It’s no secret that UC Berkeley’s student body is comprised of a plethora of people from diverse cultural backgrounds. Being around so many people of so many different cultures is a unique and thrilling experience that I certainly never had in high school. That said, after enrolling as a student at Cal and seeing all the amazing opportunities to engage in cultural exploration, I decided to take a leap of faith and join the Pilipino American Alliance’s production of the 40th annual Pilipino Cultural Night.
Growing up, I was never really surrounded by a large Filipinx community. Though I was fortunate enough to have direct family members to teach me the Tagalog language and expose to me traditional—and mind-blowingly delicious—culinary practices, I often felt distanced from my culture. Though I was proud of my roots and was interested in learning about the country from which my parents immigrated, my hometown was severely lacking in resources to help young Filipinos explore our cultural identities.
UC Berkeley, by stark contrast, provided me with an extensive network of likeminded students within the Berkeley Pilipinx community—and that is where Pilipino Cultural Night comes in.
Pilipino Cultural Night (lovingly abbreviated as PCN) is a yearlong, completely student-run production, showcasing original music, folk and modern dance, singing, acting, and so much more. Members of the Berkeley Pilipinx community—with the support of other university Pilipinx communities—gather to create, practice, and perform routines intricately integrated into a greater narrative (the theme of which changes every year) highlighting the political and social struggles faced by Filipinos, while celebrating contemporary and folk culture. PCN also fosters a community that promotes a network of social support throughout the production’s process. In short, it’s a spectacular production that brings Filipino students together and teaches us to connect with various aspects of our heritage, regardless of previous cultural knowledge or perceptions.
Though I came in with zero experience in Filipino theatre/production, I was able to join PCN’s Traditional Dance component and learn choreography for exciting folk dances such as Tinikling, Sayaw sa Bangko, and Polka sa Plaza* with an incredible group of dedicated component members. For months, we’ve practiced regularly on weekdays (for component practices) and weekends (for all-cast rehearsals). Though practices are difficult and often span long hours, they’re always entertaining and enriching.
For me, PCN was exactly what I was looking for in terms of self-discovery and connection with my Pilipinx identity. I discovered so much more about myself than I thought I would— more importantly, I learned about my new friends, how they viewed their own Pilipinx identities, and about how each of us connected on a path toward cultural exploration. Being around such a welcoming and passionate group of people has really opened my eyes to the empowerment that comes from understanding one’s origins and how those origins shape us all as human beings.
Every time I practice or perform with my fellow PCN castmates, I am reminded of how privileged I am to attend school at a university like Berkeley—an institution that not only fosters academic growth, but also emphasizes personal development and celebrates cultural diversity.
* Tinikling is a traditional Filipino dance involving two or more people clapping, sliding, and tapping long bamboo poles along the ground, while dancers jump through, over, and/or between the poles in expert choreography.
Sayaw sa Bangko is another folk dance involving two or more performers dancing on tall, narrow benches/stacks of benches.
Polka sa Plaza is a folk waltz performed with umbrellas or fans; this dance is said to have been influenced by Spanish folk dance.