Although Tito Carlos was born in the Philippines, he did not know very much about Filipino culture or history before going to college. That changed for Carlos, a first-year biochemistry student, when he came to UCLA and joined Samahang Pilipino club, a Filipino student group that has been on campus for 40 years and has more than 200 members.
On Saturday, the group will host its 35th annual Samahang Pilipino Cultural Night, an event where members of Samahang Pilipino will perform dancing suites along with a scripted show that focuses on social and economic issues that affect the Filipino community.
Carlos is featured as one of 200 performers involved in the production titled “Kayamanan,” a Tagalog word which translates to “Treasure.”
Brittany Lopez, a fourth-year microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics student and the executive producer of the cultural night, said the entire show is student-initiated with an original script and songs written by students.
“Last year’s theme was about the disappearance of our culture, and this year we want to celebrate our accomplishments as a community and embrace our culture as a treasure,” Lopez said.
Ethel Navales, a fourth-year English student and script director for the show, said she wanted to align the dances with particular moments in the performances as well as highlight the issues Samahang Pilipino is advocating.
“The challenge was to cover enough of the aspects of these social and economic issues while still making it entertaining and accessible to our audience. There are so many groups within Samahang Pilipino that want their voices and issues to be heard,” Navales said.
This year the group will explore and discuss “financial literacy” through the story of two different families, one in the Philippines and one in America, who are struggling financially.
“My biggest obstacle in writing and directing the actors was making sure that every member of the audience will at some point relate to these characters. I didn’t want the show to feel commercial or unnatural,” Navales said.
To accomplish this, Navales made one of the main characters a UC student and focused a plot around two families and how they challenge their own assumptions about American and Filipino culture.
Navales said she used her theater minor as well as her involvement with a high school tutoring subcommittee in Samahang Pilipino called SPACE (Samahang Pilipino Advancing Community Empowerment) to work the various components of the show into one cohesive script. Navales paired certain moments in the script, such as when two characters are fighting with the Igorot dance, which depicts tribal warfare.
“The point of the performance is to show that family, love and culture are the true treasures or “˜Kayamanan,’ not money, and the script and dances evoke that,” Navales said.
Lopez also said the dancers and performers were expected to learn the history behind the dances they were performing in order to grasp the cultural significance of each dance. For instance, the dance suites represent the general makeup of different tribes in the five different geographic locations of the Philippines.
Dances include the Igorot dance, which is based on an indigenous mountain tribe untouched by Western culture. The Maria Clara is a Spanish-influenced dance inspired by a woman who the dance is named after, while the Moro is a traditional Muslim-influenced dance. There is also a rural suite practiced in remote regions that employs a minimalist style to embrace and celebrate everyday life, while the traditionalist suite mimics rituals for harvesting.
Carlos, who dances in three different dance suites in the show, said he learned a lot of history from performing these dances, but the show has also allowed him to feel closer to home.
“This (cultural) night and this group allows our generation (of Filipinos) to come together and perform. We can be together as a kind of family even though we are all away from the Philippines,” Carlos said.