The Balikbayan Renaissance is a globally emerging artistic movement of Philippine arts and culture as interpreted by the Filipino Diaspora and the Gen X, Gen Y and Millennial generations of Philippine natives. The name "Balikbayan Renaissance" was coined in 2003, inspired by the cultural explosion of the Harlem Renaissance.
The Origin of the Term "Balikbayan Renaissance."
In 2003, my Papa died in Manila. I went back for the first time as an adult, and had an entirely new experience and understanding, the awareness of immediate connectedness, down to a cellular level, when the plane touched down. This was my first real "balikbayan" (not counting childhood) experience.I was 28 then, hadn't been back since I was 10. I rediscovered family, esp. my generation of cousins and friends, it was MY generation of Filipinos, who made fun of my "old people" Tagalog that I learned from my parents/grandparents. I saw the opportunities to work in Manila - I got 4 jobs in less than a month - many of course, due to family connections. I **could** live there, something I'd never imagined or considered before. I met a lot of musicians, artists, filmmakers, writers and I was inspired. In Manila, I felt I could be "me" - I wasn't trying to fit in to a white culture, and I didn't feel like I needed to cultivate a "safe" career.
In Manila, friends/fam talked of the "Brain Drain" of OFW's - of all classes, including dh types - but specifically, nurses, doctors, IT workers, etc - and everyone else who dreams of "better lives abroad. From my perspective though, it seemed the "better life" was in PI - and all the possibilities of applying Western education and experience to collaborate with our generation in the homeland. Balikbayans of my age, education and work experience could invest in businesses, collaborations, creative endeavors, discover the power of their own generation, and the full inheritance of our culture.
North American-born Filipinos only get a taste of what it means to be Pinoy - food, family customs, folk dancing - but largely we ARE taught to assimilate and be whitewashed. We don't learn Philippine History in school, or mythology, or even current events. We get TFC and telenovellas. We get the cultural transmissions set up by our parents/grandparents' old school generations, not our own. The term "Balikbayan Renaissance" came to me at that time, seeded by the notion that if more young balikbayans like myself discovered our own generation and culture by coming home or collaborating with our PI-based counterparts - we could create a movement to combat that "Brain Drain" - to entice the children of the immigrants who left to pursue "better lives" abroad to come home, reconnect, engage, be enriched, and create a new emergent mentality to push out the "Old Guard" thinking.A few years after Papa died I worked with Digital Sweatshop (including Toronto-based Filipinos Caroline Mangosing, Romeo Candido) on the writing and filmmaking process of the film Ang Pamana: The Inheritance, I was inspired by the group of young, determined, talented artists who gathered around the project - they were proud to be Filipino - and they were discovering WHY they were proud to be Filipino through their own art and self-discovery. Collaborating with director, screenwriter and filmmaker Romeo Candido and Manila-based Ria Limjap, I wrote some of my EXACT experiences of "coming home as an adult to Manila because somebody died" into the script, including the culture shock, the wild pinsans, and many of my grandmother's supernatural tales.
I was inspired by the Harlem Renaissance - and to me the rise of black literature and arts was a clear parallel to the artistic movement that our generation of Filipinos is leading - reinvigorating/redfining the CULTURE, by offering means and empowering expression through ARTS, both the artist and the audience discovers a new piece of their identity to celebrate. So the BALIKBAYAN Renaissance, isn't just the "Filipino" renaissance - it's an artistic movement that encompasses our generation (and younger) of the Filipino Diaspora - in our desire to rediscover identity, but also that encompasses those in the homeland, who are teaching the Diaspora / telling us stories of our own culture - in the shared language and media of our generation. Simply put, Filipinos all over the world, who want to share the sense of identity, to have the experience of "going home" through art.
In the years since I've seen the rise of our generation - in arts, entertainment, and all industries. We're proud to find each other in professional industries, we do not follow class-based, political or provincial prejudices of our parents. Our entertainment standards are not old school Filipino - emerging Filipino talent in music, filmmaking, writing, etc are born of a more authentic and culturally-informed influence. Most of the kuyas and ates have established themselves through sheer tenacity and are willing to share their experiences with young artists, encouraging them to be fearless, uncompromising and unique in their expression. This is a kind of unconditional support that many people don't/ didn't get from our parents when pursuing our artistic dreams. No one in our generation says "put music/writing/film on the side, as a hobby - but become a nurse/doctor/accountant, for safety." There are mentors who serve as successful role models - something that every culture needs to inspire their youth.
Kapisanan, in the past few years, has harnessed the cultural, professional and natural networking abilities of the Philippine community in Toronto and now I feel there is a creative force and momentum - and anyone who sees the artists and works that come through the guidance, mentorship and promotion of Kapisanan Centre will be inspired and jealous of this self-created, self-selected support community based on beauty, culture, history, art - self-expression. I live in California, and I jones for Kapisanan all the time. The Balikbayan Renaissance spirit, the Filipino Renaissance spirit - is ALIVE there, and I think is an inspiration to Fil-Canadians who might feel lost in assimilation or homesick, or just needing the community and support of other Pinoys. But it's an inspiration to all artistic communities, ethnic enclaves, and Filipinos worldwide. Who wouldn't want a place, a community, a "family" of artists to help you find yourself, develop your skills and hone/promote you as an artist?
Kapisanan is an amazing place (and soon will be a new website) where Filipinos of all generations across the globe can come to and feel nourished by our own culture, inspired by our artists and motivated to do the same. It's also the place that makes non-Filipinos wish they were Pinoy, too.
Irrefutable proofs of the Balikbayan Renaissance:
Carlos Celdran Quite literally bringing the streets of Manila to the world.
Urban Kulintang and more. Sick.
Future Folk Catherine Hernandez' play about Filipino caregivers in Canada
Carlos Bulosan Theatre: Champion of Philippine theatre in Toronto.
Project Balikbayan: with Photographer Alex Felipe and Filmmaker Vince Galvez