It has been a long time coming. It has arrived right on time. When I ruminate on the concept of Gunita, the concept of radical memory, what comes to me are visions of reclamation, the aligning of purpose between past and present, ancestral body to modern body, and the translation of indigenous warrior via the indigenized to the westernized. Questions that come to me course through these primary thoughts: What of our culture remains today? What of our culture has shifted, morphed, and changed from then to now?
Leny Strobel speaks on the process of “autobiographical self-reflection, or rewriting of the self.” She asks a series of thoroughly important questions that beg critical thought:
What and where are those fissures or ruptures in our historical past that need to be re-membered and put together again? What are those seemingly insignificant moments in our lives that we have forgotten, dismissed, or simply erased because they didn’t fit into the narrative that was so powerfully imposed from the outside? Who are the heroes, heroines, and martyrs of our people that carried on the anticolonial revolution? Who are the poets, singers, writers who deployed their talent against the colonial narrative? All these things must be recalled out of the recesses of the memory.
To rewrite the self is to rewrite the world. I believe that Filipinos and Filipino Americans are in such a unique position simply because our current cultural presence and a large mass of our historical selves are so abnormal from the larger Asian experience. Jessica Hagedorn had mentioned that “the Philippines has spent 300 years in the convent and 50 years in Hollywood.” If you attach the involvement of the Japanese occupation with the colonized experience via Spain and the United States, what we have is a country that has been colonized for nearly four hundred years, which is to say, four hundred years of continuous outside cultural influences affecting that of the native practice. Because of this, the modern Filipino has to look far, far back for any type of indigenous representation (for the moment, I am excluding existing tribal practices for consideration and discussion down the road).
Gunita, in many ways, is the “birthing” of long buried memory. I am particularly interested in the body and the ways the body tends to remember past the realm of what our conscious minds can. I am an avid believer that the body remembers everything. An idea that I have meditated upon is that of historical memory interwoven within the very fabric and creation of the body and how this memory so often breaks through into our consciousness. The problem, however, is the fact that most of us are so out of touch with our bodies that we do not know how to recognize or articulate such relationships between the present physical and the historical emotional.
Gunita formulated in a juncture of my life that you’ll learn about through my artist profile. To shorten it, I am a working educator within the institution of higher learning. I am also a working writer writing through the process of decolonization, tackling the diaspora, and the creation of identity. Lastly, and of heavy importance to this journey, is the fact that I have, for a very long portion of my life, been a dancer. A competitive one, I regularly battled across the U.S and, in many ways, around the world. This chapter of life lurched toward an abrupt close around the time I began my first thrust into the world of academia, a place where bodies like mine do not often reside. I’ve found that so much of the battle to belong has resulted in my physical exhaustion, much of my time is dedicated to claiming the right to space, the right to belong in a historically western white space.
I did not mourn this loss initially because I had already received relatively acclaim in the world of dance…I was ready to seek my success in different avenues…to, in a sense, battle within a different, uncomfortable, and alluring format. Within this shift, I began to grow as an individual within the academy and the literary world. However, throughout the duration of this growth, a painful ache had settled itself in my center. It often times rendered me inconsolable; the worst part of it was the fact that it was unnamed. It was a terror unaccounted for because, for the life of me, I could not figure out or recognize from where this pain has sprung/birthed itself into existence.
Throughout the duration of these changes, my partner had developed the habit of commenting continuously, “I miss you dancing.” Without being prompted, he’d continue to say, “You were happier when you were dancing. Your world has become too serious.”
One day, when the unnamed sadness was too much, he uttered these words to me and I turned to him angrily. In a rage I hardly recognize, I yelled at him to stop saying those things. He stood there silently, the both of us in combative positions, then he gently asked, “Don’t you miss it?”
I had broken down in a torrent of tears and muttered “yes.” The unnamed thing had finally become recognized. As cliché as it sounds, I felt that painful center warmly thrum with recognition. A small part had just been healed a little.
About this time, I had started kicking it more with the Cutie PI3s— Nikki and Kristin. We were all pinay; we were all surprised that we all actually liked each other (so much on this later). These ladies were also dancers as a point in their lives where dance had become less of a constant. I shared with them my body’s yearning for expression, to move and to allow the movement to say everything— I was starving for this. The three of us often times conversed on movement, identity, activism, the diaspora. It truly seemed that the universe had somehow aligned us. This was timely, as I realized I was now sitting on a wave that I did not control, but the universe did.
Collectively, we embarked on PI3— a way to explore conceptual movement that expressed facets of identity. Gunita, my birthing, is a branch off, or development, of this idea. It takes this preexisting idea of identity and has extended itself to memory— radical, beautiful memory. In street dance, it is commonly argued that “without foundation, you don’t have anything.” This expression can easily be tied to the more common known “if you don’t know where you come from, you won’t know where to go.” Memory has always played a large role in my life. The process of illuminating the passage of time and its marks upon a culture via generations of bodies has opened up a pathway for me to grow deeper into my bones, deeper into my identity. The moments of recognition, self-love, and empowerment stem from the times in which I looked, not ahead, but back; reliving, honoring, and claiming every moment that has birthed me, brought me to this day with this knowledge with this drive with this purpose, but, most importantly, with this deeply felt love and need to serve community. These moments exist from ancestral warriors to every body in-between to now, to me— a 2nd generation Filipina-American, daughter of migrants, and brown girl woman warrior educator teaching American young adults the value of historical selves and all the ways the intersection of history and the present has informed and continues to inform who we are.
Gunita is my newest expression. It is the newest vehicle of articulation for me. It is the act of radical remembrance through art form. I pray that the project is granted longevity, and if not, that it serves only as a pathway toward a greater expression. I pray it aids our youth and further connects our communities on local soil and within our larger global tribes. I hope it to be a passageway for so many others to travel so much further than I can ever hope to go.
May we remember. May we move forward.
Founder & Creative Director