I believe language opens doors to understanding our meaning-filled worlds. Brick by brick, word by word, language unlocks potential to build scaffolds of meaning and ways to give voice to our eyes that see the world. Through history and song, we sing and craft poetry. And we build and build as our pillars form traditions and vernacular paradigms of architecture. Yet, there are limits.
As a Filipino-American, I live between walls, messily spread between the bordered identities that contain me. It is an experience which demands a name and begs for a voice. Though the constitutive mechanisms of common sense, disciplines and categories complexly provide clarity in meaning (and in this sense, belonging), its inflexibility and rigidity sometimes hinder the possibility for imagination and change.
When I discover nameless ideas still waiting to be named and voiceless inventions still waiting to be voiced, I am reminded of the hyphen, which is core to who I am. The hyphen represents the in-between that doesn’t fit within the frame imbued with naturalness. Not inside or outside of the frame, but one foot in, one foot out, eclipsed in hyphenation. History, alongside my experiences, tells me to locate the hyphenations, hybridities and connotations lurking in the indeterminate partially shaded penumbrae of natural common sense. This is what inspires all that I do: to give voice to the voiceless, to name what has not been named or named incorrectly, and to shine a light on the hazy trail of conjunctures that our fixed meanings leave behind.
Yet as time and cultural shifts untangle the implications of discrimination and prejudice, I am conflicted by contemporary conversations that suggest we drop the hyphen because it enforces that I am a partial-American, modified by being Filipino, by being a Brown person of color. Does the articulation of Filipino American balance this dynamic of identity by saying I am Filipino first and not just an American with Brown skin? Perhaps, this shift of representation in our language is a necessary step toward imagining what that future might look like for the physically displaced and historically dislocated immigrant-descendants like me who feel stuck, hyphenated, modified in between cultural camps.
With these twist and turns of life shaping the conditions of my own belonging, my music is at the heart of how I relate to others as a queer Filipino American singer songwriter crafting unspoken narratives through music, as a community organizer supporting my community in the Filipino diaspora through their struggles of displacement and dislocation, and as a communication researcher seeking to understand the circulations and articulations of meaning.
As the latest addition to my creative pursuits, Apollo’s Refuge grew from the aching anxieties, angst and agony of 2020. Immersed in a festering sadness, I was reminded of Audre Lorde’s essay Poetry is Not a Luxury, in which she says, “Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought.” Songwriting is similarly an introspective medium through which I craft combinations of the old and forgotten to open reimagined ways of seeing the world. It is an affective way of creatively resisting what is, embracing instinct and creating a vocabulary for the heartbreak many of us know too well. Initially, I carved an isolated island for myself to close out the terrible pandemic plastered in pandemonium. But as I peered beyond my refuge of reflection, I was compelled to compose after witnessing the moving response of protestors taking to the streets for the Black Lives Matter movement despite the risks it posed to their well being. It made me think, perhaps, rather than reserving the safety my music offers me, I should bravely share because everyone deserves a safe place to land. With this belief, I set out to write and compose new music.
I turned inward to find a way to move past my personal fears brought on by the pandemic, our current government, and the racial injustices that continue to plague our lives. And I returned to music which has always been that source of solace for me and decided to build a collaborative musical refuge for those who feel lost, afraid, or in need of a place to rest in these times of chaos. Conjuring allegories of Greek mythology, I composed love letters for you, my friends, family, colleagues, acquaintances, strangers, past lovers, and all those in between. The stories I articulate through my songwriting is designed to offer avenues of connection, a place for refuge and glimpses of hope. Invoking imagery of water, islands, and ships, I sing to tell the stories of how my experiences, vulnerabilities and insecurities as a queer person of color have inspired me to be more compassionate, empathetic and loving, all of which I hope to extend to you as a way to relate, find refuge and remind you that we’re not alone.