2016 DanceCrush recipient Angel “Moonyeka” Alviar-Langley is nothing short of a trail-blazer. In her 2016 ethnographic research project, What’s Poppin’ Ladiez?, her mission was to bring the female popping experience to light. Popping circles are mostly male dominated, so Alviar-Langley’s event, drawing poppers from across the country, became a rare chance for women in the field to connect, learn, and celebrate. Female poppers all over the world will join together this summer at the second WPL conference. So when I sat down with Alviar-Langley to discuss her upcoming installation, Bastos, it was no surprise to see her bringing together another community around personal experience: being Filipino-American.
In Bastos, named after the Tagalog word for “rude” or “disrespectful,” she’s collaborated with ten other Filipino-Americans to explore the complicated experience of being Filipino in America, and specifically, children of Filipino immigrants. “Looking back in my childhood, “bastos” is something my mom would say to me often in regard to my lack of assimilation.” she says. “The colonial mindset in our parents is heavy, it is thick.” She describes how her family used to get packages of whitening soap, and how her mother used to pinch her nose over and over to make it look more shaped, or European looking. “It was an act of love, coming from her. There’s this assimilation to euro-centric values—this idea that to be Filipino in America is to be white.” she says.
Bastos is one part of production company Forward Flux’s exhibition collaborate create, a 21-day immersive residency for 19 different artists, all addressing a single theme. This cycle’s theme is identity. Alviar-Langley and her ten collaborators meet weekly to free-write, talk, and dance about their very individual experiences with Filipino-American identity. Not just dancers, the group also includes writers, producers, and committee members. There is a Filipino folk-dancer, and also a street dancer. The intention was to “reclaim through relearning,” which can be an uncomfortable process, Alviar-Langley says. “What is passed down to us isn’t always directly related to our lineage. There’s a shame that comes with relearning a culture, but we’re trying to reclaim what feels lost to us.”
While mostly seen as a dance artist in Seattle, Alviar-Langley is taking a multidisciplinary approach to Bastos. “There’s gonna be dance, video, music, fashion…because it’s a complicated experience. I don’t think it can be fully portrayed just through movement.” Three videos make up the installation, with sound scores including interviews with her collaborators, Filipino folk music, and contemporary music. Each one focuses on a different idea, the first being ancestral memory.
“Ancestral memory is this idea that we’re carrying historical trauma within our bodies,” Alviar-Langley explains, it’s also this embodied knowledge that makes learning Filipino folk dancing feel so familiar. She describes how despite being physically far away, she still feels connected to her grandma. “I know that she still loves me, as if I was there [the Philippines] the whole time, because to her, I was.”
Physical displacement can be difficult, which is explored in the second video focusing on circumstance. “We desire to be connected to the motherland, but the reality is that we live in Seattle. We talked about how we find reflections of ourselves in the city and how we walk through the world.” The last video explores fashion, and how by reclaiming together traditional Filipino garments like malongs and barongs, the group has the privilege of redefining what their withheld culture means to them now.
Alviar-Langley acknowledges how the history of pre-colonial immigration, and the eventual port-trade culture that developed, affects her generation. “It’s definitely not a homogenous experience.” she says. “Shared threads doesn’t necessarily mean having a shared experience. The most exported thing in the Philippines is people. Not coconuts, not mangoes. So what does it mean to be Filipino if your Filipino identity is rooted in American soil?”
While Alviar-Langley’s residency has incredible depth, especially for such a short process, she matter-of-factly expresses that it’s nowhere near complete.
“It [Bastos] is not finished. It’s a checkpoint…we’re still exploring. This is just one iteration of it, the perspective of these ten people…I could never say one single truth about this. My duty is to move forward in a way that heals the generations after us and the generations before us…the people that died because of colonialism. To break the cycle of forgetting. There’s a shame in being loud about it [being Filipino]. It is bastos. But if the sacrifice is to be disrespectful, than yeah, we’re gonna be disrespectful.”
Bastos is part of Forward Flux’s exhibition collaborate create Cycle 8, premiering April 19th and 20th at Fred Wildlife Refuge. Find tickets and information here.