Friday, April 10, 2015

The Debutante's Ball and Ethnic Heritage: Father and Daughter Weigh In

Please enjoy this guest post by my friend Jay and his teen daughter Juno about what Mu Performing Arts/History Theatre's play The Debutante's Ball means to them:

Jay: As a first generation Filipino immigrant raised outside the Minnesota Filipino community, and largely isolated from Filipino traditions, I was thrilled to discover Eric "Pogi" Sumangil's comic documentary on preserving ethnic heritage. 

Without being overly sentimental, the play still managed to evoke my sympathy for the young characters struggling to define their own racial identity. I laughed with and never-quite-pitied the character I saw the most of myself in, an awkward and geekish young man who played the Harana (Filipino serenade) for the female protagonist. I would have liked to explore the theme of "nisei" having an "ethnic" channel to direct universal themes of teenage awkwardness, and how they often make an asset of innate bi(or greater)-culturism.

Image by Elizabeth Flores, Star Tribune
The thin Good Friday crowd of History Theater regulars and supporters blended comfortably with Filipino families, easily identified by their uproarious laughter during the targeted ethnic insider jokes. Though not provocative, the overall atmosphere reminded me poignantly of feeling like a square peg in a round hole, gently but not painfully reconciling mutually strange foods, accents, and jokes with my parents' white Minnesotan friends at 70s and 80s dinner tables, the place settings slightly outdated, the humor never dead-on, but ample.

Juno: When I found out that we were going to see this play, I was a little hesitant. I haven't ever been immersed in the  culture, and honestly, I had no idea what to expect. Sure, I identify as part Filipino, but I was sure that every reference or joke would go right over my head - I was wrong. I didn't need to speak Tagalog, I didn't have to go to social gatherings, I didn't even have to do anything but sit and watch. I was able to laugh and enjoy it as it happened, and so was everyone else in the Theater.

I think what was most appealing to me was that it didn't beat around the bush about anything. Yes, Filipino's are blunt, touchy, and ambiguously ethnic, and there isn't a point in the show where you don't see that. Instead of being a play about trying to fit in with the crowd, it's a play about being comfortable with who you are, even if you look or act differently than the people around you. It wasn't a crazy assimilation-promotion  play, it was straight forward, and documented (accurately) what it's like to grow up Filipino-American in Minnesota.