PCN's 34th annual performance will take place in Forbes Hall at the Clark Center for the Performing Arts in Arroyo Grande. Credit: Pilipino Cultural Exchange | Courtesy

Pilipino Cultural Exchange calls itself a “home away from home.” One way students in PCE achieve that is through Pilipino Cultural Night, the annual student-run show taking place April 28-29.

The script-based play blends an overarching story about Filipino-American identity along with traditional and contemporary Filipino dances and choral performances, according to PCE co-president and liberal arts & engineering senior Danielle Capras. 

“I think in Filipino culture in general, family is one of the really important tenants,” Capras said. “A lot of our members come from diverse areas and coming to a place like Cal Poly might be a really big culture shock to them.”

The process of developing PCN went from writing scripts last summer, to doing more work in Filipino history classes winter quarter, to rehearsing this quarter for the event. But PCN isn’t exclusive to just Cal Poly. The performance takes place at multiple colleges and high schools across the country

“[PCN] was born out of this identity crisis that Filipino-Ameicans had when they entered college in the late 70s and 80s because a lot of them attended predominantly white institutions, and they felt their experiences didn’t match those of the students around them,” Capras said.

Even decades later, it’s still difficult for many Filipino-Americans “to feel Filipino,” according to Capras.

“[Because of] the US education system that was set up in the Philippines, a lot of our parents, when they immigrated to the United States, there was no need to be super Filipino because they already knew how to speak English,” Capras said. “They already knew how to assimilate to American culture pretty well.”

Capras added that a lot of Filipino-Americans “feel disconnected” from their culture, but participating in PCN along with taking Filipino history classes in preparation for the performance helps to reaffirm their identity.

“I think for other POCs at Cal Poly, it might be a different experience for them. Their parents may be more culturally tied back, but for Filipino-Americans, it’s a little harder to feel that connection,” Capras said.

Growing up, Capras said she didn’t have a lot of Filipino friends. 

“I knew that when I came to college I wanted to reconnect with my Filipino culture, but I thought about culture in a very surface-level sense,” she said.

According to Capras, PCE helped her feel more secure in her identity.

“It was nice learning about Filipino culture in a more politicized sense,” Capras said. “Learning the importance of amplifying Pilipino voices, Filipino stories…despite growing up in the United States where that stuff isn’t really taught to you.”

Although preparing for PCN is a big time commitment, according to industrial engineering junior Mackenzie Bunyi, she’s been able to build relationships with people in the club. 

“At the end of the show, you’re not just working for that [specific] group or for yourself…you’re working with each other,” Bunyi said. “You’re putting on a production together versus I feel like in other clubs I didn’t really get that idea.” 

Bunyi is a choreographer for Modern, which is the contemporary, non-audition dance group in PCE that will perform for Pilipino Cultural Night. One of the songs the group is performing is a Filipino Pop Song called “Bazinga” by the band SB19.

“It’s kind of cool using a song from our home region and incorporating what we learned as hip-hop or our type of dance with a song from [the Philippines],” Bunyi said.

Modern will also collaborate with the choir group Ating Himig for a performance to “Man in the Mirror” by Michael Jackson.

For Bunyi, collaborating with fellow students is one of her favorite parts about the lead-up to PCN.

“Even in the down times, we’re able to have conversations about what it’s like being Filipino-American,” she said. “We all have different experiences even though we’re all technically Filipino-Americans.”

The other dance group performing in PCN is Kasayahan. There’s four ‘dance suites’ featured in the play that Kasayahan will display, including the Mountain suite, the Barrio suite, the Muslim suite and the Maria Clara suite, according to Capras. 

Each suite represents a different part of the Philippines history and culture. For example, the Maria Clara suite has influence from Spanish colonization and the Mountain suite typically consists of traditional Filipino dances. 

Both the Modern and Kasayhan dance groups and Ating Himig will be incorporated into the overarching play titled Binibini, which translates to “young lady.” The story is centered around three sisters named Camille, Isabel and Roselyn, who are all struggling to follow their own expectations of their life while also managing their parents’ expectations and not wanting to disappoint them. 

“I think in a lot of Asian cultures in general there’s this desire to satisfy the collective — like how can you satisfy your own desires while also still respecting and acknowledging everything your parents did for you,” Capras said.

Liberal arts & engineering senior and PCN coordinator Kelly Mok helped develop the plot of the play.

“I had initially wanted something similar to a past and present flashback or some sort of representation of a general gap,” Mok said. “It was about collaboration and melding each of our own ideas with figurative concepts like generational trauma, identity and imposter syndrome, and that’s really the catalyst of ‘Binibini.’”

Although the story is told through the perspective of a Filipino family, Mok says she wants this performance “to be recognized as a story that encompasses the many internal struggles that not just Filipino Americans, but young adults, go through.”

“I just want the audience to feel something when they watch this, be it amazement, sadness, happiness, anger…because it will mean that we did our job.”

PCN will take place in Forbes Hall at the Clark Center for the Performing Arts in Arroyo Grande on April 28 and 29 at 7 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at the Clark Center’s website here.