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Situating one’s Creative Practice amidst various Identities and Practices
Published November 29, 2020

by Maria Stella Rossa Manalo Lopez
Photo c/o MATSUMOTO Kazuyuki

First presented in: Iteration of the paper presented at the –
Rhetoric of Creative Partnership: Conversations on Artistic Cross-Cultural Exchanges
Nov 14 -15 2019 

University of the Philippines, Diliman
Department of Speech Communication and Theatre Arts
Japan Foundation, Manila

“I don’t think I want to do intercultural collaborations anymore.” 

This thought was running through my mind while waiting for Sand (A)isles to start at the Toshima City Hall in Tokyo. Sand(A)isles is an immersive performance created by JK Anicoche, a Filipino performance maker,  and Rick Yamakawa, a Japanese architect. In this work, they had caretakers lead small groups of people through a curated route in Ikebukuro. The whole performance is composed of walking tours that were simultaneously happening. There were different caretakers from varying backgrounds and practices for each tour. They would lead a group of people, using conceptual push carts, traversing the urban landscape. 

That night, I joined Kei Taira’s route. Kei, the assigned caretaker of the night, is half Filipino and half Japanese. In his performance, he asked the audience to choose a partner among these group of strangers. We were asked to walk the streets while talking to our partners in our native language. There I was talking in Filipino while my partner was talking to me in Nihongo. We were instructed to change partners several times in the performance. I spoke to someone who was Chinese but was speaking to me in Nihongo and broken English.  I also conversed with a woman named Lisa Fukuoka, a Japanese translator who lived in Cubao, Quezon City for 13 years. She was speaking to me in Filipino. Our voices echoed different languages filling the ever quiet Ikebukuro soundscape. We were teaching each other words in our native tongues. That night, I asked Lisa how to say “Ayoko na” in Nihongo which I articulated with exasperation. And so, she taught me how to say “iie” to communicate a strong expression of “No”.  In return, she asked me, how she could answer questions she was frequently asked in Manila- “Ilang percent kang Japanese? Pure Japanese ka ba?”  

She didn’t know how to answer it. I told her, perhaps that comes from how “mestizas” and “mestizos” were identified in Manila- a people of mixed race whose ethnicity would be sometimes be measured in varying percentages by some Filipinos. As they say, “Halo-halo na ang ating pinanggalingan.”   And while the question was meant to gauge how much of her ethnicity was Japanese, it also pertained to how much of her cultural identity was Japanese.  She was having difficulty in answering this question because she, indeed, was a Japanese national but then she was married to a Filipino and had lived in Cubao for 13 years, which meant she has somehow culturally assimilated. When I was speaking to her, I felt so comfortable because she spoke freely in Filipino and was adept in reading the Filipino language’s nuances and expression.  It made me feel like I was being completely understood. So I said, maybe you can say “ I am Japanese PERO…”  And this was an “Aha!” moment for her, to use the word “pero” in articulating national and cultural identity. This shifts her perception and allows her to see herself as a “Nihonjin” and yet also something else. 

This in-between-ness, this kind of liminality or grey area, of being yet not fully being is kind of the same space that one occupies when one is doing intercultural work. 

I told, Lisa, why I wanted to learn how to say “Ayoko na.” in Nihongo. I found myself wanting to say that many times while doing ASIA|N|ESS|ES (APAF Exhibition 2019) and there were many challenging times that I felt like “letting go and stepping back”.  I found myself being fully disillusioned.  Finally, I was looking at intercultural work without the usual Filipino rose colored glasses looking at global opportunities. To understand how I got into this particular disposition it is best to trace the arc of my experience in the program.

In 2018, I was fortunately chosen to participate in the Asian Performing Arts Forum ( now Asian Performing Arts Farm). There were three directors- Tomohiko Kyougoku, who was Japanese, Dendi Madiya, who’s Indonesian, and me – a Filipino. We each led a group of Asian performers to create a seed piece for possible development into a full length performance in the following year.

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