Typhoon Haiyan

Kwentuhan, Part 1: Undressing the Fragments


“Storytelling is the most important part of any culture. It is the way we pass on our values, our dreams, our memories, our ancestry, our history, our herstory. It is a tool to keep our culture alive,” writes Renee Rises. She continues, “Every day a person tells a story. In every culture, in every country, we live our lives and we share stories daily. About our day, about our best friend, about our youth, about teaching, about creating art, about the closeness of our family, our struggles, our foods, our literature.... Stories live everywhere.”

It is precisely because of this - the undeniable power of storytelling - that UniPro launched the Kwentuhan initiative. Celebrating Filipino American History Month and the unique stories of our community, Kwentuhan promotes four different theatrical productions, all the original work of Filipinos in NYC, all showing through October and November 2014. The first of these shows is Renee’s Undressing the Fragments.

On Friday, October 24 at the WOW Cafe Theater in NYC, I attended the premiere of Undressing the Fragments, a non-linear theatrical production that delves into the lives of 14 characters in one act and 16 scenes. Although they are all Filipino American, Renee captures the diversity within our community by portraying the characters as very unique individuals; they experience different hardships and joys, they relate to their ancestral heritage in their own ways (if at all), and they have varying (and sometimes conflicting) values. On top of the struggles of trying to build lives of happiness and success, as members of the Invisible Minority navigating between (at least) two worlds, the characters must face the reality and helplessness of being oceans away from their motherland as it is ravaged by Super Typhoon Haiyan. Renee explains:

"Undressing the Fragments is a play that explores the diversity of the Filipina/o American community during the time of a natural disaster, during Typhoon Haiyan. It brings about various issues that impacted the community before, during and after the storm. While the play takes place during the most catastrophic typhoon to ever hit the Philippines, it explores issues that Filipina/os in America face as families, friends, educators, activists, soldiers, mothers, wives, brothers, sisters and humans. There isn't one issue it focuses on, it's many; hence-- fragments. There are so many pieces to our identity and I wanted to capture as many voices and lives as I possibly could in a small amount of time. I wrote the play while travelling in California from San Francisco, to LA, to San Diego, to Chicago and back to New York. I listened to many Filipina/os across the country and I listened deeply. I wrote with all of their stories in mind."

Undressing the Fragments Flyer

The play succeeds not only in engaging the audience in the characters' complex emotions, but also in challenging us with thoughtful, uncomfortable, and at times unanswerable questions. "What does it mean to be a Filipina/o in America?" states the show description. In this play, it means everything from college PCNs to playing with light-skinned dolls that contrast so starkly with your own skin color, and from superstitions to the ugliness of shame in your queer family member. This latter scene, when a young Pinoy reveals his sexual orientation to his much-respected Kuya, was an "Oh, shit" moment for me; suddenly my Filipino American-ness smacked me in the face and I found that I was fighting to keep myself together. Although it is not a scenario that I have experienced personally, the scene expressed so much about the respect, pride, and social acceptance that Filipino American families value so dearly, and which may also become a weight so heavy that it forces the family - the foundation of Filipino culture - to fall apart.

Just as meaningful as the play was the post-show talkback, when Renee and the actors conversed with the audience about what we had just seen. What surprised us? What affected us? We spoke about the significance of the spotlight highlighting the teen-aged Jessica, the youngest character in the play, who will share with other Filipino American youth the honor/burden of carrying forth and building upon our community's traditions, successes, and shortcomings. We spoke, of course, about Typhoon Haiyan, raising the same question we've all heard over and over again since last November: What can we do to help? Well, what CAN we do? We're here in the States, miles away from the land that many of us, perhaps, know very little about. Are we obligated to join relief and rebuilding efforts on the ground? Should we organize our own fundraising events? Where should we send the funds?

Of the many questions asked and thoughts shared during this discussion, Renee's poignant reflection on Haiyan resonated with me the most. She explained how the destruction of Hurricane Katrina had blown her away upon seeing it firsthand as a volunteer. To think that Haiyan's level of devastation was much worse, and that this time, she looked like the victims.... This inexplicable connection that she feels to Filipinos – kapwa – made an enormous sense of guilt and helplessness well within her for being in NY rather than in the Philippines. But as Undressing the Fragments actress Jana Lynne Umipig responded, yes, we ARE here. We must be fully present where we are, remembering the reasons why our families migrated here, and innovating ways to maximize our impact as a united community. True to life, Undressing the Fragments leaves the focus of that impact as yet to be determined.

As for the overall message Renee wants the audience to take away? “I want the audience to make decisions for themselves. The message? Filipinos are... unique. We're beautiful. We're diverse. We're complex. We struggle. We're brown. We're yellow. We're friends. We're enemies. We're artists. We're talented. We exist. We have dreams. We have hopes. Aspirations. We work together. We are solidarity. We struggle. We listen. We learn. We love. We are human.”

To read more from Renee Rises, check out her three-part story in The FilAm Magazine:

For more Kwentuhan, support our community’s artists and attend the rest of the shows, and return to our blog for exclusive interviews with the creators:

Lastly, to get involved in NYC community efforts to commemorate Typhoon Haiyan and discuss climate justice, attend the "Remembering Haiyan" community forum + vigil on Saturday, November 8, 2014.


Special thanks to Kirklyn Escondo for interviewing Renee!

NextDayBetter Presents TFC Speaker Salon in San Francisco - August 9



Ready San Francisco? Inspiration will be flowing through your thoughts and your taste buds at the TFC Speaker Salon this Saturday, August 9th.

NextDayBetter, a culture platform for Pilipino-flavored ideas, is teaming up with The Filipino Channel (TFC), ABS-CBN Balitang America, and Pistahan Parade and Festival to bring you these incredible change agents:

Celina Agaton | Google USAID ICCM Fellow On sharing her tech-driven approach to rebuilding communities post- Typhoon Yolanda.

Lourdes Tiglao | US Air Force Veteran On showcasing Team Rubicon’s approach to unlocking the potential in a new generation of veterans.

Jo Ann Kyle | ABS-CBN Foundation Managing Director On the story of the Foundation’s forward-thinking approach to building better communities and inspiring a nation.

And of course, Chef Tim Luym of Attic Restaurant and Frozen Kuhsterd is taking culinary control of the reception to bring out the sweeter side of Pilipino cuisine.

Are you hungry yet?


TFC Speaker Salon August 9, 2014 @ 2PM – 5PM Children’s Creativity Museum 221 4th Street, San Francisco, California 94103

Seats are going fast, so learn more and RSVP today!


NextDayBetter's NYC Event: Great Food. Great People. Great Ideas.


When I first walked into the room for NextDayBetter’s NYC event last Saturday, May 3rd, a single word popped into my mind: snazzy. Held inside the Center for Social Innovation, the space invited attendees in with pulsating music, coconut sake cocktails, and a big blue kitchen with a sea of Pilipino food samples. The intimate and casual yet energized vibe of the room said, “Hey there, let’s get together over good eats and drinks and change the world.” 10259824_487996607967843_5724835120809291114_n

The event kicked off with a tableside chat with featured chefs from Bibingka-esk and Masarap Supper Club. The chefs shared not only their culinary concoctions but also their stories of how they began pursuing their love of making Pilipino food professionally and intend to play a role in its evolution.

“I want Bibingka to be the next chocolate chip,” declared Binbingka-esk creator Eileen Formanes.

NextDayBetter Co-Founder Ryan Letada then took the stage and posed to the room:

“What can we do to collaborate and exchange ideas to make the next day better?” He explained that the presenting speakers were asked to share their stories because they were all individuals who took risks and made breakthroughs for themselves and their communities.

Below are short summaries of their inspiring talks:


Geena Rocero, transgender model and founder of Gender Proud, discussed the need for political recognition of transgender identity and the right to choose one’s own gender marker on identification documents. When one’s gender marker doesn’t match how a person feels on the inside or looks on the outside, it turns regular activities like applying for a job, voting, or even opening a bank account into highly stressful and embarrassing situations.

“Imagine constantly divulging the most personal thing about yourself,” she proposed.

Teach for the Philippines Fellow Leah Villanueva spoke about how the dream of making a better Philippines is an attainable one, but it can’t be achieved without improving public education. Currently schools in the Philippines suffer from high dropout rates, overworked teachers, and frequent electricity outages among many other challenges.

“These kids deserve so much more, our country deserves so much more,” Leah noted.


Restaurateur Nicole Ponseca chatted about how Maharlika and Jeepney were the first Pilipino fusion restaurants to truly own Pilipino food without apology, duck fetuses and all. Rather than hiding the less mainstream aspects of Pilipino cuisine, Maharlika held a contest challenging participants to eat as much balut as possible in five minutes.

“If you’re embarrassed about anything, whatever it is, you got to turn it around and make it a sense of pride,” Nicole encouraged.

Although the founder of Rappler couldn’t be there in person, Maria Ressa recorded a video in which she introduced Project Agos, a real-time disaster reporting platform that harnesses mapping, social media, and crowd sourcing so that relief responders “can visually identify areas in need of help or relief and what exactly is needed.”


Matt Grasser and Team LDLN held a tech demo in which they showed how the device and mobile app they designed could be used to create makeshift Wi-Fi networks in the event of an emergency, such as Typhoon Haiyan. Through these low-cost devices, people on the ground would be able to communicate with relief services even if power sources are down.

Airforce veteran Lourdes Tiglao shared her experiences as a member of Team Rubicon, a disaster response organization comprised of American military veterans who want to continue utilizing their skills after returning home. Team Rubicon was deployed in Tacloban after Typhoon Haiyan hit and acted as first medical response for many victims. Tiglao met several Pilipino veterans who were enthusiastic about the idea of creating a Team Rubicon in the Philippines.

Photo credits: www.facebook.com/NextDayBetter

Get Inspired at NextDayBetter NYC - May 3rd


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On May 3rd, NextDayBetter is kicking off their global speaker series for 2014 in New York City. The series is themed “Defining Breakthroughs: Unlocking Human and Community Potential” and will feature inspiring speakers who will share how to make real, visible change for communities in the Philippines and beyond.

“The global Filipino Diaspora is a hub and inspiration for world-changing ideas that pushes humanity forward,” says CEO and Co-Founder Ryan Letada.

“This global speaker and action series is designed to celebrate and amplify the impact of these ideas."

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Featured change makers include:

This event is not only going to satiate your hunger for change, but will feature great food and drinks as well. Living up to its claim for creative innovation, NextDayBetter will even showcase a Tech Demo in which hackers will present smart technologies focused on disaster response and resiliency rebuilding.

Seats are limited so register now here.

If you can’t make it to NYC and/or are thirsting for more inspiration, don’t you fret because NextDayBetter will also be hitting up Los Angeles, Toronto, San Francisco, and London during the upcoming months. To learn more about NextDayBetter and the speaker series, you can visit their website.


Photo Credit: www.facebook.com/nextdaybetter

May I have your attention please? Helping Pilipino travelers and loved ones in America's gateway to the Pacific

"Airports see more sincere kisses than wedding halls. The walls of hospitals have heard more prayers than the walls of churches." - Anonymous

I've seen this anonymous quote re-blogged on Tumblr several times, and can't help but return to it. The first part truly resonates with me. I have a passion for aviation and through that I consider an airport as my playground while others might see it as place that many might dread - and understandably so! In airports I watch in envy as folks depart on their flights, being whisked away to another continent in a matter of hours. It's an envy that I've fed, and has transformed into an addiction to traveling. Over time, frequent plane-spotting jaunts became shifts at an information desk in Los Angeles International Airport. And one thing I loved about my position was unique sort of people-watching that can take place.

On the Arrivals level of an airport, one sees excited family members reunite with loved ones, chauffeurs holding names of business travelers written on paper, and couples in deep embraces. Go up one level to Departures and it already seems like a world away: scenes of families turn bittersweet as those loved ones eventually leave, businessmen shaking hands with the chauffeurs after what seems like a successful trip, and couples exchanging one last passionate kiss before parting ways.

My shift at the booth was during the late afternoon/early evening rush at the Tom Bradley International Terminal (TBIT) at the Los Angeles International Airport - LAX. It was during this shift that you'd see a truly international crowd. Flights from Asia, Europe, and South America would cram passengers of a cornucopia of backgrounds into the arrivals area of TBIT. One moment, I'd be speaking over the PA system, slaughtering the name of a passenger off an Emirates flight from Dubai. The next moment I'd be trying to remember whatever Japanese I knew to explain the baggage recheck process to tourists fresh off the ANA flight from Haneda. Another moment would be spent calming down a frustrated passenger fresh from the British Airways flight from Heathrow who wanted to file a complaint about his treatment with Customs and Border Protection. But one flight that I always looked forward to was one that seemed so close to home: Philippine Airlines 103.


This, alongside other flights coming in from Asia at that hour, would provide a steady stream of passengers whose customs I'm not only familiar with, but am comfortable to share. As long as there were no other passengers waiting, I'd engage in banter ranging from where they hailed from in the Philippines to hearing the stories of the trip they just returned from. I'd run into balikbayans coming back and OFWs heading to work in cruise ships based in Florida. There were also Pilipino tourists who were willing to go through the gauntlet of getting a visa in order to visit LA and the occasional lost Tita, who'd burst into tears as I both comforted her and tried tracking down her family. I'd end up resorting to finding her children on Facebook, then messaging them to pick up their mom. I never thought I could justify Facebook stalking...

On the note of asking Pilipino travelers where they hail from, I met a gentleman fresh from PR103. He came up a couple times and asked me to page his family for him. Third time around, I asked him where he was from and it turned out he lived in the town next to my mom's. As luck would have it, he actually knew my uncle - the parish priest of their town! Can you imagine? At the main international terminal of one of the world's busiest airports - and America's gateway to the Asia Pacific - I ended up running into someone who has heard my uncle's homilies on a constant basis.

And along with the aforementioned titles that LAX holds (one of my favorites being "armpit of the West Coast"), it also is an airport of many celebrity sightings. It's something that shouldn't be unexpected considering the proximity to the SoCal film industry. Thanks to such a distinction, there were teams of paparazzi camping around the terminals, and these teams were always a ball to witness in action. Though it was a common occurrence, it was always a pleasant surprise to see a celebrity myself, especially if he or she was Pilipino.

The night that the cast of Be Careful With My Heart came through LAX was certainly one to remember. I remember seeing way more Fil-Am meet-and-greeters than usual. There was one who constantly came up to the desk to check the status on PR103. Eventually, I asked if she had someone onboard that flight and then it finally all came together: the cast of Be Careful With My Heart were due to arrive on that flight. Once the cast exited immigration, pandemonium ensued. Fans ran to Richard Yap and Jodi Santamaria as they slowly inched their way to a private vehicle. It was a procession of celebrities and fans that caused a mess to the traffic bottleneck that already was in TBIT - my heart went out to LAXPD that night. Noticing the flood of Pilipinos in the arrivals area, I was even asked by other bystanders if Manny Pacquiao had flown into LAX.

A habit that I've adopted, either from my upbringing or from the frequent trips to the Philippines, is what seems like a simple thing to do: smile. During the latter, I saw such smiling faces from children who'd lost much from Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan). But even without going to that extreme, I've been greeted by smiling Pilipinos everytime I return to the Philippines. From the sweet Tita operating the nearby sari-sari store, to the bandolier-clad and M-60 machine gun-armed Philippine marine, they'd always raise a smile when I'd make eye contact with them. I mean, if a someone like Kuya Marine (who had every right to be a macho badass) managed to crack a smile despite the circumstances, I learned I could certainly make the effort as well. And indeed that effort became rewarding, especially while working at LAX. Such a simple act has proven helpful in disarming stress and presenting welcoming relief to exhausted travelers.

I've since moved to Hawaii and while Honolulu's coverage of flights across the Pacific are nothing to sneeze about, nothing beat the sheer mass that LAX had. I looked forward to Thursday nights, working the desk alongside folks who were also car dealers, engineers, lawyers, a nun and a World War II vet! But one thing I really miss the most is welcoming the passengers of PR103. To be able to be a part of the journey that Pilipinos would take to and from their homes, and to provide them with the sort of familiarity while rendering assistance, were things I truly took pride in. Alongside the "yokoso", "bienvenidos", and "willkommen" that I would use to greet passengers from ANA, Iberia and Lufthansa flights, I'd always look forward to saying it for our PR103 passengers in Tagalog: