Saturday, February 2, 2008

Asian Pride on MTV! But, Where Did the Filipino Go?

Hit 'em! Kaba Modern represents hard on MTV's "America's Best Dance Crew"

Randy Jackson (from American Idol) brings a very interesting (and long overdue) reality competition show on MTV called "America's Best Dance Crew," and Kaba Modern (above) is representing lovely. As you can see from the video above, no one would be surprised if they made it all the way. Kaba Modern is known--especially in California, but also worldwide--for street dance supremacy. They always kill it! And I'm sure it'll be a massacre with Kaba Modern on this MTV show.

Undoubtedly, I give my full support to Kaba Modern in this amazing feat. But, what is concerning is the lack of Filipinos (on this show) for a group bearing the name "Kaba Modern." Kaba Modern, which is in its 16th year, comes out of the bigger Kababayan, which roughly translates to countryman/woman in Filipino. Kababayan is an organization at the University of California at Irvine and has roots to a consciously political movement at UCI dating back to the 1970s. However, Kaba Modern, which is distinct but has origins to the bigger Kababayan, is focused on dance excellence and less concerned with the political and cultural priorities of Kababayan. Here is a description of the troupe from their website:

"Kaba Modern is a street dance group established in 1992 by a group of Kababayans at the University of California in Irvine. Originally put together to perform as "The Modern Suite" at their Pilipino Culture Night, the group has evolved from being a PCN suite to becoming one of the most cutting-edge hip hop troupes in California. Since then, the group's legacy has lived on, first and foremost as a family, embracing different styles and aspects of dance, creating quite a name for themselves as one of Southern California's most cutting edge dance groups."

It's great that this organization is excelling in the choreographed street dance craft (I myself come out of that scene and miss it everyday!). Even more, it is well-known and celebrated that Kaba Modern comes out of the rich legacy of Filipino American dance tradition, and it's wonderful that they are now on MTV (finally some shine!). But, where are the Filipinos? Looking at the clip above and the Kaba Modern member bios on the show's website, the Filipino representation in the group is zero. What does this mean for an organization that proudly bears the name "Kaba"? Or, should it even matter at all?

To spur discussion on the questions above, I have pulled a few comments from the Youtube clip above to further probe the tensions:

"truth is only about half of our team is filipino...the other half is a combination of people from many other ethnicities...our choreographers are of many races as well. it is this diversity and respect for all people that allows us to innovate and display our love for dance =D"

"I'm filipino and it doesnt matter if there is no pinoy on the crew I'm still proud of them as asian and they carry the name kaba modern as the group. KABA mean kababayan right, group of asian country we can call them our kababayan because we are from asia"

"Like ppl said in previous comments majority of the crew is Pinoy but the ones reppin on the show are the not cause the whole crew is a lot bigger and the 2 pinoy that auditioned with them couldn't leave the rest of the crew hanging since their the coordinators for this year I hear."

Here are some analyses:
1. Of course everyone should applaud an organization for their eager efforts to diversify their members. But what does it mean to make a commitment to such diversity, when the origins and brand of the organization is unmistakenly Filipino? The second commenter who tries to justify the lack of Filipino representation by claiming that "Kababayan" is an inclusive term for all Asian countries (if I'm reading their grammar right) is diluting the concept of Filipino Kababayan, a particular concept alluding to the promise of national sovereignty that colonized Filipinos hold dear. And if the reason is to transform the word Kababayan to reference more to the concept of a generic "family" than to a specific Filipino comradeship, that is as problematic as adopting the Hawaiian word "ohana" by Filipinos (or any Asian) to brand their organization. Considering their history of colonization and cultural appropriation, Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders in general would deserve more than an utterance of a cute word.

2. What were the 2 Pinoy coordinators who auditioned for the show (but later bailed) thinking? Was it their firm commitment to the larger UCI Kaba Modern that won over MTV stardom? If so, big props! Community before fame, right? But, at what risk? Is it fine to rep Kaba Modern without its proper Filipino representation? Are there no coordinator replacements in the group?

3. If the issue of Filipino representation is moot (because it's about the dance not race!), then why not change the name of the MTV-competing Kaba Modern group to something that does not reference the Filipino organization? And on a bigger issue, why not change the name of Kaba Modern to another name altogether? What purpose is there in paying homage to Kababayan if it is more concerned with dance excellence and diversity, rather than Filipino representation and Filipino cultural production?

4. Even if there is internal homage to the Filipino roots of Kaba among the Kaba Modern folks on MTV (and I am confident there is), is there a more public acknowledgment of the organization's Filipino dance tradition/spaces, especially since the name of the group makes a public gesture to Filipinoness?

Other comments made on Youtube demonstrate the pride people have for Asians having so much rhythm and skill. The pride here is well-deserved, but the veiling of Filipino contribution for an overtly Filipino group is dangerous.

Here is why: The erasure of Filipinos within the broader Asian American community is reminiscent of Fred Cardova's book Filipinos: Forgotten Asian Americans. For an all-Asian American group to rep a Filipino name without a Filipino face is not helping with Filipino recognition, especially in the midst of multiethnic Asian American community-building; the idea of "Asian American" will continue to be represented without a Filipino face. The invisibility and problems of racial ambiguity of Filipinos is further reproduced in this case--meaning the veiling of Filipinoness for Kaba Modern isn't making it easier for Filipinos who want to break through the mainstream even though Filipino Americans have long been invested in the labor of mainstream artistic performance. Filipinos need more opportunities to represent themselves (and also need to go beyond passing as other races).

(As a note, I'm sure these discussions are old news to the good folks in Kababayan and Kaba Modern. It would be neat to continue these discussions, and I hope folks from these groups would comment or at least read this. I'm open to all perspectives. I'm sure we'll all learn a lot together.)



Anonymous said...

the author of this blod said talking to him didn't count and that i had to post a comment on the blog.

To rehash our conversation, I said that there is historical and sentimental value to keeping a name. I mentioned that the JACL (Japanese American Citizens League) and OCA (Organization of Chinese Americans), have both recently contemplated a name change in order to reflect their broader panethnic and people of color missions. While I realize these organizations are fundamentally different from Kaba Modern, the idea that a name is has value historically and sentimentally remains.

That being said, I am inclined to agree with the author of this blog. This particular generation of Kaba Modern (sans Filipino Americans, although maybe someone is half ;P) should be more cognizant of the history of Kaba and the relationship to kababayan. Especially on a mainstream media outlet like MTV. Or, maybe we are giving them to much credit for their levels of consciousness on this issue...

O.W. said...

I don't know about this Mark. For one thing, if you go to Kaba Modern's website and look at the larger members list, there seems to be Filipinos in the group. It may be that the members who ended up on the show squad lack Filipino representation but that, alone, doesn't seem to merit a name change unless there was a deliberate attempt to keep Filipinos off the competition squad.

Anonymous said...

aw crap, my whole comment got deleted...

i agree that the name should stay the same because it does have tradition and stands for something much like the naacp. however, if there is no acknowledgement of that history, then it's all for naught.

in this case, i doubt these young people feel that connection to kababayan and perhaps even kaba modern of yesteryear. having been in similar dance crews, my guess is that they just joined up to be sexy and cool in a non-threatening environment. it's not uncommon to see a "filipino" performance (cultural or otherwise) with less than half the performers being of filipino descent with groups being so open to outsiders. the remaining performers, i fear, never truly comprehend/respect filipino culture and merely do it to put on a show and be part of the "cool" group. even worse with kaba modern, they've taken all the tight choreography without acknowledgment of the 16 year history that it took to hone and craft this style of dance.

that said, filipinos must also be careful not to forget where hip hop dance comes from and who specifically originated it. i dont doubt that filipinos helped pioneer it, especially hip hop choreography, but at that the same time, they must also give credit where credit is due.

hip hop can be universal expression, but only so far as its originators, its pioneers, and by extensions its ideals are not eliminated. instead they must be celebrated and perpetuated.

last thing, jabawockeez are doper anyway; theyre real street dancers and half their crew is pinoy!

Anonymous said...


"It may be that the members who ended up on the show squad lack Filipino representation but that, alone, doesn't seem to merit a name change unless there was a deliberate attempt to keep Filipinos off the competition squad."

Of course not. But to a larger point, I think that if a group (even the larger group with Pin@ys in it) doesn't have a connection to the cultural and political commitments to the larger Kababayan organization, then why still call it such? Whats the tie to Kababayan, if the priority is dance only? I still would like to know the answer to that.


Yes, Jabawockeez should be fine in this competition. Their masks make their hits look sharper, ha! ha?

Unknown said...

Check it out..

I'm going to step back before critiquing any responsibility Kaba Modern has on reppin Pilipinos to what Kaba Modern's roots are: dancing hiphop at college Pilipino Culture Nights.

From some of our own experiences, modern hiphop dance at cultural nights never had an explicit racial agenda (meaning we did not make it strictly pilipino)), it focused on dances we do and creates culture on the spot.

It's problematic to expect a group to have authentic representation if it never imposed an explicit policy or a program.

At the same time I think it's hard to critique responsibility without hearin where folks from Kaba Modern and Kababayan are coming from.

It's interesting to become part of Kaba Modern, u still have to become part of Kababayan.

Anonymous said...

and i’m just gonna ask a bunch of questions.

what is authentic representation? what does this acknowledgement, celebration, and perpetuation of history and roots and legacy look like within these dance crews? (not having been part of any official dance crews, i’m genuinely asking that question.)

i wonder if those who identify as Filipino are also cognizant of Kaba Modern’s history. who in these crews (not just Kaba Modern) take the responsibility to keep the history alive? ideally, the entire crew should be responsible and engage in at least some self-education, but let’s face it, even in organizations, it’s usually key individuals who make it a point and a priority.

considering that organized groups (whether social, cultural, political, educational, or a combo of everything) will always change over time, and as environments change, so must its priorities and purposes, so should representation and responsibility still be an expectation?

an overall comment regarding the crews on the show as a whole: it’s interesting how there tends to be an intentional attempt for the equal representation of male and female bodies; how heteronormative it is when it comes down to pairings. from that episode (which i accidentally stumbled on while flipping channels), I appreciated physh and chicks (spelling?) criticism of the expected look and appearance of women in crews. but that explanation of the ambiguously asian woman as being nicknamed “coy” because she’s japanese, i did not appreciate.

jabawockeez were definitely hot, but those white masks kinda freaked me out. i understand their reasons for it, but it reminded me of scary movies. or maybe the fact that it was white, and i don’t think any member of their crew is white, didn’t sit well with me. although any other color wouldn’t work well either…

O.W. said...

" those white masks kinda freaked me out"

Very Japanese "noh", no?

"It's problematic to expect a group to have authentic representation if it never imposed an explicit policy or a program."

I have to agree with this. It's taking a "celebration of heritage and culture" and imposing what basically sounds like a racial quota on it.

As noted: the larger Kaba Modern has Filipino members. Why is the smaller, competing troupe on TV expected to drop the name? I think it's totally fair to point out, "hey, where did all the Filipinos go for the smaller squad?" but trying to say they don't have claim to the name just seems extreme, not to mention arbitrary.

And as someone else noted above, if we were to turn this around and ask what kind of claims to authenticity Filipino Americans can make to adapt Black and Latin dance styles to begin turns the debate on its head (does a spin, then a freeze!)

One can, of course, argue that Filipinos have been at the forefront of hip-hop dance development and I think this is absolutely true. It complicates our notion of what "hip-hop" represents on a racial level. But likewise, it's not as if non-Filipino Asian dancers suddenly bumrushed all the Filipino dance troupes and took them over but kept the name. As other posters have noted, that integration has been on-going for sometime if if the ethnic heritage/cultural roots have been lost during that process - that's on the larger group, no? Asking Kaba Modern to relinquish their name is like treating the symptom, not the root cause.

MV said...

Two things:

1. The issue i'm trying to hammer down is that Kababayan comes out of a political conscious movement. I question the necessity to reference that organization if there is no effort to pay homage or publically acknowledge that org. Its also that I know folks who started Kababayan in the 70s, so doesn't it slight their labor?

2. No on racial quotas (in this case). I'm extending the argument to the larger Kaba Modern group that has Filipinos. Why use the Kaba name if it has no function for the cultural and political agenda of Kababayan? The smaller, de-Filipinized MTV group just makes this point more apparent.

In totality, I am critical of the depoliticization of groups that are born out of a specific political movement. It'd be different if the group was called "Thunder Super Hyphy Dance Crew X."

Feel me.

Unknown said...

not to be real picky, but can one also argue "Kaba- Modern" is a whole different entity/identity, cutting off the rest of "bayan". they cut off home, thus they cut off any socially conscious agenda with the larger group?

It's like..if Nation of Islam started a dance group called Nation Steps...and Nation Steps would be Muslim in name, but not identifying with the larger entity...don't they have a lot of student groups that do that in Cali? NSU Modern, etc?

the Asian Am movement has been depoliticized in general.

Unknown said...

from nsu modern's myspace group:

NSU Modern is now in its seventh year as the first competitive Nikkei dance group among Southern California's impressive collection of collegiate dance talent. The dancers are proud to represent the Nikkei Student Union of UCLA, the university's only Japanese American student association. The team is comprised of multi-ethnic Bruin students who all share the same passion for dance, performance, competition, creativity, and community."

So dance groups branch out of cultural identity groups, at the end of the day, if Kaba Modern is the same organizational model, it's up to Kababayan to effectively assess how Kaba Modern "promotes awareness and enrichment of the Pilipino(a) culture, tradition and heritage"

That is there existing mission and we know even then that mission has probably been revised since its '70s beginnings

MV said...

"if Kaba Modern is the same organizational model, it's up to Kababayan to effectively assess how Kaba Modern "promotes awareness and enrichment of the Pilipino(a) culture, tradition and heritage""


Of course...the NAACP, Organization of Chinese Americans, Filipinos for Affirmative Action, JACL...all these orgs "revise" their mission, especially if they're more than half a century old.

But wouldn't it be beautiful to have a cultural arm of a politically-conscious organization, who can gather enthusiastic members, raise a faithful following, and instill a message of pride, dignity, and consciousness among (however subtle) within spaces that are less dogmatic and more organic (dance, music). At their best, I think PCNs provide that. At their worse, they perpetuate exotification and objectification. And if the consciousness is deliberately written out of a group's mission statement, then that's their prerogative.

[BTW, Nation of Islam/Nation Steps...I think there is less a reference to the original Islam organization, because "Nation" can derive from anything. Whereas "Kaba" is obviously not an everyday American English word, and Filipinos don't even have to guess where it comes from. Try NAAC-Step (with an all Asian/white membership) Ha!]

Anonymous said...

i am a member of kababayan at uci. here are the FACTS:

1. the reason why the "2 pinoy coordinators" did not participate for the mtv show after being in the audition team is because they felt the larger commitment to prepare their team for VIBE, which is one of the largest hip hop dance competitions in the state of California which just so happens to take place at Kaba Modern's home turf, UCI. VIBE is a 13-year tradition for Kaba Modern which was around way before this long shot at stardom came through, so how could you expect them to turn their backs on it?

2. the members of the team who you see on the tv show are either 1) alumni of uci, or 2) never were students of uci to begin with. this, i believe is a testament to Kaba Modern's ability to use dance as a way to reach out beyond the boundaries of UCI, in addition to the aforementioned racial boundaries. many of the filipino members of Kaba Modern are full-time UCI students, which is already an overwhelming commitment for many without the rigorous workload that being on a prominent dance team as Kaba Modern brings to the table.

3. The Orange County Register posted an article on the team, acknowledging its roots in Kababayan. It may not be much, but don't think that it's not being acknowledged. UCI's school newspaper published a similar article.

4. Kaba Modern has been a catalyst in evolving the hip hop dance scene in Southern California from a hobby into an INDUSTRY. Many people who come through the Kaba Modern system use their experience as a resume builder to help establish careers in the history of dance, which I'm sure many of you can presume is not the easiest of occupational fields. With that said, can you really blame some Kaba members if representing a Filipino-American organization is not the #1 priority on their plate?

What we see with Kaba Modern being on this show and the people they have "chosen" to represent them is not a cultural discussion. It is the result of nothing more than logistical circumstances coming up in favor of certain members of the team.

I know that we as Filipino-Americans have a long way to go in gaining respect and recognition. But I also know that this show, at the end of the day, is pure entertainment. We cannot expect it to solve all our problems instantly. That's for us to do in the streets, in our social circles, etc. It is unjust for us to place such an undue burden on the shoulders of so very few who already are battling so many other battles.

MV said...

"...VIBE is a 13-year tradition for Kaba Modern which was around way before this long shot at stardom came through, so how could you expect them to turn their backs on it?"

"The Orange County Register posted an article on the team, acknowledging its roots in Kababayan." <---Great!

"What we see with Kaba Modern being on this show and the people they have "chosen" to represent them is not a cultural discussion. It is the result of nothing more than logistical circumstances coming up in favor of certain members of the team."

Points well-taken. I think all of us needed to hear this. I suspected this was the circumstance, and I'm glad we get the inside scoop. Nice!

Anonymous said...

yes, some of this stuff has come up in discussion but of course ppl still ask questions like... why aren't any of the 6 filipinos? etc. etc. still get asked.

i'll make another comment later, when i get a chance (next week is finals ahhh!), and give some input on some of the things mentioned.

- Kim
Kababayan at UCI PCN Co-Coord 2007-2008

Anonymous said...

I don't care if the 6 Kaba Modern dancers on ABDC were black, white, brown, green, or purple. As long as they represented dance to the fullest, i'm good. And yes, they did! Did ya'll see their last performance with all the styles... dayamn. They even threw "whacking" in there! Makes me wonder what their "Encore" performance would have been :( Guess they'll save it for the National Hip Hop Competition :P Great article though! Thank you for writing about this issue. -Jef