I recently caught up with Natalie Agaton at Bourgeois Pig in Lincoln Park to discuss her experiences as a Filipina-American, winning Battle of the Bamboo 2011 with her group Kapwa, and food. Food was a big part of the discussions, since Natalie is a food blogger and she gave me some info on the latest hot spots in Chicago. As a part of my inspirational Filipinas segment on this blog, Natalie was able share her thoughts on Filipina empowerment and how younger generations can overcome the struggles of growing up Filipino in the states.
Please introduce yourself.
Kumusta! My name is Natalie Agaton. I’m from Loyola Chicago University, where I’m studying elementary education with a concentration in math and music. Also, I’m a member of Loyola’s Filipino student organization Kapwa and co-coordinator for Kapwa cultural. My parents are from Nueva Ecija, Bongabon, Philippines.
What is Loyola Kapwa and how did you get involved?
Kapwa means “brotherhood” in Tagalog. Brotherhoods, family, close friends. That’s what we are in the organization. Kapwa is Loyola University Chicago’s Filipino organization. Our goal is to amplify our heritage to other Filipinos in the Chicagoland area and the community that surrounds us.
My older sister went to Loyola and I transferred into the university because I saw what she accomplished. I thought I would have fun there because my sister was a part of Kapwa and I had friends that were a part of the organization. After I joined, I became part of Kapwa Cultural because I was drawn to the dancing and the traditional aspect of the group. I met a lot of great people and that’s how I got involved.
What are the various types of Filipino dances that Kapwa Cultural performs?
We pretty much do all of them. There’s the Maria Clara Suite, Mountain/Igorot Suite, and Muslim to name a few. For our winning performance at Battle of the Bamboo 2011 this past May, we performed VINTA, a Muslim Suite. Vinta means boat and it’s a dance that commemorates the migration of Filipinos into the archipelago which includes a royal couple (prince and princess). The prince and princess are out on a boat sailing through the sea. We had bamboo sticks act as a boat that the prince and princess were standing. We also had fan dancers, who acted as the wind and scarf dancers that represented and acted as water. For me, it was more of a couple’s dance because centered on the royal couple. It was a lot of fun doing it.
Before I became co-coordinator, I was an apprentice under my Kapwa Cultural mentors. With my mentor’s guidance I kept performing. I would also research the information about the traditional Filipino dances online, YouTube, or from experts.
What inspired you to pursue a career path in elementary education?
Ever since I was little, I always wanted to be a teacher because I saw my teachers as role models and I wanted to be like them. It’s funny because so many people ask me if I’m a nursing student because of the stereotype that all Filipinas are nurses. My parents didn’t force me to choose what career path to take, not like what other Filipino parents usually do. They really wanted me to pursue my passion and I really want to make a difference for children as a teacher. Same thing applied to my older sister, who also not a nurse. So, no “Tiger Mom” stuff from parents. I guess I’m really blessed to have great parents, who wanted us to do what we really wanted in the long run because if I did nursing and didn’t like it, then I would’ve wasted my time.
What does being Filipina and a Filipina-American mean to you?
Being Filipina means to stand up and have your voice heard. Don’t sit back and not do anything. Unlike the traditional view of women in the Philippines, I like to have things go my way and say how I want or feel.
I’m really proud to be Filipina because my family’s roots are in the Philippines and I grew up with the traditions/morals my parents instilled in me. I have that pride in me that I’m Filipino, but I don’t want to flaunt it to people. Finding a balance between being Filipino and American was a little difficult because I was born in America and see myself as more Americanized. I feel that it was due to the fact that I had my paternal Lolo (grandfather) in my life growing up that I wasn’t able to forget my roots. He came all the way from the Philippines when I was little to help raise me. This is why I’m so close to my Lolo. He tried to teach me Tagalog when I was little, but all I wanted to do was go outside and play. I want to learn the language now since I’m all grown up and I want to know more about my heritage.
What do you feel needs to change with Filipinos and how we can better represent the community?
You don’t always have to wear the sun or stars to show that you’re proud to be Filipino. You can show people that you are proud to be Filipino without being cocky about it or flashy. Be more respectful for your culture.
Who are your role models and people in your life who helped shape you into the woman you are today?
Definitely my parents were my role models because they raised me and brought me up with their morals. I grew up in a strict household when I was little. I can understand why they wanted me to do so well because they moved to the states so my sister and I could have a better life than they did. I want them to be proud that I can do well and be successful. Also, there’s my Lolo because he also raised me too and I want him to feel proud of me. Then there is Hiro, who was someone very important to me back in high school. Even though he was Japanese/Korean, he participated in many Filipino events and traditional dances. Hiro was more than just a friend to me and had unfortunately passed away. His death really changed my perspective on life and made me grow as a person. My older sister is also a role model because I always wanted to be like her. She’s the reason why I decided to further my studies at Loyola and join Kapwa. She always prepares me and gives me advice for what’s ahead in the real world. Lastly, my boyfriend Jonathan is another role model in my life. He is my number one supporter. Everytime I feel that I can’t accomplish a goal, he always reassures me and pushes me to my best. This is why I never give up and finish everything I start.
When was the last time you visited the Philippines?
I went to the Philippines two summers ago because my maternal Lolo was really sick and we knew that was the last time we were going to see him. Before that trip, I really hadn’t been back to the Philippines since I was three. It was really sad to see the poverty there and I felt guilty because I took things for granted. They don’t have the life that I have and made me realize that I am blessed. It was sad to see how my parents grew up and it made me feel really spoiled as an American kid. Whenever people come back from vacation to the Philippines, they always talk about the beaches or food, but not really about the poverty levels or harsh living conditions people face. When I saw Slumdog Millionaire, people often said that film was like the harsh conditions in the Philippines, which I didn’t believe. But when I went back to visit, I saw kids out begging or selling flowers. I really want to go back to help out, not just by giving money and wiping my hands clean. I want to make a difference and be more personal on my next trip back.
What are your favorite Filipino dishes?
My favorite is Filipino Spaghetti and I like Lechon Kawali (pan-roasted pork) with the sauce. I love the sauce for lechon, Sarsa ng Lechon even though I found out it’s made from liver. Also, people think I’m weird because I love Balut. I ate a lot of Balut with salt in the Philippines.
Is there any additional information that you would like to share?
I’m also a food blogger along with my boyfriend. You can check our updates on the best places to eat in Chicago at chicago-food.tumblr.com. For Kapwa Cultural we have a YouTube page for some of our performances, check that out at www.youtube.com/kapwacultural. For those interested in booking Kapwa Cultural to perform at your next event, you can e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our past performances this year included Circulo Boholano of Illinois’s Fiesta Boholana and Battle of the Bamboo 2011, which we won. Every year, University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) host Battle of the Bamboo, where schools around the Midwest come to showcase traditional Filipino dances. I’m proud to be a part of Kapwa Cultural because we have always gone far in the competition and this was our second year winning first. My co-coordinator for the performance was Krystle Vicencio. Our choreographers included Krystle Vicencio, Patrick Javier, Jillian Singson, Mary Anne San Juan, and me. Kapwa really wants to show people that we are proud of our Filipino heritage and that every member including myself is dedicated to fulfill the organization’s mission. Other past performances include an event for Kalayaan at the Hyaat in O’hare and Passport to the Philippines at Navy Pier. Upcoming performances include Kapwa’s: Nite in Manila in October and Battle of the Bamboo 2012 at UIC.