by Sammie Wills, ’16
There are few things I find more beautiful than the ability to resist oppression through happiness. There is a certain strength and grace in creating joy despite aggressors’ attempts to diminish hope. This joy can be embodied through the dance and song and art of a culture, passed down to remember and celebrate the resistance engendered by a people.
This very mode of resistance demonstrates why I love culture shows.
First, I must be careful to note that there are indeed multiple problematic aspects of culture shows. The culture show itself is, and will always be, a highly-romanticized, typically-westernized performance of native cultures and traditions. Take, for example, the Bayanihan Dance Troupe, which revolutionized the spread of Filipino dances across the many islands of The Philippines. While being culturally unifying, there is no merit in their methods of obtaining the knowledge, as they bribed and extorted locals in order to be taught the dances and rituatls. And there is no merit in the westernization of these dances, done in order to pacify the mainstream Filipino culture, which has been stained with Spanish colonialism and American imperialism. Considering that Pilipino Cultural Nights in The Philippines and in the Americas have taken their roots in the Bayanihan Dance Troupe, PCNs may always have fundamentally negative aspects. Yet, culture nights of the Filipino variety and otherwise, represent more than twisted views of far-away places.
Pilipino Cultural Nights never aim to fully represent the actions of those in history. As Theodore Gonzalves states in his book, The Day the Dancers Stayed, “Pilipino Cultural Nights are not literal but lateral truths, acts of performative surrogation, the sideways substitution of a student body into time’s breach.” Although not perfectly mimicking historic rituals, students are given the chance to create a connection to a cultural past. Students and performers are allowed the opportunity to understand the joy created through dance, and the happiness embedded into traditional songs. Participants can nearly feel the very joy that allowed a nation of people to rise up against oppression. By carrying on the joy and bolstering the education, performers are continuing to fight the oppression that is impacted into our identities.
Through a blend of dances, songs, and skits, Pilipino Cultural Nights challenge participants to address a lack of oneself, and discover one’s own sense of cultural heritage. PCNs blend the struggles of modern identity with those of cultural tradition. Students foster unity through a shared identity, and through a shared solidarity with history. Cultural nights can even create an empowered audience — dynamically educated on the marginalization of a culture.
When I sit down in a large auditorium to watch a culture show, they truly make me cry because I finally realize that there are organizers out there who care so deeply about giving students a chance to unify, discover, learn, and understand the happiness of resisting oppression. I cry not only because of the beauty in resistance, but also because of the beauty of identity-conscious passion. I am touched by those who hold a strong sense of self, and I am moved by those who wish to educate others on the facets of their histories. It is exquisite to see performers attempt to honor a heritage, while also working to become cognizant of their own identities.
Today at 6:30pm, Dinkelspiel Auditorium will be shaken by the passion and happiness that I have been attempting to detail. Stanford’s Pilipino American Student Union and Stanford’s Kayumanggi Dance Troupe will be unleashing their 3rd annual Pilipino Cultural Night, “Ating Awit: Our Song.” I hope that you will join me to see the culmination of months of work, months of learning, and months of finding identity. Maybe you will have the opportunity to finally see why culture shows make me cry.
Sammie Wills is an enthusiastic QPOC of many origins. She is always finding different perspectives, and she is always learning. She loves drinking coffee/tea, having long hair, chilling, chatting, and forming meaningful friendships. If you’d like, you should be her friend.