Thursday, October 13, 2016

Kyla Villaroya: Filipino Community Stories

This is a guest post from a former student, Kyla Villaroya. I recently asked her for a testimonial, and instead she sent me her college essay, which unbeknownst to me explored her experience during a Baranov Museum film intensive on Filipino Community Stories. Her writing is as beautiful as her spirit!

For as long as I can remember I’ve always had a strong curiosity for the way things came to be. My days as an elementary student involved writing diary entries on the stories of my parents and checking out advanced books on human behavior. However, one particular experience that launched my passion for history was a summer ethnography film intensive with Kodiak Island’s Baranov Museum. The theme for that year was on the Filipino History of Kodiak Island. As we discovered that there was a lack of information of early and recent Filipino immigrants, I was even more motivated to excel in this course and learn more about my people. 
For two productive weeks, I worked on gathering documents and creating documentaries on Philippine history to be archived. I conducted interviews with Filipino community members and scholars on Kodiak Filipino history in general, while also paying
attention to the main topic of my film: the Filipino-AmericanAssociation of Kodiak Island. Digging into newspaper and photograph archives, I uncovered what was a poorly documented story in Kodiak. I then used these sources to craft a short, informative documentary. To expand my knowledge further I read books about ethnographic methods and the history of discrimination that Asian Americans have experienced in Alaska and United States.
While in the class, I shared my personal stories of immigrating to the US from the Philippines at five years old and the discrimination my family and peers felt as Asian-Americans. I gained the courage to use my own experiences to draw parallels between what we were learning about history and what immigrants experience today. My classmates were inspired by my journey that they even incorporated it into their own films! The film intensive also provided self-confidence to ask evocative and challenging questions of my interview subjects. For instance, I remember asking an interviewee on the brutal murder of a localFil-Am Association leader in the 1990s- a topic that most people shy away from, but one I thought to be an important aspect in their history.
I even changed the subject of my film. I was tasked with exploring history of the Fil-Am Association of Kodiak, but after beginning the interviews I determined that looking at
only one Filipino organization wasn't enough. Instead, I highlighted three different Filipino associations in Kodiak, producing a film that was later displayed in the “Filipino Community Stories” exhibit.
After the film intensive I became a regular volunteer at the Kodiak Baranov Museum. I spent my summer with Marie and Anjuli sorting new materials and transcribing interview footage. Through my volunteer work I discovered one interviewee in particular, one of the earliest Filipino residents in Kodiak and the well-loved janitor of my elementary years: Felix Canete. I sought to continue his story which turned into a project solely on Felix’s journey to America.
My time working one-on-one with Marie and Anjuli allowed me to use my curiosity as a way to serve my community. During these times, both Anjuli and Marie spent countless days working one-on-one to assist me. They took time off work to accompany me when I traveled to Felix’s residence for interviews. Every morning they always had new resources I
could contact, new leads to research, and readings that pertained to my topic.  Because of their dedication to me as a student and my community’s enthusiasm for the stories I was producing, I really excelled in the social studies. I am beyond grateful for instructors like them. My passion I cultivated with this experience lead me to shining in the next years of high school.

I am currently a freshman at D’youville College in Buffalo, New York on my way to becoming an Occupational Therapist. Just like how I explored and restored an aspect of the Kodiak’s community history through the Baranov Museum, I will restore the capabilities of my patients and uncover their personal stories as an Occupational Therapist.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Beautiful Mess

I haven’t blogged in a long time, and I have the same reasons and excuses that we all have. Too busy. Too much. Too full. For myself, underneath that is the desire to blog from a really relaxed, calm, centered place. I imagine myself spending hours in a quiet place looking out over magnificent trees or ocean. Words and beautiful reflections would come like spray off the waves. The one time this
the oasis of fish camp
summer I did write was at fish camp when trees and ocean and sleep and time with friends were mine. I wrote out the beauty I was experiencing (and it WAS beautiful!), but it felt false to latch on to a small window of beauty for my blog rather than the messy patchwork that is everyday life.

Everyday life is messy. There’s either too much or too little, the sun is scorching or the rain forces us inside. We are over-stimulated by too much activity or lonely with too little. Our desires flip-flop like the summer salmon we drag onto shore, trying to get comfortable and finding it impossible in the open air. Don’t tell me you don’t know what I’m talking about! We all know what it is to be overwhelmed with work or underwhelmed with life, to feel far from source.

When I blog (and when I live) I tend to take a gleam of light in the midst of the mess and celebrate it, feeling this is the medicine I need. The beautiful question a student asks in class, the glass ball that washes up onto the beach in-between Styrofoam and plastic, the sweet cup of tea in the middle of the morning rush. But what if the gleam of light is the mess? What if I give myself permission to complain, to sit in the ashes, to be overwhelmed when I’m overwhelmed, and not to make it something beautiful? What would happen if I just let things be what they are, messy, beautiful, harsh, boring, loving, uncomfortable? Yesterday at dinner I shared that a taste of yogurt and candied roses transported me to heaven, and my son said “but MOM, heaven is right HERE.” Is this mess, right here and right now, heaven?

Here I am, writing from a lovely and mundane mess. Tchabo is at Boy Scout camp this week, giving me the luxury of day time to work instead of in the wee hours. I have mixed feelings about it, as his day at camp is too many hours for his age, but the time for me is a treasure. This morning I smelled the smoke from the forest fire outside of Anchorage and felt a profound nostalgia for Uganda where the aroma of wood-smoke permeates every inhabited nook. I’m working on a curriculum for 10th graders to talk about their identity and how to honor themselves, and I have a giddy excitement that I get to go on that journey with them, and also a sense of how daunting it is to talk about identity, what a life-long process it is to discover the always-changing self. I dreamed last night that I couldn’t make a crepe correctly, that everything kept going wrong. I’m enjoying a cup of green tea. I am sticking with the waves, and I look forward to seeing where they take me. Perhaps, like salmon, upstream to my source. 

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

On Being a Sunflower

My birth month is typically accompanied by self-reflection, an almost involuntary reflex that I have grown to count on and value. It is a time to go back to my beginnings and my roots, to celebrate the ways that I’m honoring these roots, and to take stock of the ways that I could use an adjustment. While I do this throughout the year, February is a special time, and it helps when my son reminds me every morning “It’s almost the special day, it’s almost your BIRTHDAY!”

My work of late has been to let myself shine like a sunflower. Words that pop into mind around this work are self-centered (literally, centered in myself) and full-of-myself (growing into my own full-ness), ego-centric (centered in the “I”), all expressions that I grew up to think of as wrong. Perhaps it’s a shortcoming of our language and culture that there isn’t a word that conveys correct honoring of one’s ego, and so ironically we have found ourselves at the alter of ego and self-promotion in popular culture and beyond. We are either self-effacing, or self-glorifying, the woman who constantly apologizes, or the man who relishes in that apology. Both miss the mark.

There is a laundry list of ways that I have tried to hide my sunflower. Volunteering excessively rather than honoring the value of my time. Working really hard to make the grouchy person in the room like me, as if their approval will affirm me. Deflecting compliments. Hunching my shoulders. Apologizing after my inner lioness lets out a needed growl.

It’s easy to misunderstand what it means to unveil the sunflower inside each of us. Suddenly we find ourselves caught in new traps. I urgently have to express what I feel the moment I feel it. You have to hear and understand who I am and how I shine. The way I see it is correct. My voice is more important, my work richer. No one praises me so I will praise myself.

Let’s look at the sunflower, herself. Her stalk is thick and hairy, quintessentially exemplifying the world stalky. She sways in the wind, sensitive to the breeze, but exists in a firm way that doesn’t easily crush. She is unabashedly tall, and opens into a huge, meaty brown heart and surprisingly delicate, bright yellow petals. She is not ashamed or devoured by the hummingbirds that feast on her seeds; she knows it is an exchange. She just is, beautiful and authentic, comfortable as she mirrors the brightness of the sun. She lives in a field of other sunflowers; she has no need to be the only one, and the vast beauty of the collective enhances her shine.   

This month, these days, the sunflower is my compass. In a roomful of middle school students, exuberant, moody, questioning, I focus on keeping my center and my balance. When suggesting ideas to a group I remind myself not to start with an apologetic or minimizing clause. I’ve nearly eliminated the word “just” from my vocabulary.  While all ages have their virtues and shortcomings, the further I progress into my 30s the more grateful I am for the sense of comfort I have to simply shine.