“Start now. Start where you are. Start with fear. Start with pain. Start with doubt. Start with hands shaking. Start with voice trembling but start. Start and don’t stop. Start where you are, with what you have. Just… start.”
So goes one of my favorite quotes from Nigerian poet – Iieoma Umebinyou. This moves me whenever I feel I’m overthinking things or when I’m overwhelmed by dreams that seem to be too big I doubt if I can fit in them or make them fit to me. As Betsy’s founding team, we sometimes get overwhelmed by the immensity of what we want to accomplish. So I write this.
When we started Betsy we had one goal – create a venue for Filipino culture to flourish through the recognition of our inherent creativity as a people. This dream has not changed and as a team, our belief in the Filipino is the driving force. I’m a Filipina who has lived in Europe for almost half of my life now, yet my heritage remains to be a significant part of my identity. I’ve had my share of traveling and living in foreign cities, working with people of various cultures and I have to say – I find our culture beguiling and truly special.
Our culture is unique and rich, yet largely underrated and unknown. Part of that we can attribute to our own tendency to regard other cultures superior to our own. While our story as a people is an inspiring one, a story of a people who have proven repeatedly that it can overcome – it has also caused a level of insecurity about who we are and what we represent, which we carry to this day:
- Our admiration for anything American – from their music, the way they speak English. We think people who live in the US have made it, regardless of the work life imbalance the American culture is known for.
- The impressive proliferation of Korea’s pop culture in the Philippines.
- The admiration and immediate assumption of economic superiority we have for people of Chinese or Spanish descent.
- Our rush to create links to international celebrities (successful or not) – “she’s half Filipino, his third wife is Filipino, his cat’s previous owner is Filipino”
- That little ‘yay’ and heart cartwheel we experience but won’t admit to when we are mistaken for being half Caucasian
In Betsy we propose to honour our story but to leave it where it belongs, in the past. If cells regenerate and a person is biologically a different set of cells after 7 years, we definitely should not be boxing ourselves in the same story our ancestors have been subject to. It was their fate, not ours.
We should instead thank them for bearing and conquering those struggles and use their gift to take charge of our own identity as a people.
Let’s embrace our coolness. Let us be known as the hipster artsy types of Asia. We are often referred to as the Latin Americans of East Asia, I’m not sure how I feel about being called that but we can definitely use this kind of branding to our advantage. Being colonized by Spain is indeed something we have in common with Latin/Central Americans. We are laidback, mostly happy and we know how to party. The resilience and ability to smile despite the worst comes from two things – 1) our faith and 2) being situated near the Pacific, battered by typhoons and storms on a regular basis – we know how to let go. These conditions are perfect for creativity to flourish, our almost incomprehensible optimism can be the subject of masterpieces. Art does not always have to be dark or depressing to be deep. There is depth in joy. Maybe even more.
Talent is overflowing in the Philippines. How cool would it be if we are known not only for the 3Bs we sometimes feel define the extent of what we can offer – Beauty Queens, Boxing and Bagoong? We have a natural propensity for art (performance art and otherwise), not just the hyper-regimented, frighteningly competitive world of Korean pop. We have so much raw talent and with focus and a reasonable amount of discipline, it does not have to take long before KPOP is replaced by PPOP.
Our strategic location means we can claim to be the center of Asia for literally anything, because we are physically already are. Could we be the center for art trends? Could we be the go-to place for art enthusiasts in Asia? Could we house the most creative, boldest artisans that support sustainability and local and/or rural growth?
There are so many possibilities for us to discover and take for ourselves, we just need a bit of courage. We just need to support each other – crab mentality can be something we HAD, not something we just happen to have in our psyche.
We need to continue pushing through the muddle of our identity and say fuck it, our story should not define our defeated-ness, it should define our possibilities. We have to redefine ourselves, not whine about how our story has created us, but how our story will help us in who we want to become.
As a people we are fully connected through the heart, not the head. And from the heart comes beauty, intensity and freedom from limiting assumptions. Art is born this way. Art thrives in this way.
We don’t even have to take it because we already have it. We are Asia’s hipsters. Asia’s Center for Fucking Amazing, Bold, Limitless Art. Let’s spread the word, let’s get it out in the open.
Let’s start, NOW.