Vintage photo of my father: Honorio Silva Carlon (1912-2008) circa 1932.
Filipinos have been a crucial part of America's cultural fabric, yet our stories are disregarded, minimized, and completely omitted from history books. I am using this month to announce that I am the recipient of the first @ladanceproject residency that supports a local artist to produce a new work. The residency is called MAKING:LA, and it starts this month and I work intermittently for 4 months creating a work on my own company @carlondance, with a showcase in February (and a karaoke fundraiser in Dec, stay tuned, it's gon' be lit.) The reason why I waited this month to announce it publicly is because the work is about my quest to understand what it is to be Filipino and Filipino-American... or what it means to be Filipinx, really.
I AM FILIPINO-AMERICAN.
The work I am developing is a dance-theatre work that focuses on Filipino history: from my father's migration to America in the 1930s to being a strawberry picker ("stealing jobs and women from white Americans") to colonization by Spain AND America AND how the Spanish-American War led to the Philippine-American War -- thinking about resistance and solidarity, and thinking about mestizo-privilege and being light-skinned, and thinking about what indigenous peoples are and how that might be a part of my forgotten ancestry, and thinking about thinking about... I've been thinking this work since I started dancing when I was 18, about 14 years ago... I’ll be using this account to document my quest through photos of my Filipino American story, integrating untold histories and uncovering a muddled identity of a second generation brown boy.
Vintage photo of my Nanay (mother in Tagalog): Lolita Lagera Molina Carlon (b. 1952) circa 1967 in Cabilao, Philippines.
Isn’t my mom a bombshell? That hair? Those gloves? I love the silhouette of her dress.
My mom’s story is often shadowed by the epic of my father’s, but I’ve been making it a point to ask her what life was like growing up poor on a small island without electricity or running water. What it was like to be a farmer on a jungle island. Or what living near some of the world’s most beautiful coral reef was like? What it was like to fish or dive for food? And how coming to America to be an agricultural worker made her feel after leaving all her family behind? Many Filipinos, especially Filipino-American immigrants, shy away from sharing their impoverished past; Filipinos always attempt to present themselves in the best light: name brand bags and shoes, fresh haircut, skin lightening/bleaching... I’m still trying to figure out how this “presentational” trait affects me in my life, my work, my interactions, etc...
Photo of my parents’ wedding. Circa 1971 in Cabilao, Philippines.
In this photo, my dad was 60 yrs old and my mom was 20. Yep, that’s a 40 yr difference. My mom was my dad’s third wife... meaning he had two marriages in America and 6 kids before he decided at the very fertile age of 60 to go back to the motherland — the same small island he grew up on — to swoop up my 20 year old mother and start ANOTHER family. It’s actually not too uncommon that Filipino families have an old dad and a young mom... not exactly sure why this is. Any historians, chime in.
I wish I could ask my dad, “why?” A series of why’s, including: why did you want more kids? I mean, I’m grateful... if he didn’t think at the age of 76 when he had me to have more kids, well... I wouldn’t be sharing this...
I’m curious about my parents’ relationship and how their love for each other grew, evolved, or even started for that matter. But I understand they loved each other... and I have many, many, many questions... but I’ll just stop, for now, at their unconditional love for me and my family.
Vintage photo of Filipino annual reunion in Santa Maria, CA, circa 1950s.
Father (center) with his first wife (American,) holding my oldest sibling, Nora — who, to this day, I have never met. My uncles (left, Manong Leon and Uncle Henry, right) are to either side of my father with their American wives and mestizo children.
All this American wives talk sounds like Filipino men were stealing all the women from white men, haha. Context: during the wave of migration of Filipinos in America (1930’s-1950’s), only men were allowed to migrate for labor. The only option for Filipino men to find love was outside of their own race, due to Filipinas immigrating to America much later.
Take a look at how well dressed everyone is! My dad never left the house without a suit. Suave AF. I like to hark back on this time, where live music, note the double bass in the background, and dancing the cha cha was the norm. I wonder what it was like for the Asian men and masculinity within their community. I wonder what the American wives club was like at these events? I’m sure these women didn’t speak Visayan (the Filipino dialect my family speaks). So many questions and not many answers, just my imagination to fill in the blanks. This oral / photo history project is a quest to mend those gaps in my disjointed historical narrative.
Carlon - Molina wedding 1971.
This post is about Filipino affection. I rarely saw my parents show any kind of affection, especially not with each other! It makes sense why I don’t like to cuddle, unless it’s with a puppy or something cute and fluffy like that. But human touch or contact has always been this taboo, weird forbidden thing, especially between men. Still trying to unpack the cultural differences between eastern traditions and western expectations, not to mention the traumas of masculinity within both.
Also, take note on how the people on the sides are eating. Filipinos eat two ways, bare hands or with spoon and fork. I grew up thinking it was barbaric, but now embrace it. I find myself trying to be proper, especially at puti (white) places. There’s a lot of code switching when navigating Filipino / brown spaces versus non-brown spaces.
I want to have a kamayan dinner sometime soon. Kamayan is a communal dining experience with no plates or utensils, just banana leaves on the table and piles of delicious food to be eaten with hands.
My dad, Honorio Silva Carlon (1912-2008) circa 1940s.
My dad worked in the fields for over 50 years. Over a century of backbreaking labor feeding the hungry mouths of America. He was a migrant worker, meaning he would migrate and live wherever the crops were in season. Over half a century of squatting down picking strawberries in the blistering sun...
My work lately has focused in many sites that had a connection to the earth, the dirt. I raked the side of a hill and crawled amidst salty shores. All these experiences and opportunities somehow make me feel I’m developing a better understanding of the earth — the way my dad knew Her.
I wanted to talk about dark, leathered brown skin in this post, but ig has a character limit, so I’ll save that for a later pst. Whooops, that’s a typo, it’s supposed to say “post,” but pssstt, the universal call for a Filipino, is more than appropriate.
Here is another photo from my parents’ wedding.
This is my mom, happy on her wedding day on January 3, 1971.
Imagine: a provincial girl on an island with no electricity, no running water, no paved roads; and an older man comes into your life and requests your hand in marriage — a sudden new life in America and an opportunity to send money back home to your family... a financial balikbayan of sorts. I never understood how, considering we were very poor growing up, we were in any place to be sending money back to the Philippines... but when I did go to the motherland at the age of 14, I understood why.
Look how happy mom was. What a thrilling transition for her... and what a culture shock she was about to experience upon arriving to America... more soon.
Family in the Philippines
This is a photo of my Lola (grandma, right) and her mom, my great grandma, in the center. This is the first image I’ve ever seen of my great grandma. It’s interesting digging up this hxstory... growing up first generation American, it’s easy to forget about your lineage when all you see is your immigrant family in the states.
My great grandmother is no longer with us today, but my grandma is... she’s 92. I hope I can visit her soon before it’s too late. I’m sure she’s a wealth of knowledge. My only real memory of her is when I visited as a child and saw her drunk while watching wrestling, yelling at the TV. And another memory I suppose dancing cha cha in the night hours while drinking tuba (coconut wine). Maybe that’s where I get it? The dancing, not the alcohol part... well, maybe both.
This is a photo of my mom (pretty in pink) and some of my aunties and uncles working in the fields in the late 70’s or early 80s. When my mom first immigrated here, the day after she arrived to America, she was in the fields working. She thought, “this is America? I thought America was nice.”
Filipinos worked in the fields for a large part of the 20th Century. Larry Itliong was a labor rights pioneer, convincing Cesar Chavez to picket and boycott the agricultural industry, starting a revolution.
My family worked for Driscoll Farms... BOYCOTT DRISCOLL FARMS! They underpay their workers — as little as $7/day, expose them to harmful chemicals, support child labor, and provide unlivable housing for their workers.
Front page of @bostonglobe on March 5, 1899 about Filipinos after American Colonization.
I never realized, or at at least I’ve never seen so explicitly, the racist depictions of Filipinos in American media. I suppose these ideas of beauty and class have been embedded in my upbringing — staying out of the sun so you don’t get dark and look like a laborer... so much of Filipino culture is stripped away from 200 years of Spanish / Euro rule and the turn of the 20th century colonized by the America. What does it mean to be Filipino? The word didn’t even exist until some Spanish King Phillip came... what was the archipelago called before that?
For immigrants in America, the American Dream, though I fucking roll my eyes at the sound of it, is very much a part of my determination and wherewithal I have today, learned from my dad...
Does anybody else have. Questions about their ____________-American identity?
Cover of Life Magazine, May 22, 1902
This was at the end of the Philippine-American war — also known as the Philippine genocide, where up to 3 million Filipinxs were brutally killed by Americans to show Spain — and other Euro countries that were trying to colonize the Pacific — that they were the greatest military power. Essentially trying to FLEX their power by pillaging entire villages; American soldiers instructed to kill anyone over 10 yrs old, just to show the west whose boss. . All the Philippines wanted was independence. Over 200 years of Spanish rule, and then America promised the Philippines they would help them gain independence over Spain, but in doing so, brutally killed millions of “savage islanders” — employing some of the first inhumane techniques of torture like water boarding, demonstrated in the illustration above. . This story is not taught in schools, omitted from history books. To think just ten years after this, my dad was born... and 30 years after, he would move to America, the land of the free, home of the brave... that’s all for now.
Indigenous Peoples of the Philippines
October is Filipino American History Month & today is Indigenous Peoples’ Day, Los Angeles. I would like to acknowledge the land I live on: the land of the Tongva people; and the land I grew up on in the Central Coast: the land of the Chumash.
This is a photo of the Bontoc tribe, an indigenous Pilipinx group that resisted colonization by the Spanish and America. This is an image of the womxn elegantly balancing water on their heads. I came across this image and thought about the time I visited the Philippines, being a lazy American complaining about waking up at dawn to walk to the well to fetch water for the day. My aunties balancing huge jugs of water, walking on uneven, rocky terrain, sometimes barefoot.
It took me a long time to figure out what photo to post today. After all, my ties to indigenous Pilipinx culture is so far removed… I have an Irish last name (Carlon), my dad’s mom’s maiden name is Portuguese (Silva), my mom’s and her mom’s maiden name are Spanish (Molina & Lagera). I don’t have any direct ties or cultural bearings for what is indigenous Pilipinx for my family. With that said, I don’t know ANY of my western ancestry either… we don’t know how we acquired these colonized names, if they were given (slave names) or actual ancestry (blood). I wonder if my lola knows anything. I’ll need to have a translator because i don’t speak Visayan and she doesn’t speak English.
Can you spot me?
Nope, that’s not me, startled upon the shot of a camera lens while holding the landline phone — that’s my brother Honolit, who actually got me into wrestling. And no, that’s not me in the rad shorts in the middle — that’s my brother Steve, who coincidentally loves the history channel, and presumably this photo series. Yes, the only one left is that monkey-of-a-baby climbing the side table on the left. Precarious as always, doing things I ought’nt.
So this photo is on this series to talk about how is Carlon kids raised ourselves. That’s a big reason why I don’t speak Visayan. A big reason why my relationship with my parents was minimal — my parents made sure we were fed and had a house over our roof... and well behaved when we had guests. That’s about it... I’m trying to change that now with my mom, to continue a tradition and value through oral history.
Because we were left on our own, the streets, Nintendo, and the Boys and Girls club raised us. We all wrestled, occasionally galavanted and stole things from the grocery store or Target... but in short, the wrestling mat served as a place to keep us out of trouble and avoid gang culture, which in the 90’s was a thing for Filipinos in California. I wanted this post to be a photo of us wrestling, but camera phones weren’t a thing back then... so this photo will represent that.
What did I learn on the mat? Resistance. Momentum. Weight distribution and velocity. How to cope with aggression with patience. I learned nonverbal communication and dialogue.
The labor of love
Here is a photo of my parents working in the fields.
This will be the last photo of this series, because I’m actually in Southeast Asia right now and don’t have access to photos to add... I’m so close to the Philippines. Just a couple hours on a plane away. I’ll leave it there... feel free to continue the dialogue with me: slip me a dm, text, email, whatev. More soon, in another format.
Honorio S. Carlon
It’s been exactly a decade since my dad passed away. I’m not sure if 10 years feels like a long time or a short amount of time... but it feels like the memory of him is fleeting. And I’ve been writing, researching, and literally dancing / making work about him. I wish I could just have one more chat with him… ask him questions about what his life was like: What it was like in the Philippines during his childhood? What brought him to America? What it was like living during the Great Depression and WW2?
Ever since I was born, my dad was old — he had me when he was 74. And ever since I can form a memory, I knew my dad’s death was imminent. One of my first memories was with my dad in the backyard. He was gardening and I was probably skipping or doing something really gay; I was 4. I remember him getting mad at me because I stepped all over the tomatoes, ruining the soil.
Despite me being a reckless brat, he took me to McDonalds, an immigrant’s symbol for the American Dream. We went through the drive thru and he got me a happy meal. I was the youngest of 12 of my dad’s kids… the baby. I think I may have been the only kid in the family to ever get a happy meal from my dad… My siblings called me spoiled because of this. I think it was honestly just because everyone else was in school while I was at home and my dad was retired, so there… look at me being defensive, haha. But yeah, back to dad. Oh, McDonalds drive thru: I remember when my dad was ordering the much coveted happy meal, the lady at the speaker asked what drink with the meal and my dad said we have 7UP at home. They got in a big ol’ kerfuffle and I think she ended up just giving us a Sprite.
I told a version of that story during my dad’s funeral 10 years ago… I was 22. I spent my childhood going to funerals of my uncles, my dad’s contemporaries. I never thought I would actually be at my dad’s, let alone deliver the eulogy. But the ritual of my father’s life is this beautiful story. It’s truly an epic.
I’m currently making a work dedicated to him. It’s called FLEX. I’m learning a lot about the Filipino-America story. I can’t wait to share it with you… Feb 7-10.