside the of who they are culturally but is a growing piece of who we are and what we will be.
In addition to this project, I wanted to make this a physical experience. I felt like in order for people to really understand my true intention in creating this work I had to use my voice. I sent out an open invite over social media to anyone who wanted to view this at my studio. Many came out and I'm thankful for this experience and to all those who supported. To see the behind the scenes experiences and more in depth information about the process, production and presentation, click HERE
Thank you to all those involved in this project:
MIlan + Lorenzo
Music by: Brian Vo