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Filipinx and Latinx artists explore transcultural identity
(From left:) Chelsea “Hyphywyphy” Marlayne Calalay, Samantha “Sami See” Schilf, and Kate “Been Milky” Dash pose for a portrait outside of George Washington Elementary in San Francisco, May 5, 2019. Photo: Gabriella Angotti-Jones

For Sami Schilf, the Filipino philosophy of “Kapwa,” or “togetherness,” crosses borders. Her mural “Kapwa Rising,” which stands atop a Filipino-inspired taqueria in SOMA—which is aptly named Mestiza—would draw comments of familiarity from passersby.

Zulus have the word “Ubuntu,” meaning “I am because we are.” Mayans have “In Lak’ech,” or  “I am you, and you are me.”

“Kapwa means ‘shared identity,’” Shilf said. “It means, ‘I exist because you exist.’”

The mural serves as a smooth transition into Schilf’s curatorial debut: “New Mestizx,” a new art show to be featured at Acción Latina’s Juan R. Fuentes Gallery. The “x” deflecting the gender binary, Schilf draws her exhibition’s namesake from the book “Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza,” by queer feminist Gloria E. Anzaldúa.

Kate Dash, a mother and photographer, poses for a portrait outside of George Washington Elementary in San Francisco, May 5, 2019. Photo: Gabriella Angotti-Jones.

“The new Mestiza is a person that has a foot in both worlds, and from this place of in-between,” Schilf said. “Bridging cultures, languages, orientations, they are inherently creating something new.”

As a queer Filipina-American growing up in the Bay Area, Schilf saw little to no representation of people like her in the media. “New Mestizx” features a collection of works from 12 local artists: the women and the nonbinary and the men, the young and the old.

“From this middle place, you’re pushing back and questioning these binaries,” Schilf said.

She hopes her exhibit can explore what it’s like for others who are also breaking binaries.

Kate Dash, 28, is one of them. Her grandmother, who raised her with other relatives while her parents worked and went to school, was largely the maternal figure for her household of 12. Strong-willed, scary, yet humorous and loved, her grandmother was also fiercely independent. She refused to work in a factory and instead sold empanadas, tortas and Filipino desserts to her network of family and friends.

Kate “Been Milky” Dash (left) and Chelsea “Hyphywyphy” Marlayne Calalay, pose for a portrait outside of San Francisco’s George Washington Elementary, May 5, 2019. Photo: Gabriella Angotti-Jones.

Dash, now herself a mother of two, is a self-taught film photographer, who commissions portraits to her network of acquaintances.

For her, breaking boundaries means defying others’ expectations of motherhood.

“I felt that when I became a mom, I was all of a sudden not sexual. I couldn’t be this person that wants to skate, take photos, do art… all these things that people don’t associate with motherhood,” Dash said.

“Do what you want to do and still be a bomb mom,” she concluded.

Her contribution to the “New Mestizx” show will be a portrait that is personal to her own motherhood.

Chelsea Calalay, 24, is also presenting a project related to her grandmother, who raised her next to the slums in the Philippines. It was a life that allowed her to climb trees and ride the occasional water buffalo.

When she flew to America, her grandmother, who was religious and scared of flying, couldn’t follow. And Calalay couldn’t afford to go back, even when her grandmother passed away.

Multi-discipline artist Cecilia Cassandra poses for a portrait in her backyard in San Francisco, May 3, 2019. Photo: Sophia Schultz Rocha

Looking back, she wishes she called more. Her collage—connected to aspects of her grandmother’s personality—is a memorial. She hopes to remind viewers to communicate with their maternal figures.

“It took me losing her to realize how much I missed out on doing that,” she said.

The show, she said, also allows her to reflect on her identity as Mestiza.

Cecilia Peña Govea, 26, who also identifies as Mestiza, is another artist whose work will draw inspiration from her heritage. Referring to her own parents, who are of Mexican descent, Peña Govea considers herself an “hija de la Malinche,” or daughter of Malinche, the Nahua translator and lover to Hernan Cortez, as well as the mother of the first Mestizo child: Martin Cortez.

Cecilia Cassandra holds her hand-embroidered piece, “Flores Ben Davis” at her home in San Francisco on May 3, 2019. The bases for these pieces are Ben Davis work shirts, inspired by the ones her father wore throughout her childhood. Cassandra shared in her artist statement: “the beadwork on each shirt took around 80 hours to complete, which is an act that functions as an homage to the working person, an acknowledgement to the long hard hours that workers put in, and an offering to the wearer of the shirt. I grew up understanding that there are work clothes and there are going out clothes, so I wanted to create a piece that challenged that notion.” Photo: Sophia Schultz Rocha

While Malinche is blamed by many for the downfall of her own people, the Aztecs, Peña Govea found in her research that actually Malinche was sold by her family to a group that sold her to Cortez.

“It just goes to speak about the violence—both [the] gender violence in that time and the racial violence of colonialism and conquest,” Peña Govea said.

Cecilia Cassandra works on her embroidered art piece, “Hija de La Malinche” while in her San Francisco backyard on May 3, 2019. Photo: Sophia Schultz Rocha

She teaches music with San Francisco Unified School District’s mariachi program and is a teaching artist for SFJazz, while being a music analyst for Pandora Radio and the vocal director of Community Music Center’s Young Musician’s Program.

Still, she will be dedicating two embroidered shirts, each taking some 100 hours of work, to “New Mestizx.”

“The overall intent and message behind the show is very powerful,” Peña Govea said. “I think the Juan Fuentes gallery is very powerful for the community because there’s not too many spaces that prioritize showing the work of local artists.”

“New Mestizx” opens on Friday, May 24 and will run through June 15. The opening reception will be from 6 p.m. – 9 p.m. at Acción Latina’s Juan R. Fuentes Gallery, at 2958 24th Street. Presented by the Asian Pacific Islander Cultural Center in partnership with Grants for the Arts and the San Francisco Arts Commission, the exhibit will include art from:  Alyssa Aviles, Cecilia Cassandra Peña-Govea, Harvey Lozada, Hyphywyphy aka Chelsea Marlayne Calalay, Joe Ramos, Malaya Tuyay, Monica Magtoto, Kate Dash, Pinay Liminality, Pinxys Rising by Nickel Rivera & Narce Guinto, Sami See aka Samantha Curl, and Tito Gavina.

Story by: David Mamaril Horowitz