Race - a constructed social hierarchy. The idea that there are different races has been perpetuated to keep us separate and unequal. There is only one race - the human race. People of different "ethnic" groups talking about their experiences.
In her video work Mga: Plural, Pamela Ybañez departs from a question that many non-white or ethnically ambiguous people often receive: "What are you?", or its curiosity-inflected relative, "Where are you from?" Usually delivered in a seemingly innocuous tone rounded out by incredulity at whatever the answer may be, the query remains a constant and consistent annoyance in the lives of many people of color. It is this particular detail that makes Ybañez's investigation all the more poignant and pertinent. Here the Filipina-American artist flips the script and solicits responses to the: "What do you perceive me to be?"
The work focuses on the quick interactions Ybañez initiates with strangers at a popular Buffalo-area cafe where she poses the aforementioned question. While some comfortably answer, others carefully consider their responses as they struggle not to offend. She presses for specificity when someone's reply is "Asian Pacific," "Asian," or the more alarming, "Oriental." Intermixed in the compilation of people trying to decipher her ethnicity, Ybañez inserts additional, more accurate, layers of her identity in the form of exchanges with her mother and sister. The artist shares an especially endearing moment with her sister sounding our words in Tagalog, trying to re-gain the language that had at one time belonged to her and has since been lost.
Ybañez appears at the end of the video to proclaim her plurality; a notion hinted at by the work's title - in Tagalog, mga is placed in front of a noun to express multiplicity. Created during her time as a graduate student at the University at Buffalo, a period in her life when she felt keenly aware of being perceived as "other," Ybañez transforms an alienating situation into a gesture of self-actualization and openness. At its core, the work is a very personal exploration of the boundaries of identity, a process that involves continuously unpacking one's own identity not only for others but also for oneself. Specifically, it is about a journey towards self-definition and coming to terms with one's eternally plural, hyphenated identity.
Written by Jasmine Magaña
The 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis shipped 1200 Filipinos to the U.S. They were presented there as a "live display."
Special thanks to Ritsu for allowing me to use a segment of her song "Ghost".
My mother, sister and myself are all reading a poem I wrote. The three of us speaking a different language, examines my refracted and multi-lingual background. The piece tries to unite the words together, as a way of pieceing myself together.