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Samahang Pilipino to explore ambiguity of identity in 45th annual Cultural Night

Members of Samahang Pilipino Cultural Night stand and kneel wearing their performance clothes as one performer poses in the middle. The annual event will occur at Royce Hall on Saturday, marking the 45th anniversary of the event. (Shengfeng Chien/Daily Bruin)

Samahang Pilipino 45th Annual Cultural Night

Royce Hall

May 21

By Bryan Palmero

May 20, 2022 3:09 p.m.

Samahang Pilipino Cultural Night will light up Royce Hall.

Entering its 45th annual edition, Samahang Pilipino Cultural Night is returning to an in-person format at Royce Hall on Saturday, with more than 200 students playing a part in its stage production. Featuring dance routines and theatrical performances, the show is the culmination of over three quarters of preparation and hones in on Pilipino identity said Caleb Velasquez, a second-year biology student and public relations coordinator.

“We tend to focus around the main ideas of either a parental struggle, struggle within oneself or finding somewhere in the world,” Velasquez said. “Those three components are a unique experience that not only Pilipinos, but Asian Americans face in general, with a majority of us having immigrant parents and having to adjust to the Western world. That’s part of the reason why Pilipino Cultural Night is our way to not only connect with our history but also share our current experiences, specifically as Pilipino Americans.”

[Related: ‘Sing (to me)’ harmonizes theme of understanding others with humorous style]

The theme of the cultural production – which began preparations during the summer of 2021 – centers around fireflies, stemming from the featured play, “Liwanag sa Dilim: The Fire Around Us,” said Sarah Lina Sparks, a second-year theater student and script coordinator. Inspired by the myth of Alitaptap – which tells the origin story of how a fly transformed into a firefly – the production’s main character is a demigod searching to establish her identity, Sparks said.

Since the main character resides on earth as a child of supernatural beings, Sparks said the ambiguity of her identity has the potential to resonate with Pilipinos in the audience. The concept of identity is complicated for many Pilipinos, she said, as the country’s history of colonization has made it challenging to draw clear demarcations of ethnic demographics.

“People will be really able to relate to our main character and her struggles about defining who she is and trying to see herself in her parents’ image, trying to see herself in her community’s image,” Sparks said. “What she needs to do is see herself in her own image and who she wants to be, who she needs to be. She finds she ends up finding strength in herself and that’s how she makes it through.”

Social media has been the primary form of promotion, Velasquez said, as the organization employed an Instagram countdown 45 days in advance of the show to honor its anniversary. With each post, Velasquez said fireflies were used as a recurring motif to intertwine the promotional feed as well as tie the social media back to the cultural night.

The production serves as a year-long venue to foster community among UCLA’s Pilipino demographic by engaging with their culture, said Joshua Austria, a fourth-year electrical engineering student and social coordinator. Three years removed from his last in-person production, Austria said upholding and growing the annual tradition arises from a desire to honor the manong generation – the first wave of Pilipino immigrants in the United States.

Unlike shows from years past, Sparks said she strived to integrate the choreography with the acting aspects of the play, an attribute she said previous shows have been criticized for neglecting. By using dances to reflect the play’s theme rather than to serve as one-off performances following different plot points, Sparks said she worked to ensure the show’s narrative is understood holistically.

Dance is featured throughout the show and will be divided into five suites that each represent a distinct strand of Pilipino culture, said Sophie Viray, a second-year international development studies student. As the rural coordinator, Viray said she choreographed three arrangements associated with provincial regions of the Philippines, leading a group of 54 dancers in addition to designing costumes.

[Related: UCLA student honors family, Filipino heritage through baking projects]

Viray said her dances attempt to mimic different aspects of daily life in the Philippines, such as birds avoiding bamboo traps, occupational fishing and wedding performances. Featuring props like makeshift fishing nets and fishing bins, the dances aim to depict the joy and appreciation of daily life, Viray said.

“Rural dancers really represent the aspects of Pilipino culture that are really joyful and celebratory,” Viray said. “That’s something I really appreciate about it and that I’m really happy to share with other people through teaching dances.”

Ultimately, the night is an opportunity for students to celebrate Pilipino culture with the rest of the UCLA community, Velasquez said. The representation that the production provides is also an integral component, Sparks said, as the number of Pilipino creatives in the theater industry is relatively small. Samahang Pilipino Cultural Night grants her the ability to honor her heritage, and by participating in the tradition, she said can give back to her cultural community.

“The opportunity to just see so many Pilipinos on stage really excited me because it’s something that I just haven’t seen before,” Sparks said. “Representation is so important and when you see it for something that you care so much about, it has such an impact.”

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Bryan Palmero | Daily Bruin senior staff
Palmero is a senior staff writer for Sports. He served as the assistant Sports editor on the softball, beach volleyball, women's volleyball, men's volleyball and men's golf beats from 2021-2022 and a Sports reporter on the beach volleyball and women's volleyball beats in 2021. He is a third-year mathematics and economics student.
Palmero is a senior staff writer for Sports. He served as the assistant Sports editor on the softball, beach volleyball, women's volleyball, men's volleyball and men's golf beats from 2021-2022 and a Sports reporter on the beach volleyball and women's volleyball beats in 2021. He is a third-year mathematics and economics student.
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