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 broadly interested in the architecture of artistic, activist, and academic knowledge and the way these forms of knowledge inform community building.

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 I felt small.

From this experience, I learned the value 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 mom is gone, 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 dearth 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 to learn and teach out the research skills I’ve learned from my time in the university.

As a doctoral student in Communication at UC San Diego, my research focuses on three areas:

  1. Meaning making, epistemology, ideology, culture, research
  2. Community Building, the synergy between art, activism and academia in that process
  3. Globalization and its relationship with meaning making and community building.

Currently, my work 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. Analyzing the transformations of culture and community today, I am interested in exposing the ways of thinking that legitimate police brutality and extrajudicial killings in the Philippines for the sake of public order, documenting the global response, and critically examining the role of research, the university, and culture (especially how art is used) in activism, community organizing, and social movements.

What is Communication research? For me, it is a broad, interdisciplinary field that permeates every aspect of human interaction. In short, communication is the study of meaning. In this sense, I am an archeologist unearthing the historicized pasts that inform our ways of thinking. I am an anthropologist who interprets the ways of thinking become common sense. I am a critical humanist who challenges these sedimented constellations of common sense that shape our bodies, the stories we tell, the patterns of our ways of life, and the spaces we occupy and belong in. And I am an artist who creatively complicates how questions are asked and answered through introducing perspectives for what the world could like in the future. In other words, the question that drives my research is this: how do the maps of our commonly held beliefs, values, and meaning shape reality and create what we understand as culture and community?

Through my research and time in graduate school at UCSD, I hope to polish my research skills and my community organizing skills; to advance the right to the tools, techniques and processes of research by building strategic knowledge for community organizers, clarifying the role and relevance of social science research today, and building bridges between academia and our communities; and, to imagine sustainable models of community for the future.