On November 17th, an estimated two hundred people packed into Urban Space Gallery on 401 Richmond Street for the launch of Diasporic Intimacies: Queer Filipinos and Canadian Imaginaries.
Published by Northwest University Press and co-edited by Dr. Robert Diaz, Marissa Largo, and Fritz Pino, the book featured reflections by scholars, artists, and community members on the contributions of LGBTQ Filipinos in Canada.
The book came out of a groundbreaking conference that was held at OCAD University in 2015, organized by Diaz, Largo, Pino, and Kitt Azores.
The celebration began with remarks from leaders whose views on the intersections of race, sexuality, and gender have been cited by many scholars, artists, and activists.
Dr. Rinaldo Walcott (Director of the Women and Gender Studies Institute), Dr. Bonnie McElhinny (Principal of New College at University of Toronto), and Richard Fung (Professor at OCAD University) reflected on the contributions that the book made both inside and outside of academia.
In a video, Dr. Martin Manalansan (University of Illinois Urbana Champaign) spoke about the book’s incitement to achieve equity and social justice, for both the Filipinx in the diaspora and other marginalized populations.
During the academic panel, book contributor Casey Mecija said, “Writing the essay that’s a part of this collection helped me to give language to feelings and experiences I might not have otherwise been tuned into. The collection, like the space we’re in today, attempts to hold the many ways of feeling queer, feeling brown, and feeling different.”
Contributor May Farrales took the opportunity to acknowledge those who had helped her along the way.
“To all of the mentors I’ve re-encountered tonight, I feel deeply grateful and indebted for all of the things you’ve done with me and for me,” said Farrales.
Attendees were invited to A Space Gallery to view Unsettling Imaginaries, an art exhibit curated by Marissa Largo.
Artist Julius Poncelet Manapul, whose work graced the book cover, reflected on the meaning of art in creating social change.
His gallery piece, “Whitewash Cockfight” was composed of cut-outs from gay magazines that hung from the the ceiling in the shape of two fighting roosters.
“I want people to realize that the gay community is more racist than they might think,” Manapul said. “Being gay, being Filipino— this piece is about all of that and more.”
The art exhibit also featured Filipinx artists Kuh Del Rosario, Marigold Santos, and Leslie Supnet.
At the book launch, drag queens riled up the crowd.
Sofonda Cox, one of Toronto’s most prominent drag queens, gave a performance that went from the Tagalog song “Narito Ako” to Janet Jackson’s “Escapade.”
Ms. Nookie Galore performed part of a “drag-horror cooking show.”
After throwing raw longanisa on the floor, Ms. Nookie Galore doused themselves with soy sauce, shook bay leaves out of their wig, and performed a remix of “I Will Always Love You” laden with intermittent screams, much to the delight of the audience.
Community members also offered important insights into the history of LGBTQ activism in Toronto.
Queer feminist group Babaylan presented on their history of community organizing through song, storytelling, and photos of their events in the 1990s.
“Our mentors taught us that bonding, socializing, and creating relationships is what allows us to still be friends,” said Jo SiMalaya Alcampo. “Next year will be our 25th year.”
Diaz also honoured four community organizations that were instrumental to the book: the Magkaisa Centre, Migrante Ontario, ACAS (Asian Community AIDS Services), and Kapisanan Philippine Centre for Arts and Culture, where many of the artists in the book had participated in their Clutch and Navigation arts programs for youth.
Diaz said that the free programs were instrumental in helping youth “find themselves, learn about what it is to be Filipinos, and express themselves— sometimes in ways that even contradict what their family think, sometimes in ways that allow them space in homes where they don’t have that.”
Navigation alumni and program coordinator then sang a heart-wrenching song that they had written after the Sandy Hook shooting, and after coming out to their mother as non-binary.
And in the grand finale, drag queen VaChina Dynasty danced to a mash-up of Tagalog music and songs featured on RuPaul’s Drag Race, while holding a Philippine flag high above the cheering crowd.
As the night ended, audience members marvelled that the book was already sold out.
Diaz emphasized the need to see the publication not as an end, but as a beginning.
“This event highlights the need to animate the full meaning of solidarity,” he said.
“As LGBTQ Filipinx, we must see how our pains, hopes, and dreams intersect with the hopes and dreams of other marginalized folks, such as Indigenous communities, racialized minorities, and sexual minorities from the global south. This book reminds us of what we have yet to achieve, while also reminding us that others have been doing the work of seeking social justice for decades. We need to acknowledge that work, since it offers us a map to a better future.”
Diasporic Intimacies: Queer Filipinos and Canadian Imaginaries is a book that our entire community should be proud of.
This article was originally published in The Philippine Reporter on November 24, 2017.