A question of why?

24 10 2009

I have plans to visit Earls Court tomorrow. This will be my first day out taking pictures of the PI community and I find myself asking why has it taken this long for me to get my hands dirty?

The most logical justification is that I’ve been doing a lot of planning, reading, writing and adjusting to my new life in London since I moved here over a month ago. All true. But, not exactly. Historically I’ve felt no hesitation talking to every Filipino store owner in the community, telling them of my art and asking permission to photograph their stores and homes. In fact, a good part of my creative process involved first going to the ‘field’ before I did any theorizing or planning. But it’s been different here. Why?

Pinoy Mini Mart, 2008

Pinoy Mini Mart, 2008 (Toronto, Canada)

I’m realizing that through this project I am trying to represent a community that I know very little about and possibly have less in common with. My tagalog is shabby and heavily accented and even my English is accented in this country! So I come back to this question, why? Allan Kazmer– Canadian copywriter guru who has work is in Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum and who helped me get my first post as an art director– once told me that in order to find the truth in what you are trying to say, ask yourself the question, ‘why?’, at least eight times. Of course he meant this as a distilling process to create better advertisements but it’s an exercise I have come back to time and again as a kind of litmus test of my true feelings. So…

Why the hesitation to get out there?

Because I don’t feel like I really belong. I feel like an impostor. I am not a British-Filipino, I am a Canadian-Filipino and to be even more transparent, I have often related more to my Canadian heritage than to my Philippine one.

Why don’t you feel you belong? Why are you an impostor?

I barely speak Tagalog. I am a vegetarian. I’ve only been to the Philippines twice. I feel like a loud and aggressive N. American unable to pick up subtleties of British parlay, let alone the how this has been translated in the Filipino community. I’m not even clear as to what being Filipino is to me! I feel displaced.

Why aren’t you clear on your Filipinoness? Why do you feel displaced?

I was born in Canada in the mid 70s to Filipino parents who both had their university educations and eventually got white collar jobs in Toronto. At the time there wasn’t a big Philippine community in Canada and a majority of the diaspora were of a working class background. I did not quite fit in with the pockets of Filipinos in Canada at the time, nor did I fit in with the sea of caucasian kids who filled the private school classrooms of my childhood.

Brown Sheep, 2007

Brown Sheep, 2007 (Images used to create this collage were taken in Toronto, 1979)

I guess I’ve been on an identity search since then. Of course now, I realize that most everyone has gone through feelings of marginalization at some point in their lives, be it because of gender, class, accent, dress, religion, physical or mental abilities or challenges, etc. Foucault once said that each of is both oppressor and the oppressed– empowered and disempowered. I’ll take this concept of relativity one step further to say that I can be both part of a community and displaced from it as well.

Although I am certain there will be many things that I can relate to when researching the PI community here in London, I must expect that a part of me will always take this outsider status. I am the silent spy with the perfect disguise until I open my mouth. I am the anthropologist in the field with the ideal ‘in’. I am the tracker of a community who studies their echoes and footprints. I am the frustrated bird catcher in the rain forest… I am… still looking for those parrots 😉 and in a way my own identity.