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The Origins of Kababayang Pilipino

by Mary Christine (Faron) Chan

(February 2003) - It was a decade ago last month when I first walked into Randy`s office at the UBC Student Union Building resolute in my purpose. I had just arrived from a whirlwind visit to the Philippines, the first in nearly 15 years. It had felt like a forced family junket when we departed for Manila in mid-December, along with other family friends - the Correas, the Romeros, the Mangalindans, and the Losanezs. But when the time to return to Vancouver came two weeks later, I felt torn leaving a family, a country, a culture I had known of all my life, but only then had discovered. Vancouver seemed dismal in the wet grey of winter, compelling me all the more to long for the warmth of the people and the climate of the Philippines. It was then that I realized how important my culture had become to me. How being Filipino was more than eating certain foods, laughing at certain jokes, or being brought up a certain way. Being Filipino is about expressing all of who I am as a Filipino Canadian in the face of a multicultural Canada, and proudly carrying the legacy of culture and heritage of the Filipino people that came before me - they who had made the sacrifices that brought me here today.

For this reason I was determined to make the meaning of that sacrifice relevant in the lives of those who had the blessing of a North American upbringing. Many of us, either born on Canadian soil or transplanted early from the homeland, had lacked the sensual first hand experience of the Philippine landscape and people. But we knew something about it through the dances we had learned at a young age. From the vigours of planting rice, to the coy traditions of courtship, to the religious rituals of a community, Filipino performing arts told the stories of the people and culture from which they were born. This was to become the medium through which we, as Filipino Canadians, would tell our collective story. And such was the proposal I made to Randy that afternoon, not knowing what would come of such a seemingly grand venture, but knowing only that our will was strong and our dedication unwavering.

Less than a month later, a group of 40 friends and acquaintances gathered in the living room of my parents` home in a cheery cul-de-sac. The meeting had a sole purpose: to propose the production of a community performance celebrating the music, dance, and song of our Filipino heritage. Upon sharing our common experiences growing up in the Filipino culture, it became clear that we were not alone in searching for that tangible expression of ourselves. The response was overwhelming and infectious. Before long, we had secured a strong following from across Vancouver and established a wonderful partnership with the then recently-formed Samahan ng Kabataan at SFU and the Filipino Students Association at UBC. The result was an amazing production in 1994 titled, Ang Bayan Ko - My Country, My Homeland. It was 10 months in the making - a culmination of absolute dedication, tears of difficulty, and overall, extremely hard work on the part of performers, parents, and production support. We presented our premier show at Richmond`s Gateway Theatre in November 1994, surprising our nearly sold-out audience - and ourselves - with our accomplishment. It became our standard of excellence upon which future shows were measured and improved upon.

So why is this important? How is KP`s history relevant? As the old adage goes: only in looking to your past can you know where you are today, that you may be confident in the direction of tomorrow.Today, we celebrate 10 years of KP. A decade that has seen over a dozen mainstage performances, over a hundred appearances in Canada and the U.S., and over two hundred committed volunteers and performers. That we have such a milestone to celebrate can only further affirm our need to continue the tradition that we founded together. Though many of us have moved on to a different phase in our lives, even a different place altogether, the legacy of what KP has become continues to rest with us.

And so we continue to gather, old and new for a dual purpose: for celebration and an invitation. As we cross the thresholds of milestones each year, we open the door to new hopes, aspirations, and opportunities. Thus, to you all I say: come and take your place among a cast of excellence and be part of our journey of cultural discovery that is Kababayang Pilipino. We welcome you to our stage.

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