Photo Courtesy of Kabalikat Kore
Filipino American History Month is celebrated in October. UCLA has a vibrant Filipino community on campus, with fifteen Filipino-focused student organizations that focus on the academic and personal development of Filipino Americans at UCLA. Kabalikat Kore (KK) is one such organization at UCLA that celebrates and uplifts queer Filipino Americans, giving them a space to meet and socialize with one another. I spoke with Miko Dinulos (he/him), the External Vice President of KK. Miko is a second-year psychology major from Ventura County. We chatted about the importance of Filipino American History Month and the queer Filipino experience.
Bellze: Could you give a brief explanation of what Kabalikat Kore is, and your organization’s mission and goals?
Miko: Yeah, Kabalikat Kore is the gender and sexuality aspect of Samahang Pilipino. Our job is to foster a home for queer individuals and allied people so they feel safe because [Samahang Pilipino] is a big org. They wanted to have a subset for people who intersect with being queer and Filipino, so our mission and goal is to be a safe space.
Bellze: Samahang Pilipino is UCLA’s big Filipino mother org that houses and governs the Filipino orgs at UCLA. Okay, next question for you: what is Kabalikat Kore focusing on for this year? Projects, focuses, interests, anything like that. I know that y’all just had your first social.
Miko: We did! [We had] our first general meeting as well.
Bellze: Oh? How did those go?
Miko: [They] went pretty well. But our goals this year [are] to outreach more with other queer communities and ground ourselves because, to be honest, Kabalikat Kore and our organization in general dwindled during the pandemic. That happened to a lot of orgs. So we’re still trying to rebuild ourselves, trying to outreach, and we want to do more [to] help the queer community, like going to rallies or donating to different projects.
Bellze: I love that. I do think that a lot of organizations like OutWrite are also trying to find and build more connections with different newsmags and organizations because [we ask ourselves], why are we so isolated?
Next big question: this month is Filipino American History Month. What does this mean to Kabalikat Kore and to Samahang Pilipino and its other orgs?
Miko: We wanted to celebrate this month because, alongside AAPI month, this month is specifically [for] us. We really want to bring attention to how important this month is for our community, not only as Filipinos but also as queer people. Recently, at our last GM (General Meeting), we talked about this briefly because I did some research on how this month [came] about and found out the first Filipino people came in the 1540s in Morro Bay. That’s all, though: that they wanted to commemorate this month back in 2009.
Larry Itliong, a [Filipino] justice leader, was born in this month, and it’s also Coming Out Day within this month. Intersections between being queer and Filipino are often brought [up] with the idea of “I have to come out, I have to be a certain way from my parents,” because [of] societal pressure. But it’s powerful to be able to say that “I have this day within my month.” We wanted to let people know at our general meeting that they should be proud of who they are as people instead of having to think of those kinds of negative aspects of intersectionality.
Bellze: I love that. Thank you. So you’ve touched on it a bit, but next question: What does being a queer Filipino mean to you and your experiences?
Miko: To me, it has been isolating. I feel like a lot of people are fake-inclusive. They want to say, “We’re for you being queer,” but they don’t really show the support. We are already separated within the [Filipino] community being queer Filipinos; this adds another adjective to us. It’s odd because they show queer people in Filipino media so you think, “Oh, they love us.” But you hear all the things people say about queer Filipino people, and you’re like, “Wait, I thought…?”
Bellze: “Maybe they don’t love us then…”
Miko: Right, maybe we’re just a comedic relief to you then. It’s hard to pinpoint how I feel about it, but at the moment, it’s nice that I [can] be proud of my heritage and also be proud of being queer.
Bellze: […] Vice Ganda is one of the biggest queer figures in Filipino media. Regardless of how you feel about her, she is —
Miko: Like a staple.
Bellze: Like a staple! She is there. Whenever “Showtime!” is on, she is there. [It’s] crazy that they will platform certain types of queer folks but with a reminder that queer Filipinos are a joke. And there are so many of us. What do you mean you hate us?
Miko: I know. It’s really counterintuitive. I don’t know how I should feel, you know? Like you said, [people] put [them] on this pedestal like, “Oh, she’s, so funny like that.” But at the same time, people make fun of them, too. They’re like, oh, “Vice Ganda.”
Bellze: I’m going to take a moment in this interview to tell you about my experience as a queer Filipino person, and feel free to respond if anything resonates with you. I knew I was queer in middle school. However, I grew up Catholic because a lot of [Filipinos] are Catholic.
Miko: Thank you, Spain!
Bellze: (echoing) Thank you, Spain! But exactly, Catholicism was brought to the Philippines because of colonization. So that has put a big dent into —
Miko: Our culture, our history.
Bellze: Literally! A big thing with Catholic, queer Filipinos is always that tension of shame, and so for the longest time I [thought], “Maybe I shouldn’t be queer, though. That’s kind of embarrassing.” But now that I’m older, I’m just like, “No, I’m a queer Filipino person.” It was isolating when I had first come out because I didn’t know any queer Filipino people. I was like, “Hehe, me and my Filipino friends, but they’re all —”
Bellze & Miko: Straight!
Bellze: And then the first time I met another queer Filipino person, it was so great.
Miko: Right, you weren’t raised around them. You didn’t know anybody else.
Bellze: Right, but then they also know things and I can really say, “Me too!”
Miko: Yeah, I totally understand being raised Catholic and the whole religion aspect. You’d think, “Oh my gosh, how can I be queer and religious and Filipino?” You want to hold on to those three aspects of yourself so hard [that] it’s just really hard to distinguish what you want to put first, but then you have to realize: “I don’t have to put any first. I could just coexist as all three.” I personally am not as religious as I was before, but it did take a lot of self-discovery to understand I can be all of these at the same time. So yeah, I totally get it.
Bellze: Me in my healing era. Being a queer Filipino is, in fact, me healing from colonization. Next question: What can you tell me about queer Filipino history and queer Filipino culture? Anything you know.
Miko: What I know off the top of my head is that fluidity, gender, and being queer has kind of been a thing in Filipino history even before colonization. I recall they had these people [who] would lead their villages back in the time [who] were genderless. It has always been in our culture, and it has been always accepted that people can act like and can be whoever they want to be. So I say that the history of being Filipino and queer has always been around, and because of colonization and society, it’s been thrown off as a joke. It’s not seen as the majority of what people are.
I can appreciate that the language is genderless, like “siya.” (The genderless third person singular pronoun used in the Filipino language, Tagalog, is ‘siya’.) So we are still connected to those roots.
Bellze: Yeah, because the Philippines is so divided between classes, but that is a different conversation. People who are Filipino and in positions of power perpetuate colonialist narratives and values. So, what does being a Filipino American and being a queer Filipino American mean to you?
Miko: I’d say it really does hold a lot of privilege because, to be honest, I don’t know if I’d be able to be who I am in the Philippines if I was born and raised there. The society here is different. The media we consume and the people we surround ourselves with affect the way we grow up, especially because my parents are immigrants from the Philippines; I’m a first-gen. So coming out to them and being queer was scary, but at the same time, I [thought], “It won’t be as bad because I’m in America — because I know they are also seeing the media.” They also [exist] within this society, so they understand that being queer is socially acceptable. It’s really different from being queer in the Philippines, I’d imagine.
Bellze: Sometimes I get glimpses of what queerness is like within the Philippines because I’ve talked to my Lola and Lolo (Grandmother and Grandfather), who are very Filipino, and I think the silliest thing is when they call lesbians ‘tomboys.’
Miko: It’s derogatory, and I’m like, “What?”
Bellze: The way they talk about trans people too — they’re just a little silly. Because there is a significant queer community in the Philippines. There are, very visibly, a lot of trans people and queer people. And they have their own communities; there are tomboys in the Philippines that embrace that and have made their own butch community, and it’s great. But also, how does one navigate knowing that about the homeland versus being here in America and then also hold [onto] one’s family’s cultural values? It never meshes well together.
Miko: It’s really hard to acknowledge everything at the same time because it just sounds so contradictory.
It really does suck [that] our organization is still building itself up from the bottom. It’s funny that [the rest of Samahang] see us as our own pillar — because there’s multiple pillars within Samahang, but they still give us the short end of the stick because they assume “It’s just the queer aspect.” The other ones actually have programs that physically and academically benefit people, and we are more for personal benefit. That’s why I feel like they give us the short end of the stick; they give us smaller rooms and just don’t promote our organization as much as they should. It does suck, but we make do with what we have because as queer people that’s kind of all we [can] do. Our history is: we’ve rallied, we’ve spoken up about our rights, and [society has largely] given them to us because of [our community activism]. We could still do that, but it’s also like, “You’ve done that, we’ve given you this, [and] that’s all we’re giving.”
Bellze: [People are] like, “We’ve given you the bare minimum.” And when you dare to dream of more they’re like, “Actually, no.”
Miko: They’re like, “Yeah, you could dream. That’s it; you can dream, you just can’t have it.”
Bellze: I think that ties to Filipino American culture as a whole. A lot of Filipino Americans come to America because there are jobs here. Workers are the main export of the Philippines, so the mindset continues to be about work. I feel like Samahang’s focus [with] the more academically-oriented orgs is a very Filipino mindset. Just take some time to self-reflect! In my opinion, a lot of Filipino Americans are always caught between, “Do I have time to self-reflect or should I be working?” And most of the time they choose, “I should be working.”
Miko: That’s how it is. Being a person that takes time to self-reflect makes you think, “I’m falling behind. I shouldn’t be focusing on my personal goals; I should be focusing on my academic goals.” At least that’s how I feel personally. I see all my peers getting mentorships and jobs within medical fields because that’s what they want to do, so I’m like, “Damn, should I be doing more?” But also, I am doing a lot already as a vice president in this organization. It’s a lot, but you just don’t think it is.
Bellze: All right. Two last questions for you. My first question: what future do you envision for queer Filipinos and queer Filipino Americans? Anything as broad as “What are we going to be like in the future?” or as small as “What are we doing next year?”
Miko: I really hope that we ground ourselves more, like [with] how we tied back to queer people being used as a joke. It’s hard to navigate, the queer culture in the Philippines and the queer culture here. Even when you think about it, culture is always divided up into different subgroups depending on if you’re masc or femme or trans or nonbinary. It’s so hard to solidify who you are. I’d say [that] as a queer Filipino, I want us to do that. I want us to accept the fact that we are Filipino and that we are queer. There does not have to be a distinction. We could coexist and that’s just what I [hope] people realize.
Bellze: That’s beautiful. Everyone, stop asking us to pick a struggle.
Bellze: It’s one struggle. Okay, last question: What are you looking forward to for Kabalikat Kore this year?
Miko: I want to donate to more organizations that benefit queer people, and we really want to rally more general members and outreach. One of our main goals is to go to a Pride rally, or any specific rally depending on being a queer Filipino. We really want to lay our mark down. To say that we’re here. We’re queer. And at the end of the day, we are political. We have to be; that’s ingrained in our society.
Follow Kabalikat Kore on their Instagram page, @kabalikatkoreucla!
This interview has been edited for conciseness and clarity.
Author: Bellze (They/Xey)
Copy Editors: Emma Blakely (They/She/He), Bella (She/Her)