Fil-Am Students Find Voice Through Dance

Barrio Feista

A dance performance of near nudity and fancy footwork showcased an insightful display of culture and history by Filipino cultural organization, Kasamahan, last weekend. The organization presented a tale of discovery and determination at their 39th signature event, Barrio Fiesta. Barrio blends theater and dance to portray social and political issues encountered by Filipinos. “Find Your Voice,” the show’s theme, promoted uncovering identity through culture and moxie.

“‘Find Your Voice’” stressed the importance of having a voice in the community, a voice for yourself, and a voice for Filipino people. Caroline Calderon, Kasamahan president, said the performance theme correlated with the organization’s mission statement.

“Kasamahan’s goal is to help members build relationships, serve the community, and learn more about not only history, but our story,” Calderon said.

USF’s Barrio fiesta is part of Pilipino Cultural Night (PCN), a variety show of dance routines, songs, and skits about Filipinos and the Filipino American experience, according to the Philippine Daily Inquirer. PCN originated in the 1970s as more Filipinos in California sought to reconnect with their homeland.

PCN is currently celebrated by over 20 schools throughout California, reflecting generations of younger Filipinos interested in commemorating their heritage.
Over 140 members of Kasamahan, the campus’ largest cultural organization, performed a mix of ethnic and modern dances to frame characters saving a reading program, standing up to parents and finding their voice.

In the performance, actors portray elementary students who express a desire for control as they strive to keep their after school reading program threatened by education budget cuts. The students are inspired by the story of Maria, a young Filipino girl who struggles to find the courage to refuse her arranged marriage to Don Alfonso, a Spanish dignitary.

Extensive practices and the presentation of the show also struck a chord with the actors and actresses in the performance.

“Having been a very soft-spoken person, speaking up and speaking out was always particularly challenging for me. I realized that my voice can be found in the same place where my passions lie,” said Kelsy Natividad, cultural co-chair of Kasamahan.
Traditional dances included tinikling, where dancers step between sliding and tapping bamboo poles to mimic birds avoiding rice farm bamboo traps, and banga, an exhibition of skill in balancing multiple clay pots on one’s head, reminiscent of the Kalinga tribe’s daily task of collecting water in the Philippines. Contemporary routines of hip hop and ballroom dancing were among other dance styles.

“Barrio opened my eyes to the cultural side of Filipinos I didn’t know about. I see the strength of the Filipino community in their family ties and in their relationship to their history,” said Abe Rojas, an audience member of Nicaraguan descent, “The Filipinos at USF are close with each other and their culture is highly celebrated.”
Though Barrio highlights Filipino culture, the event’s message of fighting for one’s rights is universally relatable.

“I strongly believe that a person’s voice can be his or her most powerful weapon. For someone to try to silence you is an injustice,” said Natividad, “To be the one to silence yourself is a shame.”

Barrio Fiesta: Performance (YPSP 206) is offered every spring semester to students interested in producing and performing in the annual Barrio event for two credits. Students not enrolled in the class are also welcomed to participate in Barrio for no class credit.

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