Transforming My Traumas // For FAHM
content: fibromyalgia (chronic pain + fatigue), intergenerational / historical trauma, death
This is a picture of me the day after my body told me I have fibromyalgia. It was the middle of October 2017. I hadn’t taken a shower in 2+ days. I’m leaning against a rail in Denny Hall at the University of Washington-Seattle, partly to try and look cool (not sure if that worked out for me haha) but mostly because I’d been too fatigued, had intense pain in nearly all of my muscles, hadn’t been able to sleep, and the symptoms go on and on…
I wish that I could be an artist “just for fun.” I remember moving from northern New Jersey to small-town, predominantly-white Sequim, WA in 2006 and all of my new peers and classmates telling me how “creative” I was, how “unique” my sense of style was. I remember my early years as a student at the University of Washington, regularly being told how “authentic” I was for only taking on activities or joining communities that I really wanted to, for speaking out on things like anti-Blackness in the API community, racism, gentrification, and US imperialism in my business classes and everyday conversations alike.
I’m grateful for all of the opportunities (economic, social, and more) that my DJing, art, and other work have given me. I also recognize that I’m offered many of these opportunities based on my privileges and positions in the world being light-skinned, Asian American, raised in an upper-class family, conventionally attractive, skinny, and much more. With all of this, I really, really need people to know that my work as an artist is a part of my survival. Art is the best way for me to support the communities I come from right now. My chronic pain and fatigue make it nearly impossible to hold down a full-time job, so I sustain myself from part-time work and DJ gigs/performances. My experience of fibromyalgia makes it difficult to “show up” in the ways that activists are typically expected, e.g. attending protests and other events.
What I’m trying to get across is that fibromyalgia and my art are directly connected, due to my experiences of systemic oppression(s). Fibromyalgia holds my embodied traumas. What I’m really not trying to make happen is to have you pity the reality of everyday lived experiences. (I think it’s definitely fine for people to have emotional reactions, but I think that people—especially those in positions of greater power and privilege—need to self-reflect and take accountable actions around why they have certain emotions toward other people’s trauma.) Much of my joy and pride comes from being connected to fellow non-white people, Filipino/x people, femmes, SDQTPOC, artists.
One thing that I find really wild about all of this is that, at the time the above picture was taken about 1 year ago, I didn’t have enough confidence to share my art with the world. Most of my DJ gigs and performances were fairly “low stakes” among close friends. Much of my low confidence came from feeling alone as a sick and disabled queer Filipinx femme DJ in Seattle. I’ve only recently learned about the powerful, ongoing histories of Filipino American activism and arts in this city (shoutout to our Euro/white-centric public education system haha…), from groups like the FYA Drill Team, isangmahal arts kollective, or Filipino American National Historical Society (FANHS) and so so so so so many more people that I’m still getting learn about, know, and develop relationships with. Without learning about all of these organizations and people during college, I couldn’t imagine myself being a Filipino/x American artist; I couldn’t have taken on the work that contributes so much to my healing and growth. Honestly, I would not be here without art and people’s support in learning more about Filipino/x American identity, history, and arts & culture.
A couple of months ago, I was deep in the ethnographic research process for my undergraduate honors thesis on Filipino/x American music culture in Seattle + its connections to people’s identities, health, resistance, and resilience (which is still in progress because I’m a perfectionist and struggle working with the academy’s expectations for written, essay-based accounts of people’s stories haha…). In the process of interviewing other Filipino/x artists representing several different genres of art, ages/generations, and lived experiences, I began learning how few public spaces there are for us to express our emotions, learn more about our ongoing histories, engage in intergenerational dialogue, and celebrate our brilliance. I’m also realizing how most if not all of my identities—being queer, disabled, femme, brown, a second- and third-generation US citizen, and more—are rooted in my Filipino/Filipinx American experience, which helps explain why I feel so much power, love, and healing in spaces that center Filipino/xs and other brown and Black people. I root my inclinations toward art in my knowledge, though limited, of (pre-colonial) Philippine practices and rituals of storytelling and healing.
In February, I began privately formulating plans for an arts & culture event that would center Filipino/x Americans in Seattle and intentionally bring together an intergenerational group of people to discuss history, resources, and actions that we can take together in disrupting systems that affect us and other marginalized communities. (Shoutout to my Virgo sun + Capricorn rising Western astrology self hehehe.) To me, it’s important that these spaces be intergenerational as an attempt to undo historical trauma—the cumulative emotional and psychological effects of a traumatic event or experience that can be passed down generations in a population—through education, art, and other forms of holding transformative space.
It was actually watching Ruby Ibarra’s video for Us (feat. Rocky Rivera, Klassy, & Faith Santilla) that motivated me to begin openly sharing my idea with close friends and mentors. One result of all of my body pain, work as a student/scholar and artist/aspiring cultural worker, and boosted confidence has been the establishment of Kapatid Kollective. We (Angel Alviar-Langley, Jasmine Fernandez (@pilipinuh on Instagram), Jordan Faralan, Sunshine Camille Arcilla, and myself) are a group of young Filipinx femme artists and community organizers. I sincerely love us + have so much respect for what we each bring as students, activists, cultural workers, non-profit workers, and overall fierce people coming together from our respective communities.
We’ve been meeting since June 2018 organizing For FAHM: A Filipino American History Month Celebration, a series of arts & culture events by and for Filipinxs and our friends in the Seattle area. We have a lineup of 25+ local Filipino/x artists, activists, and small business owners to be featured in events happening October 4, 6, 13, and 20. We’re so excited and ready to facilitate special spaces alongside our people.
Alongside therapy, deep conversations with friends, mentors, and other community, and my art, this project has served as a major part of my healing for the past few months. I’m grateful that it has the potential to support and bring healing to many other people.
To learn more, please check out our Kickstarter + like, share, and support!
If you’re able to, you can also donate via Venmo (@allison-masangkay), PayPal (email@example.com), and Cash app ($amasangkay). Campaigns like these are a great way for allies to concretely support.
Keep up with Kapatid Kollective:
<3 SALAMAT / AGYAMANAK / THANK YOU <3
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- The title of this thing is inspired by the quote “Trauma that is not transformed will be transmitted” by Amita Swadhin, which has really inspired me since I read it online + I’ve incorporated into a few of my projects and presentations as “Trauma that is not transformed will be transferred.” Please support their amazing, important work!
- Historical trauma is a framework developed in the 1980s by social worker and scholar Maria Yellow Horse Braveheart, who first applied it to Lakota communities while comparing trauma’s manifestations with those among Holocaust survivors. It’s since been applied to more Indigenous populations around the world and other groups, such as Black people + African Americans (check out Joy DeGruy‘s book Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome) and many others, including Filipino/xs (a lot of that work for the Filipino community done by E.J. R. David, Kevin Nadal, and other people I’m probably unfortunately missing).
- Shoutout to my friend Liem Duy Nguyen for taking the pic of me after our class with Dr. Rachel Chapman—my favorite professor, mentor, and thesis advisor at UW.