Tag Archives: smithsonian

My Hapa Story

5 Aug

Last week our gamelan ensemble from the Indonesian Embassy in Washington, D.C., performed a wayang kulit (shadow puppet play) with guest artists from Java. After our first rehearsal together, their director—realizing I couldn’t converse with him in Bahasa—asked me where I am from.

“Philippines,” my director answered for me.

“No!” I argued, surprising both of them and myself. “I’m from California!”

I’ve never really identified as Filipino, even though it’s half my blood. I’ve never identified with the quarter of English or the eighth of Irish. Maybe I accidentally embraced my eighth of mystery ethnicity.

I’ve never felt strongly like an American. I didn’t feel like a Sacramentan until I moved to Los Angeles, and I didn’t feel like a Californian until I moved to the East Coast. Davis was the only place where I truly felt like a member of a community, and even then I knew I couldn’t stay in such a small town.

My mom with me (the baby) and my brother Allan, I think on Maui, 1986
My mom felt the same way. Full-blooded Filipino but a dual citizen, born in the Philippines on an American military base, raised back and forth between Okinawa and all over the United States, drawn alternately to the Bay Area and Tokyo, she told me once that she never felt like she belonged to any one place. As an army brat, it was very weird for her to live in Sacramento—in just one house, no less—continuously for 24 years.

As a result of my mom’s immigrant identity crisis, I know little of Filipino culture. Since her parents wanted to raise Americans, didn’t teach the kids Tagalog or their respective dialects, my generation is left with only a few traditional recipes, the word for fart (utot), and a giant fork and spoon in the kitchen.

Instead, my mom filled our house and her childhood anecdotes with pieces of Japanese and especially Okinawan culture. I’ve been far more interested in learning about and visiting Okinawa than I have ever been in the Philippines.

Working at the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, where we celebrate the diversity of cultures in the world and help communities sustain their traditions and assert their cultural identities, I think about this issue a lot—how I don’t really do these things for myself.

But maybe through learning Okinawan music, adopting Indonesian culture through playing gamelan, and immersing myself in Peruvian or Kenyan or Chinese cultures at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, I at least carry on my mom’s identity as a cultural wanderer.

This post is a submission for the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center’s #myhapastory project.


Henry Rollins Station ID

14 Oct

Ian MacKaye, our archivist Jeff Place, Henry Rollins, and intern Bailey Cameron
I met Henry Rollins today!

Punk rock icon Ian MacKaye comes through our office every few months, since he’s old friends with our archivist Jeff Place and working on archival projects of his own. The first time I saw him, two summers ago, I remember hearing that next time he was going to bring his buddy, fellow punk rock icon Henry Rollins.

Today he followed through, stopping by before Rollins gave a talk on the D.C. punk scene at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History.

I told him I like his radio show, which was a highlight of being stuck in Saturday-evening Los Angeles traffic. But to be honest, I don’t think I’ve consciously listened to Black Flag until tonight. I didn’t tell him that when I asked to record a station ID for KDVS.

So, where should I start? Recommend an album to me!

Hugh Masekela at the Opera

8 Apr

hugh masekela
I met Hugh Masekela today!

The 75-year-old South African jazz artist made the rounds at a few Smithsonian locations, concluding with an interview in our office at the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. He talked about social justice and sustaining cultural heritage through music, with representatives from the Smithsonian, the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Howard University, WPFW and more.

He was explaining something about how historically Europe has preserved its arts much more thoroughly than Africa has. Offhandedly he said, “I was kicked out of an opera once,” the first opera he ever saw. I started recording.

He’s a sweet, funny guy. He gave everyone in the office hugs instead of shaking hands. And he also gave me a KDVS station ID!

Songs of Okinawa

31 Mar

elisa with shinobu matsuda
This never ending winter has been punctuated by a few amazing musical experiences, and at the top of that list is a free concert at the Freer Gallery of Art last month, Songs of Okinawa featuring The Ryukyuans.

The four musicians played traditional folk songs from their native Ryukyu Islands (Okinawa, Yaeyama and Miyako) on the standard sanshin fiddle and shima-daiko drums, plus original songs adding acoustic guitar.

Every song seemed so familiar, brought me right back to adventuring in Okinawa with my family, brought a tear to my eye!

The one woman in the group, Shinobu Matsuda, performed a few songs alone with only drum accompaniment. Each one was captivating. Her sanshin (above) has been in her family for over 100 years, passed down from her grandfather to father to her, and she introduced this “pop” song as her father’s favorite:

“Moashibi Chijuya” (as you can hear, she’s a badass)

They did a song I featured once before, when I complained I couldn’t translate the lyrics. Luckily singer Isamu Shimoji prefaced with an explanation: “I love you, I need you, I want you/ Hold me tight/ Love. Very, very simple song.”

“Kanayo / Amakaa”

They closed with a contemporary song that got everyone on their feet dancing and some finger-whistling along. Isamu began saying the title translates to “Summer Solstice, Southerly Wind.” “I don’t know why.” (Haha, and I’m just now noticing that he’s the composer).

“Kaa chi pai” (cut off due to dead battery)

If you want to read more about the concert and some history of Okinawa and its folk music, I wrote a short article for the Smithsonian Folklife Festival blog.

2013 Resolution Audio

4 Jan

bike mirror
By December I had forgotten if I had made any resolutions in 2013. Luckily I still write all my hopes and dreams in a Livejournal! Here’s what I found:

Find a new cool job

Done! I couldn’t have imagined at the beginning of the year that the Smithsonian would offer me a job. I guess I made quite an impression with my audio posts during the Folklife Festival, and in December I started work as the editor for the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage.


Go to the PNW, New York and Peru

I spent a frosty beautiful week in Washington state in March and a sweltering sticky weekend in New York in July. One day I’ll make it to Peru and see those arpe players for myself!


Start biking regularly again

Yes! I took a six-month biking hiatus after almost passing out alone on Sunset Boulevard, but I worked up courage and strength to begin again. Lou and I started biking along the L.A. River every weekend, and in D.C. biking was the fastest and funnest option.


Get confident taking public transit

I finally braved the Los Angeles Metro to commute to my volunteer gig at KPFK. Even on my first day in D.C., I successfully navigated the city by bus and subway. Now I can get just about anywhere–and get motion sick in the process.


Make a radio documentary (or many)

This is the audio achievement I am most proud of! My first radio documentary aired on KPFK in June, and I have recordings and ideas for many more.

I think I did pretty well! Did you complete your resolutions? Let’s hear ’em!

West Sumatran Talempong

8 Nov

Padang Panjang talempong

The final night of Performing Indonesia was an eclectic demonstration of traditional music, dance and folk theater from West Sumatra. The Professional Ensemble of the Indonesian Institute of the Arts at Padang Panjang began with a gamelan variation called talempong, consisting of small brass kettle gongs that sit horizontally in a frame, two hanging gongs and hand drums.

These guys really know how to build up a song! These melodies are pretty simple, but they steadily intensify until a sudden, pulsating conclusion. (Yow!) I especially like the slow vocal intro to this, like an Indonesian doo-wop:

The rest of the night mixed up the talempong with some double reed flute, electric bass and a zither. Two young girls did an impressive plate-balancing act. There was some cross-dressing, some comedy bits (which I couldn’t understand but laughed anyway because it was still fun), some sword fighting, some wrestling, a lot of “Stomp”-style dancing using percussive pants.

In a mind-boggling finale, the men did another plate-balancing dance, and then began smashing the plates with their bare feet. Jumping up and down on shards of china! Rolling around in this pile of shards shirtless! A guy took a handful and rubbed it all over his face! (See the remnants above?) It was wild.

Thus concludes my coverage of Performing Indonesia. So thankful to the embassy and the Smithsonian for hosting this inspiring event!

House of Angklung

7 Nov

house of angklung
In a weekend full of gamelan, the Washington, D.C.-based House of Angklung was a welcome change in timbre and instrumentation. Like an Indonesian version of carolers’ bells, angklung are bamboo idiophones that a player shakes to produce a single note. With a whole ensemble, they create a melody.

If you search for angklung on Youtube, you’ll see it’s pretty popular to adapt contemporary pop music to these centuries-old instruments. This group was no exception. I have a soft spot for “Volare”:

house of angklung
Novelties aside, my favorite song of the performance featured this singer, a popular folk song from the Papua province called “Yamko Rambe Yamko”: