Every Friday, devotees of the Black Nazarene go to Quiapo and walk with their knees from one end of the Cathedral to the altar. As a kid, this visual image of the Filipino’s devout nature struck me every time I went with my Dad (whose mom/ my lola was a frequent goer to Quiapo Church).
Be it in childhood or in recent years, there is an endless list of Filipino cultural stories that are meant to be heard and worth listening to. Conceived in 2020 and launched to great fanfare and collaboration with FIlipinos all over the world in 2021, Dama Ko Lahi Ko (@damakolahiko) is a grassroots movement that celebrates Filipino culture through our five senses: sight, sound, smell, touch and taste—we believe everyone has a story to tell about our rich cultural tapestry.
For our second year, we focus more on personal experiences to spotlight and uplift our heritage. In the spirit of Philippine Independence Day, we asked five Filipinos about their own cultural anecdotes and memories.
Vanilla Arucan on Philippine postage stamps
I liken my curiosity about Philippine postage stamps as a way to time travel. I love visiting my local Quezon City Post Office and flipping through the mail clerk’s stamp book, seeing and touching all the stamps—both old and new—knowing that these designs carry with them the intention to immortalize the happenings and history of the current moment... all that, conveniently, on a small piece of paper with an adhesive back.
Stamps are a requisite for mail-giving to be transported from one country to another, from person-to-person. But stamps are also a means for transportation, even when you have to stay where you are, taking us through history.
From the declaration of the Sampaguita as our national flower in 1948, honoring Gabriela Silang in 1970 as our first female leader to lead in a revolt, celebrating the People Power Revolution with Cory Aquino as the cover in 1986, to Hidilyn Diaz winning our first Olympic gold medal in 2021—the postage stamp, a mascot, says it all. The convenient small piece of paper with an adhesive back tells both the giver and receiver: this is what is and what was—never forget. Signed, sealed, delivered. From the Philippines.
Trickie Lopa on Philippine Contemporary Art
My husband and I walked into the Whitney Museum of American Art in 2003, and I saw a painting that made me stop in my tracks. Painted in tones of sepia, like an old photograph picked up at a junkshop, it looked strange, frightening, powerful. From afar, it seemed like a portrait of a woman wearing a bonnet and cape of the American Civil War era, holding a baby in her arms.
Upon closer inspection, you notice the masculine, stern aspect of the sitter’s visage, and the baby’s Asian features. What completes this ominous snapshot is when you catch a glimpse of the sitter’s limbs. Initially unnoticed, you realize that instead of loving arms embracing an infant, there lie wrinkled claws, unsheathed dark talons gripping tight.
To my surprise, the painting, titled “Mamackinley,” was by a Filipino artist, Alfredo Esquillo. It featured prominently in that Whitney exhibition called “The American Effect,” and gave a commentary on how the American eagle, President William Mckinley, had duped the hapless Emilio Aguinaldo into ceding control of the Philippines after the Spanish-American War. The accompanying text labeled the painting as part of the collection of Kim and Felicia Atienza. How could I have never heard of the artist before?
It was an embarrassment I sought never to repeat. When I got home to Manila, I did my research and found out that we had many more artists doing work worthy of institutions like the Whitney. Seeing the painting marked a personal turning point, a harbinger of a passion that I carry to this day. I discovered Philippine contemporary art—and I have not looked back since.
Toff De Venecia on Philippine Creative Spaces
Filipino arts and culture is very much a part of my DNA as it is a calling, advocacy, and profession. My grandfather Doc Perez started Sampaguita Pictures, our country’s very own version of MGM Studios. So I grew up basically exposed to the glitzy entertainment world—seeing the Gloria Romeros, Eddie Gutierrezes, and Susan Roceses of our time on occasion. I also did showbiz for most of my childhood, where I got to showcase my knack for performing and earn a bit of a living.
My parents, on the other hand, were very much steeped in politics; nevertheless, they were themselves musical theater aficionados. During our travels, they’d bring me to see shows, practically forcing theater down my throat regardless of whether I’d like it or not (memories of falling asleep to things like Les Mis, Phantom, and Pavarotti! My present theater self would cringe!)
Like my sister KC, I also had an art exhibit once. And soon after, I got into writing—for my school paper and eventually the publishing industry, where I met most of my BFFs to this day.
After my sister KC passed, theater came into my life and, well, the rest, they say, is history. While a public servant today, I still co-manage two theater companies and direct occasionally on the side.
But perhaps the most memorable cultural initiative that I’ve had the pleasure of being involved with is the Anakbanwa Arts Residency program (@anakbanwa), which I started in Dagupan City, Pangasinan, alongside my friend Andrei Nikolai Pamintuan.
An arts residency in Dagupan was unheard of back then, despite my six years in office and all the decades that my parents collectively served before me. But seeing the kind of talent we were able to attract on our first year was validating. The arts became front and center, not just to my life, but to my constituents’ lives as well. It was simply a matter of creating those opportunities for a creative encounter and giving access to the arts.
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The interactions our artists-in-residence had with our local communities and local Pangasinan creatives unlocked so many doors and basically paved the way towards new artistic horizons I’m excited to explore. It showed me that the future could be creative and inclusive if we decentralized access to arts and creativity.
As Joe Chaikin of the Public Theater would say, “Revolutions in small spaces!” We must endeavor to bring creativity to the grassroots. I look forward to the next Anakbanwa and the hope it will instill in the 4th District of Pangasinan (@explorePD4).
Jordy Navarra on Philippine Hospitality
A s a Filipino in the service industry, one of the things I find so much pride in is seeing how the Pinoy sense of hospitality is so universal. We’ve had the opportunity to travel and cook in different places, such as Bangkok, Australia, and Japan.
In each of those places, at least one Pinoy has been in attendance to show their support for us. It always amazes me when we come across fellow Filipinos in different parts of the world because you get to see how boundless being hospitable is. “Kabayan!” “Oi, Pinoy!” “Taga saan po kayo?” These starter phrases show how forming connections with others like ourselves has been so easy. We have been so lucky to make so many friends along the way because of this.
Bondy Aportadera on Philippine Ube and Ingenuity
The pandemic, especially the first wave in 2020, was very tough for individuals, families, and independent businesses. One of the silver linings was seeing the creativity of Pinoys ooze out because they had so much time stuck at home.
At the height of the lockdowns in 2020, a lot of food and beverage trends came out and my favorite was the ube-queso pandesal. I liked that it was so simple, satisfying, and available in most neighborhood bakeries.
One day I decided to try putting some ube on our grilled cheese sandwich, took a picture, and sent it to my partners. Initially they thought it was too gimmicky, but I was able to convince them that we could just post it on our social media to tease and check for community’s response. We were pleasantly surprised by the number of likes the post garnered within the first hour of posting and the number of inquiries we had if we were going to make it part of the menu.
To date, it is one of the favorite food orders by locals and tourists. We believe that it resonated with a lot of people because of Baguio’s association with ube as a treat or gift, and also because it is a shared reminder of an unpleasant lockdown, pandemic experience and a collective feeling of comfort for those who tried and enjoyed the ube-queso pandesal.
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What’s your Filipino story? Share a fond Filipino culture memory, tag @DamaKoLahiKo and use #DamaKoLahiKo!
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Esme Palaganas is the founder of Basic Movement and cofounder of PH x Fashion Conference. She is currently the Policy & Planning chairman of the Philippine Fashion Coalition. Through the Chevening Scholarship, she is taking her master’s in Innovation, Creativity and Leadership at City University of London.
A proud Bulakenya and freelance consultant, you can reach her at [email protected].