Imagine you're in a foreign country and suddenly you spot a familiar vehicle, something you'd never think you'd see elsewhere but your own country—except this was no imagination, it really happened one fine afternoon in San Francisco, California.
About a few weeks ago, a Filipino tricycle was spotted crossing the Golden Gate Bridge in broad daylight. And true enough, it was a legit Filipino-made trike.
Called "TNT Traysikel," this public transportation was made into a mobile artwork by Mike Arcega and Paolo Asuncion. “I used to ride these all the time when I was living around Katipunan in Quezon City in the Philippines. Never thought I’d be riding in one going across the Golden Gate Bridge,” they captioned
Similar to the term for an undoccumented person called "TNT," or "tago ng tago," "TNT Traysikel" is exactly just like it: "an immigrant-object that embodies diversity and celebrates cultural differences," said the artists. They said that by introducing a foreign object such as the tricycle on American soil "announces our presence and claims our space."
The mobile vehicle, which is funded by the SF Arts Commission, was created to make a "highly visible cultural marker" for San Francisco’s SOMA (South of Market) Pilipinas cultural district. It has been around San Francisco and other nearby cities, and have been traveling doing deliveries for those who are vulnerable to the coronavirus.
But aside from being an artwork, this tricycle is said to be also a form of protest. "This project embodies a lot of roles—it's very good at code-switching like many Filipinxs," said Arcega and Asuncion. "This work aims to bring awareness to the Filipinx community in the United States, starting with the folks in SOMA. We're making work that foregrounds Pinoy-ness because there's a lack of Filipinx and Asian representation in American Culture," they added.
It participated in a Black Lives Matter ride through SF to support the black community, and have also joined Filipinx-centered events. And, being in a country where Asian hate crimes occur, the artists hope that TNT Traysikel will be "a source of goodwill and to be a marker of cultural presence in the United States."
"Through interviews, karaoke and social engagement, we want to capture a more accurate depiction of the Filipinx diaspora. Its presence in and of itself is a form of protest, as it is unmistakably and loudly Filipino and rails against the ‘keep your head down, just blend in’ model minority notion," the artists explained.
Suffice to say, this is only the beginning. According to them, there are more stories to be told, starting with their YouTube series called TNT SideCaraoke, where they go around the city with different Filipino-Americans while singing karaoke and sharing immigrant stories.
And because it aims to be a "catalyst for conversation" in America, Arcega and Asuncion intend to celebrate Pinoys' presence in the States by sharing more inspiring stories through a documentary called TNT in America.
Photos by Mark Baugh Sasaki