“The diaspora needed to be recorded…”
What does it take to uproot oneself? To pluck oneself out of the nourishing cocoons of family and friends, to have to learn to speak an alien language and live an alien culture, and to bear all of the loneliness that comes with it? Migrants know this best, and creative migrants could perhaps give us the best glimpse into this world through their works. We at Route Projects are proud to present their thoughts and celebrate their works in RUTA NI JUANA / BIYAHE NI JUAN – a record of the Filipino diaspora in stories and art.
España… Catalunya… BARCELONA – a city currently (and ever) in flux as it asserts its own national identity in 21st century Europe. Just a little more than a century ago, Filipinos were doing the exact same thing in what was already a political and cultural hub in the Mediterranean. Through their spoken and written words, Ilustrados (the 19th century Filipino middle class who were educated in Spanish and exposed to Spanish liberal and European nationalist ideals) were in this port city to campaign for reforms, social justice, and eventually, independence, in the island-colony they called home.
Nowadays, Barcelona is home to almost 9 thousand Filipinos. One of the most vibrant migrant communities in Europe, the Filipinos in Barcelona are ironically considered a silent community – they are quiet and hardworking folks that pretty much keep to themselves. Well, except when it comes to music… everyone who’s ever been to the Philippines (or a Filipino household anywhere in the world!) would know how much Filipinos love and excel in singing their hearts out! The CHILDREN OF MIGRANTS in 21st century Barcelona are, of course, no exception. And thanks to two special Ilustrados of our time, the world now has the chance to hear the beautiful voices of these New Europeans.
We at Route Projects are proud to share our conversation with ARNEL GERMAN and NATS VILLALUNA SISMA, two Filipino scholars who are also the directors of CORO KUDYAPI, a children’s choir in Barcelona. They have spoken to us about their own journey – from the Philippines to Spain – and their adventures in Music with these talented children of Filipino migrants.
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WHAT ARE YOUR ROOTS?
I was born in Bacolod City, Negros Occidental. I am the eldest of two brothers. My mother, brother and aunt now live in Manila. My father died in 2000. I have a Bachelor of Science in Management Accountancy and I worked as an Accounts Receivable Supervisor for Zuellig Pharmaceutical Company in Makati before coming to Spain. One of my aspirations in life has always been to find balance in myself. To be able to do the things I want to do and be happy in doing them.
I was born in Santa Maria, Bulacan and I grew up in Lolomboy, Bocaue, Bulacan. I am the youngest in the family and I have two brothers and four sisters. My mother was a housewife and my father knew how to do a lot of things (goldsmith, barber, etc). I graduated from Mapua Institute of Technology (BS Civil Engineering). I took up a Master in Numerical Methods in Engineering at the Polytechnic University of Barcelona, and I am currently finishing my PhD in Civil Engineering at the same university. When I was still in high school, I wanted to become a lawyer or a doctor. But I ended up going to an engineering school. It was actually not bad a choice since I learned a lot which proved to be useful later in life.
WHAT WAS YOUR ROUTE?
I got a scholarship from the Agencia Española Cooperacion International in 2004 to study a Masters in International Sectorial Economics in Santiago de Compostela. After my masters, I decided to move to Madrid to do volunteer work. After three years in Madrid, I got another scholarship from the same agency. This time it was for a Masters in International Cooperation at the University of Barcelona. And that was why I had to move from Madrid to Barcelona in 2009.
It was in 1997 when I left home. I received a scholarship grant to study in Spain. At first, I was sent to study in Santiago de Compostela and I lived there for three months. Later, the university told me to go to Barcelona since the course which I wanted to do was not being offered in Santiago de Compostela.
PLEASE TELL US ABOUT YOUR PROJECT CORO KUDYAPI
It started in 2013 when Sister Pau, the President of Centro Filipino, was looking for someone to teach the children of the Centro Filipino Coro Infantil (Children’s Choir). I suggested my friend Arnel German, who was based in Belgium that time. Arnel agreed but only after asking me to assist him with the choir and the kids in any way I could. After our benefit concert for the Yolanda victims in November 2013, I finally became an official part of the choir. I helped Sister Pau, Arnel and Tita Nieves to manage it full time. In 2014, Sister Pau decided to go back to the Philippines for good. That’s when I assumed the responsibility of a full-time manager and concert director. My main responsibilities are to manage both the choir members and the parents, to make decisions, formulate policies, guide the Kudyapi Parents officers, oversee the finances, and implement the rules.
I have been with the Coro Kudyapi for five years now, and I can say that being with the group has been a life-changing sort of thing for me. Before Kudyapi, I had never been part of any group that dealt with kids, and I had never imagined working with kids, ever. But in the end, Kudyapi has taught me how to be very patient. It has also helped me tap my creativity in terms of music and the performing arts. I can say that being with Coro Kudyapi has helped me keep my sanity and forget the problems that came with being an immigrant. In one way or another, the kids gave me the balance I’d always wanted in my life. They taught me how to be selfless and generous, to be artistic and fun. Their mischievousness is a great source of positivity and laughter every time I am with them.
The Choir was founded by Sister Paulita Astillero in 2004. At that time it was known as the Centro Filipino Coro Infantil. The members of the choir are children of Overseas Filipino Workers living in Spain.
I am the current choir director, and I was actually “forced” by Nats and Sister Pau to accept the position since Sister Pau was already loaded with voluntary work related to the Filipino community living in Barcelona. Her busy schedule left her with little time to attend the choir rehearsals, so she looked for someone who could devote more time to teach the children.
The voluntary work has given me the opportunity to teach the children Filipino values and culture through music.
HOW DOES THE CHOIR HELP FILIPINO MIGRANTS IN BARCELONA?
Our kids are not only taught how to sing and dance, they are also taught traditional Filipino values. [Because some of those who were born in the Philippines might have already forgotten these values, or are just too stubborn to give them importance.] Teaching Filipino values can make them an example to other kids who were born in Spain. It can show them that their being Filipino is very important in their life, and can help them understand and accept their identity as a person. When we joined our first choir competitions, the kids shared the same Filipino pride as we, their trainers and their parents, had when they represented the Philippines. But teaching our kids Filipino values has not stopped us from teaching them the importance of integration in Spanish society. We have joined and participated in a lot of cultural and religious activities with various Spanish and Catalan organizations, associations and groups. This is our own little contribution, which is very important as we work hard in making our Filipino voices heard, literally and figuratively.
The choir serves as the cultural arm of Centro Filipino and it represents the community in all cultural activities organized by the Ayuntamiento de Barcelona (the Barcelona city government). The presentations and performances of the group enhance the positive image of the Filipinos, and they also help to increase awareness about the Filipino community in Barcelona.
FILIPINOS IN BARCELONA: The community is known as a “silent community” – quiet and hardworking people, seldom causing any trouble. This image has served the community well in terms of getting hired – Catalan / Spanish employers have always preferred to hire Filipinos (over other nationalities) because of these qualities – although the jobs reserved for Filipinos have always been in the service industry, with women working as housekeepers, and men restaurant kitchens. There is even a phrase used by proud employers – “Tengo una Filipina en casa” (I have a Filipina at home) – perhaps to say that they could afford hired help. But times are changing, and the younger generation has slowly been rejecting these stereotypes. As the world, and especially Europe, re-examines its view of migration, of immigrants, and of their children born in the continent, the New Europeans are finding ways to claim their identity and truly make this land their home.
WHAT IS THE CURRENT SITUATION OF FILIPINO MIGRANTS IN SPAIN?
The Filipino migrants in Spain are thriving in terms of being socially aware. We have always been a silent minority, which sometimes makes us invisible in Spanish society. But little by little, Filipino organizations and associations are coming up with programs to become more visible and participative as far as cultural, political and social aspects are concerned. This is good as more and more Filipino migrants are becoming aware of their rights, and are starting to know the importance of getting themselves informed, be it about current changes in Spanish law, or about political events that can affect them in the future. It may be slow, but it is better than being apathetic and clueless.
Compared to condition/situation of Filipino migrants in other parts of the world, the Filipinos living in Spain live better and receive better treatment. Problems exist, but are not as bad or as frequent as the problems encountered and suffered by Filipino migrants living in other countries.
Living in Spain has improved the lives of some Filipino migrants, especially those Filipinos who were born in poor provinces. The children of these Filipino migrants are now enjoying the benefits of having access to a public health and education system, which would have been difficult to have in the Philippines. The main challenge that these migrants face is the competition from other nationalities when it comes to the nature of jobs they are currently employed in. If the government opens doors for migrants to get employment in other occupations, it would be good for the them to start “rebranding” and to learn how to be more innovative.
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Photos by Route Projects and Nats Villaluna Sisma
Find out what else Coro Kudyapi has been up to on Instagram!
Kudyapi goes Bollywood
KIDS WILL BE KIDS
CORRECT DEFINITION OF “KUDYAPI” ACCORDING TO ETHNOMUSICOLOGIST HANS BRANDEIS:
“The instrument I’m using is not a “kudyapi,” but a very close relative of it. It’s a KUGLUNG of the Manobo people in Mindanao, Southern Philippines. Second, there are absolutely no boat lutes with three strings in the Philippines. Except for one type of lute with only one string that is already extinct, all the Philippine boat lutes have TWO strings.”