poetry & tsismis: emily's blog

May 26, 2011

‘Queen of Jazzipino’ Charmaine Clamor Performs in Michigan thru Saturday

Last night, I took our kindergartener to see Charmaine Clamor perform at the Dirty Dog Jazz Café in Grosse Pointe Farms and of course, we both loved it. The 5 ½ year old loves to sing and is proud of being a “Pinay” = Filipina American female, so she was really excited to meet the “Queen of Jazzipino”. She swayed and sang along through Charmaine’s 60-minute set, which included “Doodlin’ in Taglish” (half Tagalog, half English), a traditional harana (Filipino serenade), a Duke Ellington song, a cover of U2’s With or Without You”, and so appropriate for Motown: “Feelin’ Stevie” (a tribute to Stevie Wonder). My favorite song of the night was when her musical director Abe Lagrimas (yes, Pinoy from Hawai’i) broke out the ukulele with Charmaine singing the classic Tagalog love ballad “Minamahal Kita”. Even if you are not fluent in Filipino, you should learn that title, which means: “I love you very much”. I surprised my American-born-self by being able to translate most of the Filipino verses for our daughter and our non-Filipino sistahfriend Deborah, who joined us for “Girls Night Out”.

The Dirty Dog Jazz Café is an intimate, classy restaurant, with white linens and candle lanterns adorning each table. (Being from Seattle and the daughter of an Alaskera [salmon cannery worker], I am pretty picky about my salmon: theirs didn’t need the seafood velouté sauce, but it was pan-grilled perfect, and their bread pudding with cherry port reduction was divine.) It was fun for our daughter to get gussied up and practice her table manners, since she has taken a liking to reading all of the Fancy Nancy books (about a young girl who loves all that is French and fancy). As we do for all entertainment outings, I prepped her for the show by letting her watch some of Charmaine’s videos that are on her website and YouTube. Her favorite videos are “My Funny Brown Pinay (a spoof on “My Funny Valentine” with a good message to be proud of our brown skin and flat noses. “Hey, I have a flat nose too!” she said) and Charmaine’s latest video “Flow” (about the need for potable water and how it affects women). In “Flow”, our daughter loves seeing other children singing along in the studio clips. During the live show last night, she said, “I don’t think all of those kids will be performing with her like on the computer.” And then later, “Are YOU going to perform a poem, Mom? I could sing my songs from my recital.”  I shook my head and wondered if other performance poets who are also parents get similar questions from their precocious kids. 🙂  Now, I’m not recommending that every parent take their little kid to a jazz club, but hey, it’s not every day that a little Asian American girl is able to see talented role models who look like her, especially in Detroit/Grosse Pointe, where Asians make up far less than 2% of the population.

After the show, we bought CDs and a cute “Funny Brown Pinay” tote bag. The 5 ½ year old greeted Charmaine with a hug and the traditional “mano po” blessing of the hand; she was so happy to meet her and get her autograph. During our conversation, we realized we have many mutual friends in Los Angeles (Pinay extraordinaire Prosy de la Cruz is the one who connected us prior to the show). I was really surprised to discover that Charmaine attended California State University Northridge the same years that I taught there – and she said she minored in Asian American Studies (my home department)! Do any of you CSUN FASA alumni remember her from back then? Of course, she said she was in PCN (Pilipino Cultural Night), but I forgot to ask her if she sang in it, because how could I have forgotten her voice if she did?

Braving the rainstorms on a school night, we went to the early show so I could get the kindergartener back home in time for bed, even though I wanted to stay for the next set. I highly recommend everyone go see Charmaine Clamor while she is in town; it is a rare treat to have a Filipina artist – all the way from Los Angeles —  perform in Michigan!

Charmaine Clamor and her trio (Andy Langham [piano], Dominic Thiroux [bass], and Abe Lagrimas, Jr. [drums and ukulele]) will be performing two shows a night — 6PM and 8:30PM — at the Dirty Dog Jazz Café, 97 Kercheval in Grosse Pointe Farms, Michigan, tonight through Saturday, May 28, 2011. Thursday shows are only $15, Friday and Saturday shows are $30. www.dirtydogjazz.com Call for availability: (313) 882-5299.  www.charmaineclamor.com  

 

Charmaine also appeared on Detroit’s Fox2 Morning Show on Wednesday. You can watch the video here:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bqAbktvaBhc 

 

 www.emilylawsin.com 

 

Emily P. Lawsin is a poet, lecturer, and co-author of Filipino Women in Detroit: 1945-1955.

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May 17, 2011

THIS WEEKEND: Mosaic’s Play on Northern High School 1966 Student Strike in Detroit

 Last weekend, we took our kindergartner to see the Mosaic Youth Theatre of Detroit’s production of Northern Lights 1966: The Powerful True Story of Detroit Students Who Stood Up For Their Rights and Won and she loved it; we all loved it. It is the moving inspiration that we need, in a time when all levels of education in Detroit and throughout Michigan are in a crisis. Anyone who believes in people power and values education should see this play! This weekend is the last chance to see it. There is a special student matinee on May 19, half priced tickets on May 20, and closing performances on May 21-22, 2011, all at the Detroit Film Theatre inside the DIA (Detroit Institute of Arts).

 With an original play written by former Detroiter and current NYU Prof. Michael Dinwiddie, the Mosaic youth performers are excellent actors who perfectly punctuate the script by singing songs of the time between scenes and set changes. All of the 72-member cast of Northern Lights 1966 are believable actors because they are high school students playing their own age, lead by actors Charles Hurt, Nathan Alford-Tate,and Joselyn Hill. Kudos to our friend Courtney Burkett, who brilliantly directed the play. In the playbill she writes,

“This story is one of triumph, of rising above adversity, and standing up for what is right. . . When the inequities of their education reached a point that was no longer tolerable, these students created a new reality.  . . Unfortunately, the problems that plagued the students on Northern High School in 1966 are many of the same problems that plague the system today, forty five years later.”

Northern High School was an historic school in Detroit, with many famous alumni, including Aretha Franklin, Betty Shabazz, and Smokey Robinson. It is where the Motown singing group later called “The Miracles” was founded.

The day we went to see the Northern Lights 1966 play, Rick Sperling, Founder and CEO of Mosaic, introduced some Northern High School alumni who were in attendance. One who stood up was Karl Gregory, a Wayne State University Professor who, we find out later in the play, helped the students. In April 1966, more than 1000 students at Northern went on strike to protest inequities and unfair treatment at the school.  During their walk-out, they decided to start their own Freedom School and asked Dr. Gregory to become the Principal; he managed to get other university professors to be teachers during the 2.5 week strike. It was cool to see the audience reaction to the dozens of actors who were portraying people that they knew. I won’t spoil the ending for you, because you really need to see this play.

Lastly, we were extra proud to see a shout-out in the program insert to our colleague and friend, Stephen Ward, Assistant Professor in the Center for Afroamerican and African Studies and the Residential College at the University of Michigan, who directed the historical research done by UM students in the Semester-in-Detroit program and funded by the UM Arts of Citizenship. As an oral historian, one part I appreciated the most was the use of archival images on screens in the backdrop during different scenes and even intermission. You can read more about Stephen’s Semester-in-Detroit project that lead to the play and see archival images HERE: http://www.lsa.umich.edu/UMICH/lsa_alumni/Home/_TOPNAV_LSA%20Magazine/2009%20Fall/09fall-p42-43.pdf

Stephen is also on the Board of the Boggs Center and just published the book Pages From a Black Radical’s Notebook: A James Boggs Reader.  Reading that book, alongside The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the Twenty-First Century by Grace Lee Boggs with Scott Kurashige, and seeing the play Northern Lights 1966 should give you plenty of inspiration to accomplish anything: even, and especially in Detroit.

Go see the play THIS WEEKEND and  tell me what you think! 🙂

* * *

See related Detroit News article:  “Play reprises student protest at Northern High”

* * *

Emily P. Lawsin is a spoken word performance poet and the co-author of Filipino Women in Detroit: 1945-1955. She teaches Asian/Pacific Islander American Studies in the Program in American Culture and Department of Women’s Studies at the University of Michigan.

www.emilylawsin.com

May 8, 2011

Building Community: Papa and Pacquiao

Manny Pacquiao won his boxing match last night against Shane Mosley, which allows the boxer-turned-Philippine Congressman to retain his Welterweight World Champion title. Pacquiao is the only fighter to ever win eight different titles in various weight divisions too. While today is Mother’s Day, I know that my father is also smiling in heaven about the “Pac-Man” win.

The last time I watched a whole Pacquiao fight was in March 2010, on the night of my father’s funeral. After the church and burial services, the Filipino Community of Seattle, Inc, graciously hosted the wake at their Community Center, where my father spent most of his free time. He had served as President of the FCS during one of its most controversial moments in history. After he retired from the ferries, he later hung out at the FCC weekly, for their Senior Lunch Program, which my late mother used to run.

When Papa died and we were trying to schedule the funeral, the one concern FCS President Alma Kern had was for us to not have it too late in the evening because everyone would want to go home early to watch the Pacquiao fight.  I said, “I know, my father would have been the first one rushing home or to a bar to watch it!”

Then it struck me: Papa loved sports, especially boxing, what more when his fellow kababayan/countryman was fighting, so why don’t we just all watch it together? I asked Tita Alma if the Community Center had cable television.

She said yes.

And a big screen?

Yes, with the new remodel, of course!

“Can we get Pay-Per-View? We’ll pay for it!” I said.

“Oh, don’t you worry about that. We will look into it and take care of it. This was your mother and father’s second home. That is the least we could do,” Tita Alma said.

Papa would’ve loved watching the boxing match with all of his friends, especially at the Center for which he fought so hard to save from debt and the light-rail wrecking ball.

On that Saturday, after the funeral services, the FCS board members and family friends laid out a spread of all of my father’s favorite food for the wake. Board members and the building manager also set up chairs in the FCC’s new vestibule and lobby. There, a flat-screen TV hangs on the wall, between the Restrooms and the Board Room, where my father’s picture hangs above the Board Room’s head of the table, with all of the other past FCS Presidents. Many of the folks who had been with us all day – all week, really – did go home, but about 70 of Papa’s friends and family actually stayed to watch the fight. Folks even paid a small donation to the FCC for the pleasure.

That night, I sat next to my best friend’s father, Larry (who I grew up really just calling “Dad”). When I was a kid, Larry and his wife Edie owned a house on the corner of Juneau Street, right behind the FCC. At the wake, their daughter Andi explained to the crowd that is how we actually met as young kids, playing outside the FCC. Larry used to always talk sports with Papa, both of them loving Muhammad Ali. And just like when we were kids, Dad Larry narrated the whole Pacquiao fight, sitting on my right.

Sitting behind me was one of my father’s closest compadres/friends, Uncle Rick Beltran, a past FCS President too. Earlier that day, at the cemetery, Uncle Rick was one of the last ones to place a rose in my father’s grave, saying, “Goodbye, old, dear friend. I will miss you.” After Pacquiao won the fight, I thanked everyone at the FCS for everything. Uncle Rick placed his hand on my shoulder and said, “Look at all these people. Your Papa would have really loved this.” Yes, I know.

And here’s another Pac-Man win for you Papa!

*    *   *

© by Emily P. Lawsin

www.emilylawsin.com

May 2, 2011

Remembering Al Robles (1930-2009)


Al Robles at UCLA 1996. Photo by Tony Osumi.

Today is the two-year death anniversary of the incredible poet Al Robles (February 16, 1930 – May 2, 2009). Manong Al and many of our ancestors who have gone before us have largely influenced my poetry and oral history work. As the people’s recorder and founding member of the Kearny Street Writers Workshop,  Manong Al was like a ninong (godfather) to all of us Filipina/o Americans who are spoken word performance poets, oral historians, cultural artists, and/or activists. When I was just a teen, I was blessed to have been able to read his poetry and to learn about how he fought to save the International Hotel in San Francisco’s Manilatown, through my elder cousin, his good friend and fellow Kearny Street poet, Oscar Peñaranda. Many years later, when I was in graduate school and when I started teaching Filipino American Studies, I would see Manong Al at various conferences and community events. He would always give me a hug or slap on the back and say, “Hey sistah, what’s shakin’?” Then a crowd would gather in a circle around him while he cracked jokes or played piano, talking story late into the night.

L.A. Poets with Jessica Hagedorn & Al Robles at Pilipino Studies Symposium at UCLA, 1997. Photo by Carlo Medina CDM Foto.

Throughout the 1990s, long before “Poetry Slam” competitions became  popular, we had Filipino American spoken word poetry and open mic nights all over Los Angeles (and beyond), often organized by Wendell Pascual, Irene Suico Soriano, or the Balagtasan Collective. Following in Manong Al’s footsteps, we knew we couldn’t just study how Filipinos came from an oral tradition, we embraced it and embodied it. In 1996, when my alma mater UCLA’s Asian American Studies Center Press published Manong Al’s book of poetry, many of us poets were ecstatic and honored to be able to perform with and for the legendary Al Robles. During the 90-minute drive from West L.A. to one book launch that Theo Gonzalves had organized at UC Irvine, I wrote this letter to my cousin Oscar to tell him that Manong Al was in town. It turned into this poem (below). I performed it later that night and it was published several years later in disOrient Journalzine.  Afterwards, Manong Al said that we have to keep writing about the streets because we have all walked down them, no matter what the city. We recognize them as Pinoys: streets like Kearny, El Dorado, Temple, and Jackson, because for generations, that’s where “cats would hang out”, talking story late into the night.

The week that Manong Al passed away in 2009, I was living in Boston, and I performed a modified version of this poem at the East Meets West Bookstore in Cambridge, with the Boston Progress Arts Collective’s (BPAC) house band: Charles Kim on guitar, Nate Bae Kupel on drums, and Pedro Magni on keyboards.  I had said that night that Manong Al would have loved that space, which hosts the country’s only year-round monthly Asian American open mic series, like Kearney Street did in the early 1970s. As a call to the ancestors, I played a little bit of kubing (Philippine mouth harp), swayed to BPAC’s jazz, then looked up at the younger generation overflowing onto Massachusetts Ave, and felt Manong Al’s warm spirit talking story with us, late into the night.

I love and miss you, Manong Al. Thank you for being our voice. Rest In Poetry.

Al Robles and Emily Lawsin at UCLA 1996

Oscar Peñaranda, T, and me 2006

Dear Kuya Oscar   

© by Emily P. Lawsin   

On the book launching of Al Robles’ book 

Rappin’ With Ten Thousand Carabaos in The Dark

Irvine, California, May 17, 1996.

______________________________________

Manong Al visits the Southland today,  

bringing us fish heads and carabaos

together to jam.

Our Pinoy Luck Club barkada

skips its regular meeting of

Friday night “X-Files and Tiles,”

saving lost quarters for lonely bus rides

and smoggy lattes;

how could we ever fill your shoes?

Our Doc Martens and Birkenstocks

are no match for Mama’s boomerang bakyas and tsinelas.

We’re fortunate though, this new Flip generAsian,

tempted by you Kearny Street tamaraws:

we shout via E-mail, reclaiming reclámo.

Irene’s Babaye Productions started

our call, herding us to greez in brown fields

of Temple, Melrose, and Westwood,

where Wendell’s Downright Pinoy self,

more than just a t-shirt man,

throws us props, rappin’, producin’,

dekonstruktin’ all our funk-shuns.

With Dawn and Allyson,

sistahs fightin’ in struggle,

brewin hungry champorrado dreams;

the Villaraza and Parreñas clans

and Allan’s gothic poetry

blowin our freakin’ minds, and

nappy flip Nap Napoleon

swingin his sharp bolo smile, scars,

and Zig-Zag-wrapped cigarettes.

 We’re fortunate, yes, tonight,

the Liwanag 2 crew lassoing our ranks,

sistah Darlene’s multiple tongues searing our plates,

brotha Theo’s jazz as loud as his psychedelic zebra tie, —

a noose left by you, Al, the Belales, and others —

oh, da man wishes that you’d quit pumpin him up as the

doctoral candidate/professor/cultural critic/musical genius/taxi-dancing/PCN god

that he is

and return to the SF State days when you once peddled

a crushed box of black-and-white Liwanag books

fading from sun stroke in your beat-up, unwaxed coche.

I wonder, was it the same car you

used to push up to Seattle?

Bringing Nanay and Tatay an endless supply

of canned salmon and me diaper tales of

your wayward Alaskan ways.

Decades later, your AIIIEEEEE!

buddy Shawn gave me an A,

not knowing I was your

cousin/niece/wanna-be hija poet,

the only student in his class of 200

raising her hand when he asked,

        “Who has ever read Carlos Bulosan?”

          Never thanked you for those days.

Another decade later,

Manong Sam Tagatac, with his sleepy eye,

Ifugao tales, and Ilocano twang

returned with me to the UCLA campus,

left his Manila Cafe apron on Santa Barbara’s beach

to add a hint of bagoong to our new stew,

blamed your teaching-ass self for it all:

poets perpetrating as professors,

thinking this is how carabaos

will crush coconuts in the Ivory Tower.

Now he’s vanished, his ailing wife calling,

his film cans fading, and we young bucks

fry his tuyo not knowing where it came from.

We never thanked your barkada for those days,   

for adding light to our fire,

for excavating ghosts from the mountain tops,

for bringing us the songs of the Syquias,

Jundis’ jingles, Cachapero’s cacophony,

Cerenio’s seriousness, Tamayo’s teasings,

Tagami’s Tobera teachings, Ancheta’s anitos,

Robles’ rallies, and even Hagedorn’s hell-bent heresies.

So, Kuya Oscar, as we Kababayans

kick back, chillin amongst jasmine vines,

Southern Cali’s substitute for the sampaguita flower,

with Manong Al’s smoky white hair jammin’,

and Russell, our adopted Chinese cousin, taping — always pullin’ for us Pinoys —

I scribble on this bending bamboo,

throwing you our shout-outs, our salamats,

for dodging the draft, for pushing our pens,

for publishing Pinoys and Pinays before

anyone knew what that was, is, and

always will be,

and for plowin’ the fields,

for plowin’ these fields,

for plowing the fields

before us. 

*   *   *

Angel Velasco Shaw, Jessica Hagedorn, Curtis Choy, Al Robles, Norman Jayo at UCLA Pilipino Studies Symposium 1997. Photo by Carlo Medina CDM Foto.

Dedicated to Oscar Peñaranda, Al Robles, Sam Tagatac, Shawn Wong, Russell Leong,

 the Kearny Street Writers’ Workshop,

Wendell Pascual, Dawn Mabalon, Allyson Tintiangco, Napoleon Lustre,

Irene Soriano, Darlene Rodrigues, and Theo Gonzalves.

   

Al Robles reads poetry with Theo Gonzalves on piano at Royal Morales' retirement at UCLA 1996. Photo by Tony Osumi.

 Performed live at UC Irvine by Emily Lawsin with Theo Gonzalves on keyboards, May 17, 1996.

Originally published in DisOrient Journalzine, Volume 9: 2001.

www.emilylawsin.com

 

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