Connecting to Matriarchal Heritage

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!

-Njoli-

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 image6Pinays. 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.

 

image2I 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 constructedimage3 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 image5has 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/ ).

Beauty in the Human Language: Capoeira & Connecting with Possibilities

By Njoli Brown

So, I’ve spent the last couple of weeks trying to wrap my head around the entirety of my recent experience in Cuba.  Working with other artist-educators, exchanging ideas about this endless work of empowering youths in marginalized communities, all of it was tremendously inspiring and thought provoking.  I’ve been wanting to share that here but instead, in trying to encompass everything, I find myself spinning and inadequately capturing the profundity of things every time I try to put something on paper. I’ve decided I need to break this down for myself.  Over the next few weeks I figure I’ll take moments, pieces of that short but impactful time and engage in some explorations.

DSCF6965That being said I wanted to start by discussing the workshop I facilitated in Havana using capoeira as the medium.  My objectives were to explore the ideas and constructs that determine our process for valuating beauty. In addition I wanted to use this exercise as a catalyst for conversations on the concept of “embodying the spirit” and using the body as an efficient language tool.

We kicked it off by doing a brainstorm on popular concepts of beauty.  In part this was an opportunity for us to reflect on the ways in which social constructs sometimes diverge from our unqualified humanity.  When we moved into “ginga” I offered the structures as suggestions instead of rules. It was an interesting practice for me, to look at this form of engagement with laser focus on facilitating a journey of discovery instead of instructing a lesson.  A humbling thing to let go of my usual objectives and to hone in, much more deeply, on the method and process of sharing ideas.  We took the opportunity to explore the emotions tied to the tension and relaxation of muscles, the exploitation of the joints and the fear that is tied directly to the concept of equilibrium.

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Each individual then chose an emotion that they had recently engaged with, something to which they’d had a strong response and maintained vivid memories of the physical experience.  After a moment of meditating on this emotion they partnered off and used  ginga as a vessel through which they could embody this emotion and see how it might inform their interactions.  Our next step was to recall our conceptions of central figures in our lives, matriarchs, patriarchs, elders, youths and through each of these lenses we interacted with our emotion experiment in greater depth.

So, through this we were able to tap into an experience of beauty as a concept that exists in greater part due to its capacity to stimulate emotional resonance as opposed to a design which we accept as beautiful because particular language has been associated with it.

As a next step we DSCF7201decided to use the language of the body to investigate the experiences of our compeers.  In capoeira we often talk about the body conversation as a game of questions and answers.  As often as not though, a player may ask questions without giving truly intentional scrutiny to the merit of his/her camarada’s responses.  

It’s easy at times to get caught up in your own movement, in the power of inquisition, in the sound of your own voice.  But capoeira, as life entire, has the necessity of maintaining a balance between pressure and growth. We looked at our kicks and escapes as equal opportunities to observe ourselves as well as the our embodied identities of our counterparts.  We then processed the effects of the experience on our ideas about interpersonal communication.

How would we take this practice and apply it in our visual arts programming, our music, theater, writing? Did we gain some new DSCF7075connection to the somatic process underlying emotion?  How could this be relevant to the work we do with youths? What will it mean to create something “beautiful” in the future? 

Washington, You Break My Heart

Washington breaks my heart

It breaks my heart with its beauty

It is heart breaking hard and is protected with pillows wrapped in solar panels and decorated with barbs

It holds my love

robes it in bicycle chains and forgets itselfForgets that it is stitching with cold and water and kisses.

Washington breaks my heart

when it won’t let itself be whole

when it cuts itself to pieces

when it loves itself

when it liberates itself

when it riddles itself with caves and hidden places

and broken ladders

-Njoli-

 

Teaching Without Teachers

Sometimes I think the only way to be a teacher is to have no personal need for students, not the financial need, the egotistical need.  There only needs to be a desire for learning in order for teaching to occur.

…having the capacity to speak plainly and to be… plainly.

…teaching without teaching

…a dialogue between mutually respected peers in humanity

without dilution or fear

without the intention to incite

…letting go of the floors and ceilings

Meditation by Minutes

One minute of meditation

“Stand clear of the closing doors, please!!!”

One minute of meditation

“Ey, yo, bruh, wanna buy my cd? Original hip hop music.”

One minute of meditation

“Show time folks, show time! Live and direct!  Gotta see it to believe it!

One minute

Clouds roll in over Thompkins Square.

One minute

A collage of smells, flowers, chinese food, urine

One minute

Man yelling at woman

Woman yelling at child

Traffic on the GWB

Stoop-ball

Bachata

One minute of meditation

One catch up

catch all

-Njoli-

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