Theory is always a detour on the way to something more important.Stuart Hall
At the intersection of cultural studies, performance studies and sound studies, I conduct research on how people use creative practices to navigate the representations and realities that make up their everyday lives. Currently, I theorize sound as an aesthetic mode of inquiry into the cultural production and everyday life-making practices of Filipinx Americans, which might hold transformative potential for rethinking what it means to be in solidarity in times of struggle and disposability.
My broader research interests include the body, memory, affect; race, gender, sexuality, queer theory, transnational feminism; migration; imperialism, (neo)colonialism, decolonization, neoliberalism; abolition, politics of care, surplus and social reproduction, activism, community organizing, coalition and solidarity building, social movements, phenomenology, neuroscience, and psychoanalysis.
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. My mom survived and remains a beacon of hope in my family, but my grandpa passed away in 2014. The few years between my grandpa’s diagnosis and death, my family came together to organize a musical concert fundraiser for cancer research. This moment for us gave form to our grief by holding space where we could rehearse our capacity to cope 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 the lack of Filipino scholars throughout much of my academic journey so far.
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 to make room.
The point is not to render ideas less complex but to make the complex clear.bell hooks