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Soundwaves of Co-Resistance in Hawaiʻi: Ilokanos Reclaiming our Timek Towards Collective Liberation



Growing up in the Philippines, stories about Hawaiʻi depicted it as paradise. Balikbayans, returnees, brought pictures and boxes filled with macadamia nut chocolates, Spam, Vienna sausage, and t-shirts. These material goods, images, and stories shaped my imagination of Hawaiʻi. When my father left in 1993 to go to Hawaiʻi, he strengthened and confirmed this fantasy through the postcards he sent of coconut trees, picturesque beaches, Diamond Head, and the Arizona Memorial. In his letters, he described the temperate climate, air, greenery, and the diversity of people and cultures. But, when my mother and I followed him a year later, my fantasy image of Hawaiʻi as paradise began to rupture. Instead of paradise, we found it almost unlivable. Despite my parents’ work experience in the Philippines, employers would not hire them as professionals except as food service and maintenance/custodial workers. We rented a one-bedroom in a downstairs unit of an old house in Pauoa. It was partially underground and infested with rats, cockroaches, termites, and centipedes. The windows were ground level to the walkway outside. All we could see was the sight of people’s feet as they walked by. It was always dark because a tall cement wall blocked sunlight from entering one side. School was no better. As a newly arrived immigrant girl, I was bullied in school and made fun of for my “Filipino accent” and called “bukbok,” a grain bug/pest. This caused me to retreat into myself in order to survive a world that did not accept me. I stopped speaking Ilokano. I stopped speaking in school. I suppressed things that conspicuously marked me as Filipino. The hiding and the shame followed me into adulthood like a ghost, haunting my present.


It was a hot afternoon in November 2020; I biked from Pālolo Valley to the first floor of a strip mall across from Ala Moana Shopping Center. Manong Dean, students from the Timpuyog Organization, and two older aunties were already there waiting nervously in the small vestibule before a large painting of a lūʻau. This was Studio Ala Moana, a recording studio that had captured the voices and immense musical talents of so many Hawaiian musicians. We were all intimidated and no one dared be the first to approach the microphone. When it was my turn to record,

I stepped into the booth, put on the giant headphones, and adjusted the volume to hear myself reflected back so clearly. I could barely see anyone in the other booths through the layers of glass, so I concentrated on listening. We practiced a few times with a pre-recorded track—I fumbled the words, the intonation, the rhythm in this language, and felt absolutely inadequate—“Why didn’t they get a real Ilokano speaker to do this?” But as I kept singing with the other voices and chose to trust myself, I found a deep sense of flow and centeredness. Agrambak! Agrambak! Rejoice! Rejoice! I took the deepest breaths that I could, closed my eyes, and imagined the land that was holding me, the land that supported me as I rediscovered my mother language, and I sang to her, and to my ancestors.



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