Theory is always a detour on the way to something more important.

Stuart Hall

Situated at the intersection of Filipino studies, performance studies, and cultural studies, I do research on the ways in which embodied and multimodal communication shape ways of knowing and ways of being. While I am generally concerned with questions of power, subjectivity, and (embodied) knowledge, in particular, I focus on how creative practices produce knowledge and generate new possibilities for Filipino subjectivity. With a goal of reimagining whose knowledges and lived experiences count as truth or valid, I tune into the intersectional rhythms of sameness and difference by examining Filipino sonic practices as multimodal, multisensorial forms of communication that (re)shape the musicality of everyday life in the Philippines and in the Filipino diaspora in the U.S.

My broader research interests include the body, memory, affect; race, gender, sexuality, queer and feminist theory; migration, imperialism, (neo)colonialism, decolonization, modernities, neoliberalism; abolition, politics of care, surplus and social reproduction, activism, community organizing, coalition and solidarity building, social movements, phenomenology, neuroscience, and psychoanalysis.

My Story

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, all the medical bills, 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, lonely, alienating.

Those years were grueling and harrowing, but they reminded me about the importance of collectivity. The few years between his diagnosis and death, my family came together to organize a musical concert fundraiser for cancer research. This temporary moment for us became a critical moment of praxis where we would rehearse our capacity to cope with the impending loss together. And when my grandpa passed, I remember walking into his funeral and I was overwhelmed with the floods of people coming in from all walks of life: friends, community organizers, religious leaders, coworkers, and more. I was amazed by how many people squeezed into the narrow funeral home and listened to my family speak and sing about our grief.

Now that I look back, this gathering of people also reminds me of when I was little, all the people from the church and the neighborhood would come to my grandparent’s house to share a feast of Filipino dishes and gossip on Sundays after church, but also for holidays and other special occasions. I vaguely recall many people I didn’t know who would pinch my cheeks and tell me how they knew me when I was an infant. And I can’t count how many times my grandma would proudly make me a plate of food and tell me my grandpa made my favorite Filipino dish: adobo. But one of my favorite memories of these gatherings was the time my grandpa asked me to sing karaoke. As someone who struggled a bit with English, my grandpa, I thought, was hoping to connect with me through music. At first, when he inserted a blank CD into a recording machine that was hooked up to a clunky TV and karaoke machine, I thought he had wanted a souvenir to remember that moment. But after he recorded me singing, he later offered it to me as a gift. This act of gifting was certainly a useful representation of my grandpa’s abundant capacity for care beyond words. But also, this moment, like the gatherings that came around during our musical concert fundraiser and his funeral, illustrated to me the way in which music can be a performatively and affectively powerful way to open dialogue about care, belonging and collectivity.

“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

Through my undergrad and my masters, I started frequently volunteering in various communities and began doing research on my Filipino ethnicity hoping to learn more about collectivity and belonging. I read novels, conducted interviews to listen to relatives recount their migration stories, and struggled through US scholarship on the colonial history in the Philippines and through the lack of Filipino studies scholars throughout my academic career.

Through my studies and volunteering, I then found my way to activism. I slowly started attending protest actions. And I learned from scholar-activists who transformed their research into material practices. Some curated better museum representations, protested in the streets, and advocated for undocumented rights. Others were engaged in community participatory projects and developed art to communicate beyond the confines of language. From being in the streets to learning from others, these experiences helped refined my sensitivity to the possibilities that research made available to me and inspired me to join an activist organization in hopes of putting research in service of my communities.

From research to activism, I learned that if things can be thought and made, they can be rethought and remade; that a better world is possible. Thus, my research aim is a modest but necessary one, to help clear the way for the growth of more sustainable forms of collective life 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, alienation, competition and domination. In short, my aim is about unsettling the ‘popular’ to make room for social life to grow.

The point is not to render ideas less complex but to make the complex clear.

bell hooks