Filipina Explores Identity in Theatre Production
I sit encircled by my students reading an excerpt of the most recent incarnation of “The Journey of a Brown Girl (JoBG).” I posed the question to them: “what is the voice that resonates through this piece?”
Their responses filled the space. One student said, “It is the voice of a teacher. I felt I was being educated. So many things were repeated in different ways, to make sure I knew, that I would remember,” another expressed. “It was a voice that made you feel you had to do something, like you wanted to change what was happening,” said another, “It was a voice trying to relate—like I related to what they were going through even though I’m not Filipino, I didn’t even know Filipinos went through that too,” and all resoundingly spoke “It was a voice of empowerment, it made you feel empowered.”
The beginning work of building the choreopoetic theatre production “The Journey of a Brown Girl” was centered on the exploration of where my voice as a Pinay was rooted, where it came from. I was 22 years old and had just moved across the country to New York City, leaving behind the Filipino Youth Organizing community in Southern California I was deeply connected to and that grew me into my consciousness of my Filipina-American Identity. Much of this was rooted in historical based learning of the Filipina-American experience and connecting to this, but at this point in my life I was seeking to deepen my understanding.
I began by connecting with Pinays—Alleluia Panis, Leny Strobel, Rocky Rivera and Jollene Levid—who I felt were the keepers of Pinay herstory. They were at the center of community cultivation, at the forefront of fighting injustice, and who were bearers and protectors in the survival of cultural practice and ritual. Their stories and experiences helped me put the pieces of my being back together again and create a one-woman exploration to the liking of works by Eve Ensler and Ana Deveare Smith.
In 2010, JoBG became a series of workshops that would engage a group of young Filipinas in conversation and exploration of self-inquiry through creating daily ritual and hands-on systems of practice supporting them in piecing themselves together the way I had discovered I could. We spoke about similar traumas faced physically, emotionally and spiritually as women, about our relationships with societal teachings and oppressions against Pinay women, about relationships with men in our lives, with our mothers and most importantly with ourselves.
Vanessa Ramalho, a sister in the original workshop series spoke on her experience. “JoBG allowed me to access a space of truth and vulnerability in such a meaningful and necessary way. The process of creating the original JoBG provided the information, resources, nurturance, and challenges required for me to begin accessing this truth, and performing the piece for the first time brought a healing and cathartic release that can only come from the freedom of telling one’s full story—the story I had desperately needed to tell to others, and to myself.”
I realized JoBG was not just about healing and reclaiming self, it was about creating self—it was about moving from the story of victimization to the story of manifesting vision.
In 2014, continuous, committed exchange in knowing and empowerment of self would transform a new collective of Pinay. I am reminded of the many Sundays we sat in circles meditating on our understanding of self through each other, asking of support and guidance in struggle and doubt, and I recalled all we let go of to be present in spaces together and all we gave to our sacred sisterhood circle. “The Journey of a Brown Girl” had become a means to inspire transformation, in bringing awareness and education, connection, honor, and healing of ourselves, our ancestors and descendants after us.
Karen Pangantihon, who had joined the sisterhood of JoBG in 2013 spoke on her experience, “This time last year, I was a very bitter actress, a bitter person altogether living in New York and feeling utterly lost in the business. I fell in love with The Journey before I had the faintest idea that I could possibly be part of it. A year later, I have had the greatest privilege of being part of this movement in sold out shows in Brooklyn, the Village, and now Los Angeles. The Journey has contributed to my rebirth as a human and I believe it will continue to contribute to how women, Filipinos/ Filipinas, people in general claim their identity today, and tomorrow.”
Today, I sit with my students reading through the most recent workings of the piece, sharing with them the understanding that it is a reflection of my voice that is made up of the influence and inspiration of other Pinays who have come into my life. With more clarity than before, I know that this soul work, will lift my voice and all voices that exchange in, inspire, and influence its growing.
Born in Honolulu, Hawaii and raised in Stockton, California- Jana Lynne Umipig, a womyn of Pilipino decent has directed her life goal at cultivating alternative teaching tools for human rights and for human rights and social justice education that incorporates artistic mediums in performance and visual expression,enriching leadership and self-development work for young people. Through the development of her art for social justice pedagogy she seeks to provide safe spaces of artistic expression and learning for young people that establishes and maintains a strong sense of community, support, continuity and honesty for youth to grow and learn in.
A graduate of the University of California, Irvine with a Bachelors in Theatre and Asian American Studies and currently completing her Masters in Educational Theatre for Communities and Colleges at New York University’s Steinhardt School of Education, much of Jana Lynne’s work has been directed toward this fusion of social justice and arts education. Most of her work has focused on the Asian American particularly Filipino American community, heavily pertaining to issues faced by young womyn.