The Day the Panaddamman Dancers Came

"The Day the Dancers are Coming" would have been a big hit. It was a big project, initially, with our students at the University and with the community participating.

Then again, there are things that are not meant to be. There are things that are not within our control, things that we cannot change. Here, acceptance and being resigned to these things is a virtue, the mark of being a man, a woman, a child. The mark of being a true person.

The former representative Jun Abinsay broached this idea to us in one of those meetings we held to put together many things, including the holding of the 2006 Nakem Centennial Conference.

The solon who traces his roots in the Ilocos, as usual, was always the cool mind, with so much hopes in his heart for the Filipino people, with that singular dedication to the cause of the Ilokano community in immigrant land, in this land of the exiled, he being the adviser of a number of civic and cultural organization, and, in my reading of the literary history of the Ilocos and Amianan, was at one time involved with the Gumil Hawaii, and had, in fact, been co-editor of a number of their anthologies.

The dancers, singers, and performers were to be a good number number, more than 30, he said, so we would expect some issues with the visas, with the immigration professionals at the American consulate possibly raising some employment concerns if they were to come here as performers.

I will join hands with you, I told him, eager to have all these cultural exchanges, and with our students in the Ilokano and Philippine Drama and Film Program almost all local born, this show might create in them some kind of an awareness of the kind of culture that their parents came from, but which, by this force we call assimilation into the local American culture, these students have only heard of such a heritage culture and thus the performance of that heritage culture assuming some form of a hearsay. Or plain ignorance, as the case of some of them, who know more of Hollywood and its pop and pulp forms than those "indigenous" cultures of the Philippines and the Pacific, those of the Hawaiian islands included.

At worst, this heritage culture is alien to them, as the case of our students who try to speak Ilokano with that funny accent only Americanized tongues could produce.

In our use of English, we immigrants mangle the language as well and so we are returning the favor to this local born and Americanized Filipino immigrants and local born. As a consequence, our English becomes one of those Englishes in the world, with our Ilokano accent intact however much we try to acculturate the tongue with the schwa, the rolled r's, the short a, the t's, and the f's and p's, this last one sometimes not different for the Ilokano training to pronounce the Philippines with a P and not an F, which, in a way, is a real illogical sound, come to think of it, a waste of a letter when a single letter could have been just fine.

The plan was huge--a multipartite program, with the academic community, with the cultural and civic communities, and with the business community. Abinsay was to head the committee, and we were to support him--we being Dr Raymund Liongson from Leeward and I and all other individuals and organization who see the urgent need to remember the best from our culture.

With the concurrence of the legislator Abinsay, I set the schedule on December 15, with the venue at the Art Auditorium reserved, but for the lack of time, and with the visa problem really becoming a problem, the schedule had to be cancelled. At about that time, we do not know how many of the dancers and singers would be able to make it--and would have their Philippine passports stamped with that powerful US visa for tourists.

These performers showed their unique talent and dancing prowess during the January 2006 State of Hawaii visit to the Philippines, with the Gov. Linda Lingle herself heading that delegation. Mrs Lolinda Ramos, the doyenne of Ilokano cultural patronage, was still all-heart and spritely at this time and she, with hundred others, joined that historical visit of the officialdom and the business people of Hawaii to the Philippines, with the Ilocos as one of the important stopovers. If Mrs Ramos were still alive today, I bet she would be the first one to welcome them, perhaps extending to them that generosity of heart she had extended to the many Ilokano writers who had come to link up with the writers based in the State.

Four years of absense from the homeland is not a lot in terms of historical data but I am justified for not knowing beforehand the Cabugao Internationa Performing Arts Group of Ilocos Sur nor the Panaddaman Dance Troupe of the Cagayan State Univeristy: they are the newest cultural kids on the block, and they are one of best, said Abinsay during that meeting and in the many other chance meetings and telephone conversations we would have in the spirit of the preparation for their coming.

Bien Santos' sad story, "The Day the Dancers Came," came to my mind as we went on with our planning, and I searched deep in my heart the conflicted feelings I had, the feelings that have something to do with that nasty thought about leaving the homeland to the devices of the political and economic and religious and cultural opportunists and the feeling that in this adoptive land, in this America that offers to us immigrants something different, some opportunities, some chance at material comfort if only we tried harder until the body cannot take in all the exhaustion and the overworking, I can have the luxury of "imported" cultural performances like that energetic singing of Martin Nievera at the closing of the centennial celebrations.
Such would be a conflicted experience as well: it is some kind of a way to reconnecting with the homeland--and it is also a escape from the humdrum of daily life in this land of the many exiled like us.

I would imagine the dancers with their umbrellas, their camisas, their barongs, their slippers, their bamboo poles for that eternal tinikling wherever a big occasion becomes a tentative and tenuous reason for Filipinos to get together and stop their bickering for a few hours and instead, put their hands together so they can produce a lusty clapping for the visiting performers.

And so the Panaddaman dancers came to dance for us on December 29, that same day that I was able to hoodwink my local two born nieces and one local born nephew--all in their early and mid teens--to come and watch our dancers. It paid that I connived with my sister, their mother and aunt, respectively, so we would have a reason for them to pick up some Ilokano--and Filipino culture--along the way, what with their Americanized view of things.

Language, for instance. The sound of Ilokano is simply alien to them, strange. Their souls are simply somewhere else, like my children who could connect with me in Tagalog but not in Ilokano.

Or food taste and smell. The MacDonaldization of their culinary preferences is absolute, total, totalizing.

Or family relationships, with them unable to understand, what, in reality, is the Filipino relevance and meaning of an extended family, knowing, as imaged in many of the popular American forms of culture, that family, if at all there assuming that divorce has not come assaulting their young minds, is as nuclear as the nuclear program of some wayward country or countries bluffing us all about their project to destroy humanity: a father, a mother, and the cute little children with their bratty ways because, even when so young and tender, they know which telephone number to dial to call the attention of the police and/or social services in case a parent does some kind of disciplining that amounted to some whacking of the butt.

And dance the dancers did, with that delicate balance between art and body mechanics, grace and skill, and wit and historical correctness. Their presentation, "Hist-O-Rama" is a study on the fusion of memory and mindfulness, of history and high-jumping, of consciousness and cadence. There is also that cultural correctness on the effects of colonization and imperialism, of domination and power, and identity and self-formation. There questioning, embedded in the movements, in the gestures, in the body language, in the steps, is much too complext but not complicated to absorb so that those who do not know the dynamics of Philippine history and culture, the show could have been a lesson in critical civics and Philippine cultural awareness. In short, it could have been an occasion, a rare one, for that awakening to commence.

The $20 entrance fee was worth it. I gave them copies of the "Saritaan ken Sukisok" to bring home and to make them realize that on the day they performed for us exiles, our remembering will begin.

The day the Panaddaman dancers came, I went home renewed and refreshed after the show, ready to embark on some soul-searching about what to do to contribute to the long-lasting loving of the homeland.

My local born relatives abandoned themselves to the sights and sounds--and to the symbols in between the shrieking cries of the performances and the silences. The nephew from Florida even danced the tinikling, his graceful execution of the steps after some on the spot rehearsal before the paying audience showing much promise. I do not know if he will ever find his way back to Philippine language, culture, and consciousness, what with his East Coast ways, but the memory, I am sure, is worth it.

Many of the Filipino Centennial Celebration commisioners were there. The day the Panaddamman dancers came, they stole our hearts.

Now we are finding our way back to the homeland.

A Solver Agcaoili
UH Manoa/Dec 30, 2006

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