Alpas — a Filipino word — means “the unconfined” and is reflective of celebrating Filipino culture while addressing mental health concerns in the Asian American community. This was precisely what the Organization of the Young Filipino Americans provided the University community at their biggest cultural show this past Saturday.
OYFA held Barrio 2019: Alpas at the Martin Luther King Jr. Performing Arts Center from 2 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Saturday. Barrio is a Spanish word that means “neighborhood,” relating to the familial atmosphere OYFA works hard to create.
The event showcased plenty of dances and unique, homemade Filipino cuisine not easily accessible in Charlottesville, as well as a relevant discussion on mental health awareness. Approximately 250 University students, parents, alumni and Charlottesville community members were in attendance.
OYFA was established in 1988 by a group of University students who wished to create an inclusive organization of Filipinos and non-Filipinos alike to learn more about Filipino culture and tradition. Now, 31 years later, it has blossomed into one of the most engaging multicultural contracted independent organizations on Grounds.
Third-year Engineering student Sophia Xiao serves on OYFA Council as a District 7 representative, representing the University as a part of the FIND, or the Filipino Intercollegiate Networking Dialogue. Xiao is also a consistent performer in Barrio’s many cultural and modern dances.
“The theme was picked out far in advance,” Xiao said. “We really do put in a lot of work, and it’s really gratifying to see all that work culminate on the day of Barrio.”
Xiao and many other OYFA members partook in a diverse set of dances that were traditional and modern alike, including the heavily-anticipated Fourth Year Tinikling dance, a traditional Philippine folk dance that originated during the Spanish colonial era.
During the dance, a large group of fourth-years stood on stage beating, tapping and sliding bamboo poles on the ground against each other. As the danced progressed, multiple dancers stepped over and in between the poles in a dance — even performing blind-folded.
Third-year College student Cindy Bui served as a culture chair for OYFA’s Council this past year and largely headed Barrio 2019’s production. Bui commented on the dedication OYFA members have put in this semester to pull off these dances.
“With 16 dances, both traditional and modern, there were weekly practices for each one since February, and so the weeks were packed for every participant,” Bui said in an email statement. “All of this hard work was done by so many people and through all the late nights and careful planning, Barrio was made possible.”
Though time-consuming, the dance practices help bring students together and emphasize their deep connection with Filipino culture and their OYFA family, as first-year College student and incoming Culture Chair Lauren Manuel found.
“When I first realized how much I looked up to people in OYFA [was] the day before culturefest … running through all dances and hyping people up,” Manuel said. “[I] looked around and saw hundreds of people cheering me on, and a lightbulb went off that these people that have welcomed me to U.Va. and been such a supportive community.”
Xiao also commented on the thrill of the night before Barrio when members come together to truly feel like a family in anticipation for their large showcase.
“My favorite memories of OYFA are always the run throughs at O’Hill Forum the night before Barrio,” Xiao said. “The fourth-years reveal their dance, which is always insane. It’s such a happy time because everything comes together.”
In addition to the cultural and modern dances put on tirelessly by countless Barrio members, OYFA also chose to center their show on the theme of “Alpas.” In doing so, OYFA attempted to address the lack of discussion of mental health in the Asian American community.
A difference in this year’s show has been the addition of a skit in which audience members receive the opportunity to peer into the life of a boy growing up in the Philippines and addressing his mental health struggles, leaving the audience with the message that, according to the skit’s summary, “your culture shouldn’t hold you back from speaking your mind. It should set you free.”
Second-year College student Danielle Borgonia and one of OYFA’s current culture chairs emphasized the importance of the mental health discussion, as it is a topic often avoided in Asian American communities.
“I’ve seen what [mental illnesses] can do to someone, the amount of strength it takes, and how real it is,” Borgonia said. “I just want to make sure people know that’s it’s okay to feel like sh—t sometimes, and it’s okay to be sad, but have that voice telling them that there really is a light at the end of the tunnel, and that they’re not alone. No one’s alone. I really hope Alpas accomplished that.”
Manuel commented on the culture chairs’ goal to focus on not just something to impact Asian Americans, but everyone.
“We wanted to bring together, not just the [Charlottesville] community, but anyone and let them know that there is a community of support that there’s going to be there for you,” Manuel said. “And we wanted to showcase OYFA as an organization that really takes charge in terms of different issues in the university and in the world in general.”
Bui commented on this sentiment as a part of her vision for OYFA’s current and future impact.
“In the years I have participated in Barrio and in the years to come for OYFA, I hope to see that Barrio continues to be a time where members can come to together and cheer each other on, as well as an event that gives people the space they need to express themselves,” Bui said. “As a culture chair, it was surreal to see that our hard work resulted in so many long lasting memories for such a large amount of people.”
The event ended with homemade Filipino food prepared by families of OYFA members, featuring delectable dishes like lumpia (a savory spring roll dish), lechon (a pig roast), kare-kare (a vegetable-meat stew) and pancit (a noodle-based dish).
Bui also spoke to this sentiment as how Barrio as OYFA as a larger organization connected with her.
“It’s not just about performing and doing it well, it’s about empowerment, as well as embracing your culture,” Bui said. “It’s such an impactful way to showcase what is important to one’s spirit. Not being Filipino myself, being a part of OYFA’s cultural showcase every year taught me so much about how a culture can make you feel — the perseverance, the courage, the pride lives in all of us … This show was ours and it was incredible.”