Kundiman 808 addresses domestic violence in Hawaii

On Sunday July 27, 2014 the 2nd Annual Kundiman 808 will showcase a variety of different talent ranging from music performances, dance, spoken word, live art addressing this year’s theme of domestic violence in the Filipino American community here in Hawaii.


For more information please visit their Eventbrite for more information.

Kababayan Connections: Oliver Tolentino

By Jonathan A. Valdez

Kababayan Connections aims to connect conversations with Filipinos in the diaspora and UH Manoa students in how the study of the Philippines can be applied in different disciplines. Our first Connection is Oliver Tolentino.


Hollywood fashion designer Oliver Tolentino was born in Bataan and attended college and fashion school in the Philippines.  After years of hard work as a designer in Manila, Tolentino gradually came to dress a “who’s who” of Filipino entertainers including Arnel Pineda, Lea Salonga, Kuh Ledesma, Lani Misalucha, Cherie Gil, Zsa Zsa Padilla, Regine Velasquez, Pops Fernandez, Sam Milby and former First Lady Imelda Marcos.  Tolentino’s creations have also been featured at the Oscars, Golden Globes, Emmys, Grammys, SAG Awards, American Billboard Awards, People’s Choice Awards, Cannes Film Festival, Monte Carlo TV Festival, and on TV programs American Idol, America’s Next Top Model (cycles 17 & 18)ExtraDick Clark’s Rockin’ New Year’s EveThe View, The Early Show, Live With Kelly & Michael, and E!’s Fashion Police.

In 2009, Tolentino became the first Filipino designer to expand operations to the United States when he opened a boutique on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles while maintaining his Manila boutique in Makati.   Tolentino soon attracted Hollywood’s attention, and was honored as a 2009 OSCARS Designer Challenge finalist, chosen as the prestigious “2011 Designer of the Week” at the El Paseo Fashion Week in Palm Springs and chosen the next year as the first featured designer of San Diego Women’s Week.  In the Philippines, ABS-CBN & Metro Society magazine honored him as their prestigious MetroWear Icon in 2011 and eco-ethical endeavor Rags2Riches selected him as its 2011 Featured Designer.

In 2013, Tolentino became the first Filipino designer in 53 years to have a gown worn by an Oscar winner with director Jennifer Lee winning for the smash Disney animated feature “Frozen.”  Only Tolentino and Pitoy Moreno, who dressed Puertorriqueña Rita Moreno when she won “Best Supporting Actress award for West Side Story” in 1961.

Oliver answered some questions for us about his personal and professional life:

What was your first experience with Philippine fabrics and what was it?

OT      I was born and raised in Bataan province so my first experience with wearing the fabric myself was my baptismal dress when I was one year old.

What influenced you to use Philippine and environmentally sustainable fabrics in your designs, and also where do you see this advocacy leading the Philippines?

OT       Being a Filipino designer, I’ve always worked with Philippine fabrics in barongs and ternos for clients.  When I opened my main atelier on Melrose Avenue 5 years go, I decided to promote our local fabrics on the international stage, and especially in Hollywood, in order to help all the weavers and embroiderers back home who pass these skills down from generation to generation.   But first I had to modernize the look of the fabrics so they’d be popular with non-Filipinos.  In 2009, I introduced the fabrics with my Oscars Designer Challenge gown, and in 2010, I showed pieces at Bahamas Fashion Week where I introduced the dean of the Parsons School of Design in New York to our fabrics.  He had never seen them before.  

More recently, I have gotten Hollywood celebrities to wear our fabrics.   Carrie Underwood, Jessica Alba, Emmy Rossum, Sophia Bush, Maria Menounos, and Tara Lipinski wore my dresses made out of Philippine fabrics.  Carrie wore my peach piña gown to perform on American Idol, Tara Lipinski reported live from the Kentucky Derby in my pink dress, and Maria Menounos put 3 of my gowns up for a vote to Extra TV viewers and they chose my blue piña gown for her to host Extra‘s Emmy Awards red carpet.  These things provided high-profile exposure to our fabrics.  I’ve shown Philippine fabric pieces in L.A., Palm Springs, New York, San Francisco, San Diego, Bahamas, Bali, Barbados, Hong Kong, Milan, and even at the U.N.’s Palais des Nacions in Switzerland, and I hope this will lead to our fabrics becoming more popular in the world, mostly because it benefits all the hard-working people back home who depend on this for their livelihoods.  I want to keep these centuries-old industries alive and prospering.

You mention briefly growing up and self-teaching yourself all about the fashion world in Bataan and visiting Aklan, Lumban, and Palawan, is there a dream spot in the Philippines you want to visit and why?

OT      I spend several months of each year in the Philippines.  I enjoy my time there and traveling to all our beautiful beaches and cities, but my dream spot will always be my home in Orani, Bataan.

Where do you see the Philippine fashion industry going?

OT      I think the Philippine fashion industry is always going to be healthy because we Filipinos are so interested in beauty and fashion.  I hope my presence in Los Angeles and Hollywood helps open the doors for Filipino designers, and I think some of that has happened in the past 5 years.  I made a decision when we opened the L.A. boutique to put up on the display window in big letters “MANILA * LOS ANGELES” under my name so everyone driving by and any actress or stylist coming there would know where I’m from.  I speak about being a Filipino and our food and beaches with every actress I meet and dress.  That opens their minds to the Philippines and to wearing Filipino designers.  In a small way, I’m trying to be an ambassador not just for Philippine fashion but for the Philippines.  And I’m humbled that visiting Filipinos pass by my Melrose boutique and take photos in front because they are proud.

For aspiring fashion designers what advice would you give them that has served you well?

OT      Fashion is not all about glamour like people think.  It’s a business where you have to work long hours, learn, know your craft, and constantly challenge yourself.  The greatest advice I can give anyone wanting to be a designer is to study and know everything about your business, not just how to draw.  Keep studying and learning every day.  And love what you do.

You can find more about Oliver Tolentino at http://www.olivertolentino.com/


A special thank you to Oliver’s assistant Andrew Carutthers for being our go intermediary and helping CPS launch our first Kababayan Connection.

And another special thank you to Eileen Blancas for advice in writing this post.

How Philippine Studies Began

By Belinda A. Aquino

Although they are complementary and often used interchangeably, Philippine Studies and Filipino American Studies have separate origins and different scopes.  The earlier of the two, Philippine Studies, or studies on Philippine society and culture, started in the early 1900s when the country became a colony of the United States.  Commodore George Dewey’s defeat of the Spanish fleet in the Battle of Manila Bay and the subsequent annexation of the archipelago in 1898 aroused great interest in American circles.

The historical documents in the Spanish archives were translated into English by Emma Blair and James Robertson, and published in 55 volumes as The Philippine Islands, 1493-1803.  U.S. President William McKinley subsequently created the Philippine Commission to collect whatever data were available on the new American colony in Asia.  It was headed by Jacob Schurman, then president of Cornell University, a prestigious Ivy League academic institution.

Another professor, Dean C. Worcester of the University of Michigan, who had been in the Philippines in the 1890s, got other American academics like David Barrows, Albert Jenks and N. M. Saleeby to conduct ethnological studies on the indigenous tribes of the Mountain Province and the Muslims in Mindanao and Sulu.  In time a group of scholars, mostly anthropologists, made their careers in Philippine studies.  This group included H. Otley Beyer, Roy Barton, Fay Cooper Cole, Laura Benedict, and John Garvan.

Beginnings of Philippine Studies

In 1916 Beyer, who was to remain in the Philippines until his death, put out a landmark volume, Population of the Philippines. The book expressed the hope that “educated Filipinos will awake to the importance of preserving for future generations the history of their own race, and that scientists of other countries may grasp the fleeting opportunity to record knowledge of interest to the world at large.” Beyer eventually became a big name in Philippine archaeology and inspired other Western academics to study the Philippines.

Carl Guthe headed the University of Michigan Expedition in 1922-25, which called attention to the country’s relationship with China and Southeast Asia in pre-Hispanic times. Linguists compiled a number of grammar books and dictionaries like the one on the Ibaloi language in Benguet by Otto Scheerer.   A pioneering contribution, Tagalog Texts, by Leonard Bloomfield, was published by the University of Illinois at Urbana in 1917.

The 1930s saw a flourishing interest in Philippine Studies, in part due to the efforts of Joseph Ralston Hayden, another University of Michigan professor who had been appointed Vice Governor General of the Philippines. The Philippine Council of the Institute of Pacific Relations requested Felix and Marie Keesing to undertake a study of government and culture in Northern Luzon.  It was also in the 1930s that one of the earliest Filipino scholars in the U.S., Serafin Macaraeg, obtained a Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin.  During this period Filipino government “pensionados” were coming to the U.S. for further education and training.

The Second World War

World War II and its aftermath accelerated Philippine Studies largely due to the experiences of American servicemen who saw action in the Philippines.  U.S. policy-makers began to see the need for area and language programs for political and military purposes in the “Far East” or the “Orient.”  (The politically correct term now is “Asia”.)  Hayden was attached to the office of General Douglas MacArthur and had plans to establish a Center devoted to Philippine Studies at the University of Michigan because of the rich Filipiniana library collections in that campus.  But a fatal heart attack aborted the project, and it was only years later that a Center for South and Southeast Asian Studies, which include the Philippines, was established.

The Fifties to the Present

A real breakthrough came in the 1950s when Professors Alexander Spoehr and Frederick Wernstedt got funding from the Carnegie Corporation for research on the Western Pacific and the Philippines.  A Philippine Studies Program was instituted as part of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Chicago.  Many Filipino anthropologists were trained by Professor Fred Eggan of the Department.  Eggan’s death effectively discontinued Philippine Studies in Chicago.  But Southeast Asian Programs at other major American universities, such as Cornell, Yale, Berkeley, Michigan, Stanford, Northern Illinois, Syracuse and Hawaii included the Philippines in varying degrees in their academic curricula.

Cornell, for instance, had a long-standing exchange with the University of the Philippines in Los Baños (UPCO project) to train Filipino agricultural scientists.  Michigan specialized in training Filipino Ph.D.s in history.  A. Clyde DeWitt program at the same university provided graduate training for Filipino lawyers.  And as early as 1963-64, there had been courses on Philippine Anthropology and Tagalog at the University of Hawaii.  The university also produced dictionaries and grammar books on Tagalog, Ilokano, Pangasinan, Kapampangan, Cebuano, Bikol and Hiligaynon, a monumental work of Philippine language specialists.  Some of these specialists had served in the Philippines as Peace Corps Volunteers in the 1960s.  In 1969 the First National Colloquium on the Philippines was chaired by Charles Houston of Western Michigan University.

A major development field came in 1975 when the Hawaii state legislature passed a resolution authorizing the University of Hawaii to establish a program which was the forerunner of the current Center for Philippine Studies.

Thus, Philippine Studies in the U.S. was spurred mainly by annexation at the turn of the 20th century following America’s empire-building ambitions in the Pacific.  Studies on the newly acquired colony revolved around the traditional fields of culture, history, language, geography, archaeology, literature, arts and religion.  Many of these works reflected the “cold war” thinking of the time.  Research on tribal groups and cultural communities in remote areas was particularly fascinating for Western scholars from academic and religious circles. Dictionaries and language resources were developed.  Archaeological diggings and expeditions before and after World War II were undertaken in an effort to document the Philippine past.

A “special relationship” developed between colonizer and colonized even in the academic arena.  Some like to call this a “love-hate” relationship.  Appropriately, a favorite topic of research or contention was the state of Philippine-American relations, mainly on the issue of the U.S. military bases in the Philippines.  A resurgent wave of Philippine nationalism in the early 1960s, among other factors, was changing the ideology and direction of Philippine Studies on both sides of the ocean.  More contemporary fields like politics, international relations, drama, economics, sociology, psychology, and demography began to be popular in the postwar period.

Ethnicity as a Central Concern

Civil rights, the anti-war movement, women, ethnic minorities, and other groups forced dramatic social changes in American society in the 1960s.  These “sea-changes” spilled over into academia.  In time, non-traditional fields of study were asserting themselves as legitimate areas of intellectual inquiry.

For Philippine Studies, it was no longer enough to focus on a country 10,000 miles away across the Pacific. The Filipino community in America was growing much faster than its Asian counterparts, especially after the 1965 liberalization of immigration laws.  Local-born, second, third and even fourth generation Filipino Americans were coming on their own as distinct entities with different cultural and educational needs.  The question of ethnicity or cultural identity, usually taken for granted by immigrant or Philippine-born Filipinos, became a central concern for the American-born.

The experiences of their pioneering ancestors in the sugar plantations of Hawaii, the canneries of the Pacific Northwest, and the lettuce or artichoke fields of California needed to be told to the burgeoning Filipino American communities and to the larger society.  Not that the Philippines was no longer important or relevant. The home country was always there, albeit only as a memory or vignette of imagined community.  It had to be supplemented by knowledge on the Filipino experience in America.  This experience embodied stories of survival and strength, which the younger generations needed to know to bolster their own ethnicity.  “Our history” became the underpinning of many of the ethnic studies programs across the country in the 70s.

Thus Filipino American studies programs or centers have emerged in some campuses in America, combining the more traditional Philippine Studies offerings like history and language with newer courses on the continuing Filipino American experience.  In addition to Hawaii, the post-secondary institutions with such programs are the City College of San Francisco, California State University at Hayward, University of San Francisco, San Francisco State University, and Old Dominion University.  Among the bigger universities, the University of Wisconsin-Madison is particularly strong in research on the Philippines, especially history and politics.  Berkeley, UCLA, San Diego, Arizona State, Kansas State, SUNY Buffalo, Washington State, Oregon and Northern Illinois also have Philippine specialists on their faculty.

The downside is, in current American academia, ethnic or area programs are the first to be cut or eliminated in times of budget crisis.  They cannot compete with the newer or market-oriented programs like computer science, information systems, management, communications, science and technology, and so on.  As universities continue to downsize their area studies programs, it is hoped that the ethnic communities themselves will help keep them alive in some way.  Endowments, donations, gifts, scholarships, and other resources from the various Filipino American communities can augment the diminishing funding for such programs in universities across the nation.  At the University of Hawaii at Manoa, for instance, benefactors like Robin Campaniano, a Filipino American alumnus of the University of Hawaii and University of San Francisco, help to keep the Center for Philippine Studies afloat with their occasional donations.  Of course, we could use more, as our responsibilities increase without corresponding support.

In the long run, sustained financial initiatives from the outside will be critical to keep Philippine Studies and Filipino American Studies viable on any campus.  We live in an increasingly competitive and insidious world. And it is somewhat disappointing that for all the long decades of the so-called “special relations” between the United States and the Philippines, Philippine Studies in America is sporadic and has not been institutionalized. The promising programs in earlier decades have died a natural death either from attrition or lack of viable support.

But they say it’s never in the Filipino spirit to end on a bitter note.   And I suppose I echo the resolve of my colleagues when I say that the show must go on – we must keep Philippine Studies alive.

[This article first appeared in Filipinas magazine in October 2000. Reprinted with permission from the publisher.]