“This Dome is an art project that combines Karen music, poetry, and video recording that examines the life of migrants and refugees during a lockdown period. We have incorporated spoken word and music to produce slices of life experienced by a family, community, and friends during the lockdown and amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
The idea of a safe dome, perhaps a house, in the Australian suburb is explored in this project. It is a unit that is both connected to the larger social phenomena, such as the health and economic crises brought by COVID-19. However, beyond being safe, secure, and immune from the deadly and infectious disease, a house can be a world, or a small planet, where relationships exist between familial and intimate connections. Perhaps, it can be the experience of a family and their connection to their outside world, their extended family, friends, neighbours, and community.”
This is the site for the ongoing development of “River Crossing: A Journey Through Online Storytelling….”
The ARTISTIC RATIONALE of this project is a development of “River Crossing,” an online memoir about the personal, cultural journey and struggles of Karen refugees through the CREATIVE PROCESS of digital storytelling using podcasts, recorded video narratives and music performances.
“River Crossing” is a creative development of an online memoir about the lives of Karen refugees in Australia through Eh Su’s personal journey. Amidst the COVID19 pandemic, the project will produce inspiring online narratives that represent local cultural experience with a global reach. These include a series of short stories produced as a podcast, a musical, or storytelling in a video format in English and Karen (or with subtitles in one of these languages). The artists believe that this is a necessary approach since its intended audience, the Karens, are more familiar with storytelling that combines music, dance, and oral tradition. Reagan is a scriptwriter, poet, researcher, and community development advocate in the Filipino and Karen groups. Eh Su is a musician, performer, translator, interpreter, and storyteller who experienced moving from his village in Myanmar to the refugee camp in Thailand and eventually here in Australia. The project will allow the two artists to develop their capabilities of producing digital storytelling that started from their initial video collaboration (see sample work) and previous creative and cultural engagements. Within a year of production, the two artists will train themselves in basic podcasting, online and video production to reconstruct the story of forced migration and refugee life. They will also conduct several recorded online conversations and interviews with Karen individuals in rural and metropolitan Victoria. From these conversations, they will produce working drafts: stories, vignettes, musical acts in podcasts, and online video formats. These stories will also be intertwined with the current situation and recovery efforts experienced by the Karen and migrant communities during this global pandemic. It will form a narrative arc about the journey of Eh Su and the Karen people from the dangerous rivers in the mountains of Burma to riverine areas of Melbourne, Australia, thus a form of River Crossing.
Eh Su’s Storytelling of the Karen’s Wrist-Tying Ceremony (in the Karen language)
This is EH SU, narrating and explaining the value of a Karen cultural tradition, the Wrist-Tying Ceremony, in his language. He also incorporates a musical performance about the said ceremony. (Credit to EH SU and his page, Learning & Sharing with KKB: https://www.facebook.com/Ehsumightdar)
Interview with Eh Su, (sample video/zoom cast)
This is a sample video/zoom recording of a conversation between Reagan and Eh Su. This serves a sample of digital storytelling to be developed in the “River Crossing” Project.
Filipinos are the fifth largest migrant group in Australia with around 236,000 residents. In 2017-2018, 10640 migrants came from the Philippines. Additionally, around thirteen thousand student visas from the Philippines were granted in 2018-2019, a significantly marked increase (108%) from the 2017-2018 program year. Historically, prior to Australia’s birth as a modern nation, this second largest archipelago in the world was already linked to the world’s largest island. During the late 1800s, Filipinos pearl divers, known as ‘Manila Men’ arrived in the island-continent and intermarried with Indigenous Australians. The Philippines has maintained diplomatic relationships with Australia for 70 years, longer than most of the ASEAN countries.
The Philippines has also become an important site for examining modern, democratic, and postcolonial states in Asia and beyond. Philippine Studies is the juncture between Area studies and the interdisciplinary investigation of Filipino culture, history, language, art, heritage, internal and global diaspora. Over the past decades, it has been relevant for examining not only the growth and challenges of the Philippines, but also how this country and its people are linked with the rest of the world, including Australia.
It is with this impetus that PINAS, the Philippine Studies Network in Australia, was conceived and formed in early 2017 by independent scholars and postgraduate research students of several Victorian universities. Inspired by Filipino migrant researchers who have made earlier engagement efforts in other diasporic sites like the United States and Europe, the group aims to contribute to and examine Filipino and Filipino-Australian community-formation within Australia. PINAS is a collective of scholars in the humanities and social sciences, particularly the interdisciplinary studies of culture, society, politics, and art known as Philippine Studies. PINAS welcomes scholars from all disciplines and focusses on topics, issues, and challenges faced by the Filipino community in both Australia and the Philippines. It aims to foster connection, dialogue, research and creative projects among academics, artists, activists, and the larger Filipino and Filipino-Australian public.
PINAS, in the last three years, has responded to the problems and issues faced by Filipinos through critical and creative engagement in both digital and live venues. It has also served as a study circle for research and coursework scholars who are working on research projects and papers on the Philippines. Many of them are research students at Monash University, The University of Melbourne, and La Trobe University in Melbourne. Melbourne-based scholars are part of the advisory team of this newly-emerging collective, including the author, Dr Reyvi Marinas who completed a research in Citizenship Studies and Law, Dr Walter Robles of Swinburne University, and Dr Gary Devilles, who completed his urban research project at La Trobe University and has now returned to teaching and research at Ateneo de Manila University.
In September 2017, PINAS together with postgraduate students from various Victorian universities initiated a roundtable dialogue at The University of Melbourne regarding the prospect of Philippine Studies in Australia. The following month, PINAS hosted a lecture-forum at Monash University by the prolific Filipino migrant scholar Robyn Rodriguez, Professor of Asian-American Studies at the University of California Davis, and founding head of the Bulosan Center for Filipino Studies. The title of his lecture was “Decolonizing Filipino Migration Research”.
In 2018, PINAS became a major academic partner of the yearly International Research Forum on the Philippines organised by the Filipino-Australian Student Council of Victoria. PINAS contributed to the development and curation of the conference’s theme Becoming Filipino. It was also involved in the development of a conference panel that interrogated the connections between community action and research, particularly regarding various Filipino community organisations in Victoria, like Migrante Melbourne, Gabriela Australia, Advanced League of Peoples’ Artists Incorporated, Philippine Australia Solidarity Association, and Anakbayan Melbourne.
Following the success of the conference, PINAS hosted another forum that examined the link between community issues and the formation of diasporic communities in Australia through critical reflections by visiting Filipino academics, including University of the Philippines Diliman (UPD) film and cultural studies professor Dr Rolando B. Tolentino, Filipino creative writing scholar and translator Dr Vladimeir Gonzales (UPD), and multi-award winning writer, commentator and sociologist Arnold Alamon, who is Assistant Professor of Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology.
Currently PINAS is conducting research led by this author, Monash University’s PhD Candidate Katrina Ross Tan, and PINAS member and data analyst Candice Rabusa. The project, “Understanding Filipino Youth Immigrant Lived Experience in Melbourne, Australia: A Preliminary Study”, explores how Filipino youth in Melbourne view and understand their cultural values in an ongoing formation of hyphenated and complex Filipino identity abroad. Through a qualitative enquiry from focus-group discussions among 1.5 (young people who were born in the Philippines but migrated to Australia with their parent/s before the age of 9) and second generation Filipino-Australians, the study seeks to interrogate issues surrounding the identity and cultural formation of this demographic segment. It also aims to examine the problems of this particular segment of the Filipino-Australian population and to mobilise the potential of the young Filipino-Australian voice and contribution to community engagement in Australia as well as in the Philippines.
Amidst the difficulty of navigating the terrains of community formations and academic networks in the context of the diaspora, and the defunding of university research in the humanities, social sciences, and Area studies, PINAS represents an important effort to bridge the gap between research and grassroots communities. In the coming years, PINAS aims to continue to be a critical voice for engaging the Filipino and Australian publics in topics of importance, such as migration, politics, community building, globalisation, culture, the arts, the ongoing relationship between Australia and the Philippines, and problems in the Asia-Pacific Region.
The challenges faced by Area / Philippine Studies in Australia include the lack of an academic institution for advancing research on one of the largest migrant communities in the world. Also, with more global economic woes and ongoing environmental and social catastrophes, the government, private institution and public funding of research in the arts, humanities, social sciences and Area studies has been dwindling. Furthermore, there is a changing landscape of research globally, in which academic institutions are faced with increased pressure to measure their impact not only in terms of their research publications but also their active role in community and nation building.
Nonetheless, Australia’s role in developing world class research in the region also lies heavily in collaboration with nations in the Asia-Pacific region, and in the innovation and scholarship produced in this part of the world, including the Philippines. It is with this in mind that PINAS in Australia seeks to involve the academic community, independent scholars and the general public in research and community engagement about pressing topical issues in both Australia and the Philippines.
Morning New(s): Daily Blog, Digest, Reflection, and Whatever in between
I am doing something I should have done, maybe a year ago, something I need to do as I look back, look forward, and consider the now before the future.
I know the world right now is not the same ‘world’ before this pandemic. Everything is upside down. But please, let me indulge a few moments that I have this special but also sad day, the 15th of May.
Two years ago, I lost a man in my life. Many of you may have only heard of him by his name or my term of endearment for him, Pangga (dear/love in his language, Hiligaynon). You may have not seen or met him personally. Now, I am proud to introduce him to all of you.
I met Cyrille John (CJ) Prudente almost 10 years ago in the university town of Los Baños, Laguna. I was a young lecturer then. He was already raising a family, although I believe he was not entirely happy with his married life. At first, it was more of a game for both of us, not really knowing what it is, what it was, what we were pursuing. I was a lonely, manic-depressed, and a grieving dreamer, thinking of making it big in the academe, or in life. For him, it was wanting to get out of that place, meet the bigger world, travel to places and see greener pastures, as with the usual narrative of someone born without a silver spoon in his mouth, in a place called Philippines.
Some of my friends knew this relationship, in fact, this was not entirely hidden from people who know me better and knew my secretive life. It was a hard choice, not a popular one. Yes, there I was, carrying much of the load for most part of it. But he too had his share of bringing our relationship forward, amidst tropical and devastating storms, judgement and scorn of people around us, and of course, great distances, challenges, and differences between us.
For one, he never hid that relationship and was brave enough to introduce me to his family and the people closest to him. Secondly, I had many episodes of irrational fear, anxiety, and anger thrown at him, for times he was late on occasional dates and meetings, or for small things I was worried about. We were in those dark waters and my words can pierce and even humiliate him as we fight about mundane concerns and our already extraordinary lives with extraordinary challenges. But those baring of bones and wounded spirits have cemented our more than two years of short-distance relationship that we had before I left for Australia. I promised that I will return, or maybe, if luck is on our side, we will be together here, in a country that might legitimate our love out in the open.
For almost seven years, we communicated and stayed in touch. While we were physically apart, we monitor each other’s lives, in ways we can and in a very limited view we had. I never saw him much as we both didn’t enjoy screen time or online video chats. We relied on words, on obligatory and brief exchanges, on good mornings, good night, have you had dinner or lunch? I came to see him a few times while doing my fieldwork and brief holiday in between my PhD research.
And so life happened, or in fact, didn’t happen the way written in our book of love poems or letters. It took me a long time to complete the degree. I decided to stay here and find a way to bring him here with me. At the same time, I too suffered my own loses in life, including my mother. At some point my bets to be here are not enough. The transition and reasons for migrating became much harder and the processes longer. I, too, have to battle illnesses, both physical and mental.
In 2017, he complained about chronic fatigue and losing weight. I saw in his eyes both the longing and deterioration. I knew that at an early age, he was on hypertensive medication, though perhaps thinking that he was still young that he can get away from it. Before his final days, he explored some places, met a group of young motorcycle riders who banded together to help other people and explore the nearby region via motorbike. I strongly opposed those travels and adventures and driving long hours on the road telling him that it can cause dehydration. But he would tell me it was his way of dealing his loneliness and longing to be with me. He was a heavy smoker and a social drinker, like me, when I first met him.
On February 2018, after getting a blood transfusion and series of laboratory test, I received a message: “My kidneys are not functioning.” I told him to seek support for a regular haemodialysis. It was expensive of course, in a country that kills its people and with a president wanting to kill the poorest of the poor. He was both afraid of the bills and procedure. When I was still around him, I would usually force him to face his fears, of course with me by his side. Eventually, I got tired of convincing him and I was on the verge of really severing the relationship. At that time, I was also losing hope, losing the thought and the promise of togetherness, losing my grip. He relied on alternative medicine and natural supplements and reported to me that he was getting better. Half of me was hoping all is well while the other half is telling me that he is already dead, or dying while I too was dealing my survival in this place, in this country, as a migrant.
I knew death was inevitable, having witnessed and dealt the death of both my parents due to poverty and lack of access to a decent medical support. Only the wealthy and those with positions in the upper bureaucracy may get to choose to live in my country of umbrellas and Marian apparitions. On this day, two years ago, I received a message from his daughter at around three am, telling me that his dad passed on, and that previously, he was looking for me, repeating my name, wanting to, I believe, see me for the last time.
Before that, he was excited to see me because after five years, I was supposed to see him that year as I was scheduled for a brief visit. He told me he can’t wait for the date. Unfortunately, I was the one who will be forever waiting.
I have not set foot yet to his grave when I went back to see his mother a few months after his death. At that time, I did not know if my mind was really inside my head. I was in grief, battling depression and anxiety, and was struggling to keep my head above water.
I wanted to memorialise him in a way that I would also be brave enough to tell you, tell the world, even in this online world and despite what we are facing right now that he truly loved me. Our relationship was far from perfect and would be judged by many as unacceptable, but we did have love, and love for each other, no matter how hard it was for us and the people around us.
I wanted to give him a name and be proud of this person who pushed me hard to chase my dreams, and our dreams, even though it means that I have to do it myself, alone. I wanted you to know the sweetest and loving person who laughed at my jokes and wiped the tears on my cheeks after each fight or when I was scared of the world and myself. I wanted you to know that he was proud of me, of my achievements, in what I have written or was awarded with, even though I have to explain to him what I was doing and what was those writings and awards for. He was genuinely proud and always telling me that I should be proud of myself too, and that I should be more ambitious and bold and motivated with everything, no matter how hard the challenges we were both facing.
He wanted to escape poverty, escape his life and be with me. He wanted to travel with me and see places we were browsing at my slowly cranking laptop. He wanted to be rich himself and start his own charity to help others, wanted a good life, for his family, for friends, for us.
Thank you Cj, my Pangga, for those years, for those intense, movie-like scenes, trials and tribulations. Thank you for still forgiving me after hurting your with words and showing you my destructive side. For just being who you are, and for being brave, sincere, loyal, and patient to a love and dream that I am still chasing as I write and release you from my hard grip.
May you finally rest and may this memorial serve as a testament of our love for each other, witnessed by this infected world that, just like us, has always hoped and still hoping for a better tomorrow, which you would always say, never ends (“hindi naman laging nauubos ang bukas.”)
BOOK CHAPTER: “Between Theatre and the Environment: The Experience of‘Yesterday’s Dreams, Tomorrow’s Promise’: Performing a Pan-ASEAN Archipelagic Identity at Age 50” in Performing Southeast Asia: Performance, Politics and the Contemporary edited by Marcus Cheng Chye Tan and Charlene Rajendran
Performing Southeast Asia: Performance, Politics and the Contemporary is an important reconsideration of the histories and practices of theatre and performance in a fluid and dynamic region that is also experiencing an overarching politics of complexity, precarity and populist authoritarian tendencies. In a substantial introductory essay and essays by leading scholars, activists and practitioners working inside the region, the book explores fundamental questions for the arts. The book asks how theatre contributes to and/or addresses the political condition in the contemporary moment, how does it represent the complexity of experiences in peoples’ daily lives and how does theatre engage in forms of political activism and enable a diversity of voices to flourish. The book shows how, in an age of increasingly violent politics, political institutions become sites for bad actors and propaganda. Forces of biopolitics, neo-liberalism and religious and ethnic nationalism intersect in unpredictable ways with decolonial practices – all of which the book argues are forces that define the contemporary moment. Indeed, by putting the focus on contemporary politics in the region alongside the diversity of practices in contemporary theatre, we see a substantial reformation of the idea of the contemporary moment, not as a cosmopolitan and elite artistic practice but as a multivalent agent of change in both aesthetic and political terms. With its focus on community activism and the creative possibilities of the performing arts the region, Performing Southeast Asia, is a timely intervention that brings us to a new understanding of how contemporary Southeast Asia has become a site of contest, struggle and reinvention of the relations between the arts and society.
ABOUT THE CHAPTER:
An analysis of the summit’s principal public performances, namely the Gala Dinner and the Opening and Closing Ceremonies, reflect how a pan-ASEAN identity and politics were imagined and performed in ways that create a virtual, coherent, and regionally constituted archipelago where cultural flows, real and imagined, link states and geographical locations. We interrogate these performances through archipelagic frames to unpack the construction of a pan-ASEAN character and politics. Ultimately, we propose a pan-ASEAN identity seen through the politics and theatre of the summit as an archipelago that extends Southeast Asia to other locations, an identity reflecting the region’s history as a postcolonial intervention and invention of previous imperial forces, while subject to the global forces of neoliberalism.
I AM/WE ARE is a community theatre project that examines the often unrecognised lives of Culturally and Linguistically Diverse communities of the Western suburbs of Melbourne. As part of the Inclusion, Identity, and connection program by the City of Wyndham, this one-a-half hour of storytelling through theatre and performance connected the lives of migrants, refugees, young people, women, workers, students, and next generation Australians who consider this country a new, temporary, or permanent home.
Presented by Migrante Melbourne Inc. in cooperation with ALPA Melbourne, Australia Asia Performance Community Inc. (AAPC), Australian Karen Cultural Association Inc., African Family Services, and supported by Wyndham City Council and Arts Assist.