What We Need To Need
(To Keep Moving Forward)
the text of a keynote speech by Eliseo Art A. Silva
The following is the text of the keynote address delivered by Los Angeles-based Filipino artist Eliseo Art A. Silva to the UCLA Filipino graduating class of 2015. The theme the Filipino class of '15 chose for the year's culmination was “Keep Moving Forward”, and it was Silva who was invited to talk about the story of the 1994 Filipino Mural of Los Angeles (later known as the Gintong Kasaysayan mural), a mural which the class said has been very much a part of their lives as students of history and as members of their Filipino community. The mural is also part of the Historic Filipinotown tours the district does regularly, in front of which many have taken their souvenir graduation pictures since the painting's completion.
Silva accepted the invitation, cherishing this return to UCLA after more than a decade, since this time it will be to deliver at UCLA’s Royce Hall the following community keynote for the Filipino graduating class:
detail of the most-reproduced part of the mural. This part is focused on the Filipino-American farm worker.
HUMBLED as I am to stand here before all of you simply as an artist in our community, I want to share the story behind our Gintong Kasaysayan mural which stands in Historic Filipinotown, within Unidad Park near Beverly and Union [Streets].
During the past 25 years I have lived all over this country, from Maine, Baltimore, New York, Philadelphia, Seattle, Alaska and all over California … but it was Los Angeles that shaped my destiny. And I can honestly tell you that wherever I go and whatever I do, I would always see that the movers and shakers that truly made a difference in our Filipino community have mostly been from UCLA.
That is why I know that this elite group of graduates, the crème de la crème, will produce the future Helen Brown,(1) the next Uncle Roy Morales,(2) and the upcoming John Delloro.(3) I know and believe we are all in the company of idealists, innovators, warriors, creative thinkers, friends and leaders.
Whatever path you decide to take, or as you create a path of your own as I would expect from brave and visionary leaders such as yourselves, your community awaits you.
"How do we expect to gain a sense of ownership and responsibility in nation-building when we believe we will never be good enough to call the shots?"
A sample of how students use the mural for their school. [Filipina Beverly Yanuria, 2014 UCLA graduate, in photo]
By sharing my story, I hope I can give all of you a glimpse of visions of the possible, just by asking the hard questions, creating your own path, and writing your own perspective of history.
Did any of you know that it was exactly 21 years ago that I won a national competition to create the Filipino mural of LA? I was about your age back then, 22-years-old and still in my junior year at Otis College of Art and Design. Before that, there is a background story I always share which shaped the mural`s design and influenced its impact towards the larger community.
When our family first arrived in the United States, the first thing I asked was, “where are the Filipinos in LA?” I was told to go to Temple and Alvarado.
So I drove from Riverside [California] towards that location, and the first thing I saw was a huge McDonald`s "M" sign, the largest I`ve ever seen. I said to myself, “Oh my God! That`s it?”
Questions started running through my head: “Why are we not visible?” “Where are the footprints of the pioneers?” “Where`s our silenced voices?” “How can we advance and keep on moving forward?” It was at that moment I realized that there must be something that is holding us back.
Back in the Philippines, we always say that if we rid the Filipino of a corrupt government we will flourish. Yet here we are, living in a country where we cannot blame corruption anymore, yet we still cannot flourish as a community. Thus, corruption is not the root of poverty in our country; we elect our leaders anyway and corruption is a two-way street.
The question that comes to mind is: “what is it that is holding us back?” How do we move forward? In our mural I tried to address these questions, and I can summarize them in two: the stigma of shame and the legacy of smallness.
When the mural project came into the picture, I saw it as an opportunity to offer a solution to counter the two main factors that held us back all this time. By finding the largest wall within the district and activating the site with monumental portraits and figures, we can already dispel the legacy of smallness; by filling the entire wall with hidden histories and untold legacies, such as the anti-Filipino riots and the Philippine-American War, we are confronting the stigma of shame.
But beyond the obvious, there are factors much deeper. What is needed is a new narrative, a new perspective that will instill imagination, excite the mind, and hopefully transform ourselves, our community, and our motherland. I challenge you to write the narrative. The reason behind this is that whatever narrative we have as a community and a nation must not have really worked. It may have helped us get rid of a dictator and restore our democracy, but it failed in galvanizing our people in nation-building.
The mural in 1995 in the then-called Candy Chuateco SIPA Community Garden, now Unidad Park. The mural's impact was also instrumental in the renaming of the district into Historic Filipinotown.
Moving forward, may I suggest that these three concepts be considered as we come together working for the greater good of our Filipino community? Your community needs you, all of you, and we must arm ourselves with tools necessary to effect change and transformation. These will also serve as a guide in creating our own unique paths and narratives:
1. Commerce and culture should equally be part of the equation. What is rendered invisible is our culture. Our investment in culture equates with our capacity to dream and to love. Culture is what makes the invisible: invincible. Without it, we would just return to being hunters and gatherers, before our ancestors discovered cave art to excite their minds to a world beyond their own.
2. In the telling of our story, not too many know about our 600 years of pre-Filipino Indianized kingdoms. This is to put in perspective the history of our food, art, dance, fashion and architecture. Otherwise, our gateways into Filipino culture would be taken out of context and would always be seen through the lens of subjugation: imagined through the bahay kubo with a vegetable garden sitting on land its dwellers do not even own. Thus, we render ourselves through the poison of colonization and the stigma of shame.
3. Like all modern nations, we are bound as a people with foundational texts such as the Noli Me Tangere, El Filibusterismo and the Declaration of Independence. Ours was produced by the Generation of 1898. You will discover many attempts to discredit this part of our history. I tell you, if the greatest generation of Filipinos that ever lived is not even deserving of the stewardship of our own country, then we will always be beholden to foreigners and never towards our own Filipinos. How do we expect to gain a sense of ownership and responsibility in nation-building when we believe we will never be good enough to call the shots?
Our great patriot Dr. Jose Rizal once said, "To foretell the destiny of a nation, it is necessary to open the book that tells of her past." Looking at our past, one discovers that the majority of our founding fathers and founding mothers were in their early 20s to early 30s when they made their mark. Rizal was 22 years old when he started writing Noli Me Tangere which became the foundational text of the War of Independence; Andres Bonifacio was 29 when he, along with others, founded and organized the Katipunan; Apolinario Mabini was 35 years old when he became the first Prime Minister of the Philippines; Clemencia Lopez was 26 when she became the first Filipina granted an audience with a US President inside the White House to demand the United States’ recognition of Philippine Independence; and Emilio Aguinaldo, our country`s liberator and first president, was 29 years old when he declared the independence of the Philippines which we just celebrated two days ago.
We have two choices to make as we go out into the world bound by a common sense of mutual respect, ownership and an innate sense of responsibility towards our respective communities. Should we choose to follow the stigma of shame and the legacy of smallness or do we pave our path with daring and fierce love?
Let us all believe in harvesting our cultural energies together, to never stop dreaming, to Keep Moving Forward. Thank you and congratulations, Class of 2015! [ d ]
At the unveiling of a new sign for the park and the mural, 2014.
(1) Helen Agcaoili Summers Brown was the first Filipina graduate of UCLA, the daughter of a Thomasite father and a Pinay mother. She was the earliest and most effective advocate for Filipino students and teachers in the LA Unified School District and founder of the Filipino-American Library.
(2) The Los Angeles Times writes: ‘Royal Morales may be a distinguished UCLA lecturer, a prominent Filipino-American community leader and author, but everybody calls him 'Uncle Roy." Like everyone's favorite uncle, the Los Angeles-born former social worker is accessible and kind, and ever-ready to listen and give a helping hand.’
(3) John Delloro was the Executive Director of the Dolores Huerta Labor Institute, LACCD and served on the Legal Advisory Board of the Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance (KIWA) and the Board of Directors of the PWC. He was one of the co-founders of the Pilipino Workers Center of Southern California (PWC) and served as the president of the Los Angeles Chapter of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA).
Eliseo Art Silva is a contemporary artist, teacher and author who became known for his earliest city-commissioned project, the Gintong Kasaysayan Historic Filipinotown mural, which won in the nationally-advertised competition in 1994 while he was still a 22-year-old art student at Otis College of Art and Design. The mural was widely heralded in the United States as the first memorial honoring Filipino-American farm workers and the largest, most famous Filipino-American artwork in the country. Silva’s work has been featured in exhibitions at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History and the Conner Contemporary in Washington, D.C., the Cue Art Foundation Gallery in New York, the Delaware Center for the Contemporary Arts, the Painted Bride Art Center in Philadelphia and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Other nationally- and internationally-advertised public art competitions which he won the commission for includes the Millennium War Memorial for US Veterans of all the Wars of the 21st Century in Lompoc, CA; the Jewish American Mural for the Pico-Robertson neighborhood of Los Angeles; the 7,000 sq. foot Gateway Underpass Mural of Riverside, CA; the Choose Respect Mural in Sitka, Alaska; the Normandie Village Mural in LA`s Little Armenia; and the Carlos Bulosan Memorial in Seattle, WA. He obtained a BFA at Otis College of Art and Design and earned an MFA at the Maryland Institute College of Art. He also attended the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture as a MICA and Skowhegan Fellow.
Text and photos © copyright 2015 by Eliseo Art A. Silva. All rights reserved.
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