As an introvert in a world that privileges the extrovert, a queer soul in a society that defaults to straight, and a Filipino-American whose ancestors are often forgotten in US histories, I am a communication researcher focused on why certain ideas or things matter (both in the material sense and meaningful sense), especially in terms of what assemblages create the parameters for what we call “common sense” and how systems of common sense materialize into inequity, insecurity and violence. In other words, I’m interested in the way in which decisions and designs form hierarchies of value and carry acute implications on survival.
Situated between state violence and care, my current work starts by asking “why does health matter?” and focuses on my activism with Malaya Movement, a transnational human rights organization that emerged in response to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs, a war that has claimed 30,000 lives since he began his six-year-term presidency in 2016. Exposing the assemblages that legitimate punitive and carceral practices as the solution for drug use and trafficking, I am exploring alternative solutions through studying neglected epistemologies, migration histories, art and mutual aid in activist settings, public health practices, medicine in higher education, and care work in the healthcare industry.
What set me on this path was the year 2012 when my mom and my grandpa were both diagnosed with cancer. With all the surgeries, all the radiation and chemotherapy sessions, and all the medical bills, and my lack of the tools and support I needed to navigate the healthcare industry and the emotional gravity of being on the sidelines of illness and death, the world felt big and lonely.
This experience showed me the importance of community. I remember walking into my grandpa’s funeral and I was overwhelmed with the floods of people coming in from all walks of life: friends, community organizers, religious leaders, coworkers, and so much more. I forgot what community felt like. It reminded me of when I was little, all the people from the church and the neighborhood would come to my grandparent’s house for a feast of Filipino dishes and karaoke. And these memories compelled me to ask myself, “where will my community be when my family is gone? Where will I belong?”
Through my undergrad and my masters, I then began doing more research into my ethnic culture as someone with Filipino ancestry in search of community and belonging. I read novels, conducted interviews to listen to relatives recount their migration stories, and tediously struggled through the lack of US scholarship on the colonial history between the Philippines and the US. Then, I learned from other scholar-activists who transformed their research into material practices from curating better museum representations, to advocating for the undocumented, to developing art to communicate beyond the confines of language. These experiences refined my sensitivity to the possibilities that research made available to me and inspired me to join an activist group in my community. From research to activism, I learned that if things can be thought and made, they can be rethought and remade; that a better future is possible. Thus, my research aim is a modest but necessary one, to contribute to the collective process of opening pathways for imagining sustainable futures, communities, and histories that build upon care, reciprocity, mutual interdependence, and fairness rather than individualist solutions based on merit and opportunity and punitive, carceral solutions based on fear, terror and domination.
“Only in community with others has each individual the means of cultivating [their] gifts in all directions; only in community, therefore, is personal freedom possible.”Karl Marx