Filipino Americans, ‘The Invisible Minority’
By: Amanda Andrei
Filipino Americans are sometimes referred to as “the invisible minority.” Despite being the second largest Asian American ethnicity, they seem to receive little recognition in American culture and society.
When recalling famous Filipinos in the arts and entertainment, people may think of Broadway singer-actress Lea Salonga, Hollywood actor Dante Basco, or latest American idol singer, Jessica Sanchez. But how many people also remember that pop stars Enrique Iglesias, Bruno Mars, and Nicole Scherzinger (of the Pussycat Dolls) are also of Filipino heritage?
And what of our locally famous artists and performers? Think of the teenage guitarist, crooning into the mic at the local café. Or the poet, putting the final editorial touches on her first chapbook.
Think of the printmaker, working in his studio in New York City while finishing his MFA so that he can teach other artists. Or the actor, busing across different cities in the East Coast so that he may perform in a show that speaks to him and his community.
UniPro’s second annual summit in New York City on June 2, and particularly these workshops, is meant for that young writer, that young artist, that young creator. At the Arts and Entertainment panel session, five Filipino and Filipino Americans representing theatre, film, and music spoke to delegates about career paths and following one’s passion.
“It’s important not to worry about rejection,” advised Stephanie Walmsley, one of the producers of God of Love, an 18-minute movie that received the Academy Award for Live Action Short Film in 2011. Walmsley spoke of how the film was rejected by many major festivals, including Sundance and Slamdance, yet made it to the Oscars and triumphed.
Oliver Oliveros, an editor, author, and photographer at BroadwayWorld.com, emphasized this as well.
“If you’re not getting jobs, don’t stop,” he stressed. He also emphasized the importance of using social media and being proactive in attracting publicity.
“Filipino artists are not being written and talked about,” he acknowledged, “even though we’re global. If you are not being written about, you need to pursue it. Tell editors why you’re worth it.”
He added that emerging artists could and should take advantage of the networking tools available to them in order to build relationships, a brand, and a style to promote their work.
The panelists also discussed how their childhoods led them to the paths they were now pursuing.
“At the age of 13, I was making beats, and then got into hip-hop,” related Illmind, a hip-hop producer for underground artists such as Little Brother and Akrobatik, as well as mainstream artists such as 50 Cent and Eminem. Most of his interest in music grew out of hobbies and experimenting with new technology and music. “You can’t necessarily go to a school and learn all of these things and be successful,” he noted.
Kilusan Bautista, an activist and actor, related similar stories to his calling in theatre. “When I got to college, I couldn’t write essays, but I could write poetry. I wanted to tell my story, our story.”
Bautista’s solo show, UNIVERSAL SELF, tells the story of “the contemporary struggles for working class, Filipino Americans in the diaspora and the interconnectedness of Hip Hop culture with indigenous, tribal Filipino cultural expressions.” Originally named “FILIPINO SELF,” Bautista explained that he wanted the piece to reflect and encompass a more diverse audience through universal themes.
Ariel Estrada, founder of Leviathan Lab, also expressed his mission of reaching out to diverse audiences while cultivating the creativity of Asian American performing artists. An actor and producer, Estrada founded this professional creative studio because, “Through Leviathan Lab, I could make a bigger impact—we could help set the atmosphere up to be more relevant.”
The New York City-ased Lab includes seminars and classes on acting and screenwriting, as well as play festivals and a short film initiative. It also hosts the Leviathan Lab Asian American Women Writers Workshop, the first and only group “dedicated to the creation and development of Asian American women’s voices in dramatic performances.”
Ultimately, the panelists advised conference delegates to have faith in themselves and their dreams. Illmind acknowledged, “I don’t know when my next paycheck is, but if you do what you love with passion, you’ll excel.” Echoing this sentiment, Estrada said, “You have to not be afraid at all. Love what you do so much.”