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Kapwa Chicago Vol. 1: Uniting Filipino American creativity and culture

Kate Julianne Larroder
Filipinos in Alliance Cultural from the University of Illinois Chicago performs the traditional Filipino folk dance Tinikling at the Kapwa Chicago Vol. 1 showcase on Saturday, April 27, 2024.

Chicago’s Filipino American community came alive with the vibrant and diverse showcase of Kapwa Chicago Vol. 1. 

Curated by senior music business majors Cali Castillo and Jaeya Bayani, this event celebrated music, dance and visual arts. The event, attended by more than 100 guests, was held on Saturday, April 27, at the Jose Rizal Center in Chicago.

Castillo said they wanted to provide a platform to bring together Filipino creatives in Chicago.

“Giving these people opportunities to be seen in different areas of Illinois and Chicago has been such a blessing, and it’s been so inspirational to see and work with them thus far,” she said. 

Bayani added that they wanted to highlight the past, present, and future generations of Filipino creatives across music, film, photography, creative direction and dance. 

Kapwa started as an artist management practicum idea for Castillo and Bayani, and through connections, it became a bigger thing that started to grow as a showcase with different artists, panelists and vendors. 

“It was really important for both of us that we had art creatives of all backgrounds, and I’m really excited, especially for dance because I’m a dancer,”  said Bayani, who also performed in the showcase. 

One panelist she was excited to have was dancer and business owner Rio McFly. “It was important to have someone representing the Black and Filipino community,” she said. “Because I feel like that’s something that is not touched on, a lot of the anti-Blackness within the Filipino American community.”

Arhys Ocupe, cultural coordinator of Filipinos in Alliance Cultural, a dance group at the University of Illinois Chicago, said that their performance of Tinikling, a traditional folk dance of Filipino rice farmers, strengthens the community’s representation in Chicago.

“I think for us, Filipino Americans, people who aren’t from the motherland and couldn’t be fortunate enough to grow up there and experience our culture, I think it’s very nice for us to just practice it and just keep it alive,” he said.

Like Kapwa’s mission, Filipinos in Alliance is an organization at UIC that strives to educate others about Filipino culture and heritage. 

They have six different sub-groups, two of which performed at the show, namely FIA Cultural, who performed Tinikling, and FIA’Liwan, who performed a medley of Original Pinoy Music. 

Alyssa So, one of the directors of FIA’Liwan and also one of the performers, specializes in creating the medleys they perform and curating the songs to fit the theme. 

She said they want to be able to share the Filipino sound of Music and contribute to the Filipino American identity.

We’re “trying to teach people the culture through music instead of them sitting at a lecture,” she said. “It’s a way for us to do what we love but also impact the next generation or just everybody else.”

The show also featured performances from artists including Deneza, Mahal Slick, Jake Gatsby, Suburban Kids and Kayla Tejero.

Tejero, a registered nurse who performed classic karaoke hits, said it is important for the younger generation to keep the culture alive and pass it on.

She sees Kapwa Chicago Vol. 1 impacting the broader artistic and cultural landscape within the Filipino community and beyond.

“Everyone present at Kapwa, from the panelists to the vendors, brought something to the table. I felt like that day was a huge opportunity to connect with other youth creators in the Filipino American community,” she said. 

Her performance showed how the singing culture in the Philippines continues through generations.

“I feel like most people are not aware of Filipinos and how rich in culture and talented we are,” she said. “It makes me proud to be a Filipina and share my talent with the world.”

The event also included a panel consisting of five different creatives to learn what key histories and figures in the Filipinx-Filipino American creative scene in Chicago have not been highlighted and who are new or established creatives who should be known.

The panel consisted of Chris “Classick” Inumerable, owner of Classick Studios; Brian Almalvez, CEO and co-founder of Pogi Studios; Mikayla Delson, photographer and digital creator; Rio McFly, dancer and business owner; and RTST, a multi-format DJ.

Celeste Calla, one of the attendees, said that it was a great time for them to be around Filipino peers and elders, and the venue gave them a sense of home and familiarity.

“My favorite part was the performances, seeing the diversity of genres and stories the artists had to tell,” she said. “I think it gave the community time to unite and support one another, as well as make new connections.”

Calla said she would love to see more new vendors in the next editions of the Kapwa Showcase and more food for people to try from various Filipino restaurants around Chicago’s Filipino food scene.

Aside from the panelists and performers, six Filipino-owned businesses were also present at the showcase. 

“We also wanted to highlight small businesses,” Bayani said. “We both very much value investing back into our community as well.”

Half of the proceeds from the ticket sales will be divided and distributed to two organizations: Project Pearls, a not-for-profit organization based in the Philippines, with a mission to put an end to poverty and the Jose Rizal Center, multicultural and multigenerational community and cultural center situated in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood.


Copy edited by Patience Hurston

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About the Contributor
Kate Julianne Larroder
klarroder@columbiachronicle.com   Kate Julianne Larroder is a junior communications major, minoring in journalism. She joined the Chronicle as a reporter in January 2024.   Hometown: The Philippines