Intiman’s Dragon Lady and Philippine Migration

The migration of a family from the Philippines to America has been explored in colorful form by Sara Porkalob in Dragon Lady, a one woman show at the Intiman Theater, closing October 1st. She revisits the arc of Philippine culture and assimilation from her grandmother’s time to her own, as she portrays three generations of her family members. Along the way she dramatizes the themes of stereotyping, resiliency, sexual exploitation, gangster feuds, teen pregnancy, and single parenting, through the lives and eyes of Filipinos on the islands, and as immigrants of color in America. (Check out this brief interview with the title character of Sara Porkalob’s Dragon Lady. Porkalob will also be reading from a banned book at the Library’s panel on Intellectual Freedom and Libraries this coming October 4 at 7 p.m.).

The Philippines were a Spanish colony for centuries, from the 16th century until nearly the end of the 19th century, deeply affecting the nature of society there. This was followed by a brief nationalist revolution inspired by Philippine martyr José Rizal, and then conquest by United States during the Spanish-American War, in 1899.

The American colonial period was interrupted by the Japanese Empire’s stormy occupation during the Second World War. About the war, the library is hosting renowned Filipina novelist M. Evelina Galang for a program on October 10th, discussing the horrific and true stories of sixteen surviving Filipino “comfort women,” who were kidnapped during World War II and forced into sexual slavery. The Japanese occupation and the American response to the war, followed by subsequent independence of the colony, was of great consequence to the migration of Filipinos to the States. As the war started, Filipinos in America rushed to enlist, while many on the Islands faithfully supported the American cause. A wave of emigration to America followed. HistoryLink, a Washington State online history project has more detail here.

One way the everyday life of Filipinos in Seattle can be seen is through a remarkable journal, a fragile survivor of the years, the newspaper Filipino Forum, held at the Central Library. Our copies range in dates from 1939 to 1968, and in these pages are lives described in terms of new jobs, and ethnic pride, as well as in advertisements for food, barbers, and places to live. In newsy articles the Seattle-Filipino community is shown dancing, graduating, living and assimilating.

Another book directly echoes Dragon Lady themes, The Oracles: My Filipino Grandparents in America, recalling a later era, interpolating the author’s life in the 1970s with the recollections of Philippine life in earlier decades from her the viewpoint of grandparents. Described as a story of generational strife and familial clash of values, it contains a photo album of pictures to go with the stories. You can read more about it in this review from the Uncustomary Review website. For more books selected by the library for Dragon Lady, see this list.

    – Posted by Carl K.

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