Article by JL Umipig
Another wonderful opportunity has come our way. Sister JL Umipig has decided to contribute some of her reflections on her lifelong journey into a study of culture, heritage and self. Hopefully this won’t be the last time we are able to feature her voice. Thanks for letting us host you here on OnBlast!
When I first learned about the Babaylan, a figure that connects to the matriarchal heritage of my Filipino identity, I opened my spirit to the understanding of a power within myself from a very young age that I saw in all the wom*n in my family and those I exchanged with in my communities of Pinays. I grew as a youth activist in the Filipino community in Southern California, connected to my people’s histories of struggles in relation to the United States and other conquering countries. And I was taught to be angry and to fight the system that oppressed my people by being organized, by being aware of policy and by being ready to rise up and speak up with urgency. There is so much to be angry about in this world, so much to weep for, so much that can hold us in places of discomfort and I wanted to fight to change that.
I often drew away from the “militancy” of organizing and really focused on on the cultural aspects, the artistry, the expressions. I knew that I could be, but I was and would always be an artist. I was searching for a different means of organization, something that would feed my artistic soul, and ease the activist in me from burn out and resentment for problems that just would not change. It wasn’t until I found the Center of Babaylan Studies that I realized the power within me was missing something very important, a connection to spirituality. In time I have learned to connect my artistry and activism with my spiritual learnings.
I found the Center for Babaylan Studies, when I was doing my Graduate School studies at New York University. My initial feelings in my program was a want to use my work to root in my identity as a Pinay and I began to delve and explore this through the lens of other Pinay who were raising other young Filipinas to feel empowered and proud of their identity. I began with my network of organizers, radical educators and artists who were working mainly on the presence of Pinay in relation to systematic oppressions and transnational feminist struggles. These were women who raised me to see the fierceness of Pinay, the way we are essential to every movement and how powerful we are in presence. In this process I was reintroduced to the concept of the Babaylan, I had heard it once in poetry as a youth organizer, but didn’t delve until I was in this process of excavating Pinay roots. This is when I found the Center for Babaylan Studies, and my life shifted with great clarity. I was being fed and nourished with this unfolding of my heritage connected to spiritual power and practice.
Elders from the Center for Babaylan Studies gave to ab abundance of spirit knowledge, in writings, conversation exchanges and through many gifts of reminder written, spoken and energetically and spiritually given. This uncovered in me my roots as a Pinay, that moved beyond the herstory in America and before Spain, the herstory that was not on paper, but that lived in the presence of living ancestors that reflected my self and pushed me to go deeper and deeper to know how my roots lived in me though so much has tried to abolish them. They grew in me the most miraculous recognition of our interconnectivity to one another as living beings and have helped create me to break through the constructed divisions and fear that have stopped me for seeing others whole, from seeing my self whole. They helped me to find language that I never had to describe the way I feel and relate it in my every day,the two I hold as my greatest values are: kapwa (the shared self), how we see ourselves in others and we see value in the other as we see value in our own being, loob (the inner self), who we are at our core that makes us interconnected to everything.
Recently I was given the opportunity to share in holistic presence with a gathered group from the network of the Center for Babaylan Studies including two of the elders who had guided me on my journey of creation in self and artistry the past 5 years- Leny Strobel and Grace Nono. We ventured to the heartlands of Ohi-yo surrounded by sky, mountains, trees and clear waters embracing us. The conference was centered in reconciling our learned beliefs and those that we have forgotten- strengthening our spiritual connection to all people and all living things, the earth, our ancestors and the Great Creator. I left feeling so reawaken and rejuvenated, feeling more deeply than ever the power of this journey I have chosen to walk again and again- the journey of knowing and loving myself whole so I can love all else more wholly. In seeking to learn of my Filipina Roots I entered a portal into knowing myself as human, as spirit. Kapwa, loob – we are together, we are of one another, we are are other, we are one.
Jana Lynne (JL) Umipig is the creator of “The Journey of a Brown Girl” www.thejourneyofabrowngirl.com Director, Producer, Actress, Educator and Organizer she currently resides in NYC. JL has worked with different community organizations developing curriculum and programs that integrate theatre and visual arts with activism and leadership development, working with schools, community organizations, detention facilities, and rehabilitation and support group centers. She believes in the power of the arts to activate and move the human spirit for individual toward community empowerment and transformation. She creates with the intention to connect human experience and spirit between all communities.
A more extended account of the trip can be found in her blog “Pa ng Biag iti Kayumanggi nga Pilipina” (http://kayumanggingapilipina.com/ ).