“Being Filipino is in your blood, not [about whether] you’re able to speak the language.”

The audience hung onto every word of the conversation between Angelo and MJ about the importance of Philippine history. Angelo and MJ, played by Arnold Ngaophasy Pravong and Aljon “Jiro” Baris Claveria respectively, are main characters in Bayanihan’s 32nd annual Pilipino Cultural Celebration (PCC).

The performance welcomed two packed audiences at Mainstage Theater of UC Santa Cruz’s Theater Arts on April 28-29. The show featured performance groups from Bayanihan that included hip-hop dancing, a cappella singing, ballroom dancing, acting and improvisation, and traditional Pilipinx dancing.

The show, titled “Nasa Sa’ Yo,” or “It’s Up to You,” follows Angelo, a Pilipino college student whose mother pressures him to pursue a biology major and follow in his sister’s footsteps. Angelo, however, has no interest in the field, and struggles to honor his own aspirations while dealing with the fear that he will disappoint his mother.

Aside from scrambling to pick a career path that works best for him, Angelo also struggles with coming to terms with his sexuality.

The show works with themes of connection, family, stereotyping, and trust — all relevant to Pilipinx culture. At the intersection of all these themes, the show speaks to the experience of children of immigrants taking control of their own lives.

“I want people who view the story to be inspired to take steps in their own lives to lead themselves to where they want to be,” said Apolo Lagance, who directed and wrote the script for PCC XXXII. “Not for [the] sake [of] what others are telling you, but recognize what’s best for them and be inspired to take steps in order to reach […] their best sort of self.”

The show was the culmination of weeks of hard work and planning dedicated to bringing the community together and forging deeper connections to one another and Pilipinx culture.

April 28, opening night. Photo by Henry Thomas.

“At a celebratory dinner with family, Angelo stands up to his mother and tells her about him changing majors. The scene, ending in a tense fight between the two, marks the end of the first act.” Photo by Henry Thomas. “There was a big message about being yourself no matter what family or society [pressures] you,” said Cara Tuininga, a UCSC freshman in attendance at night two’s sold-out show. “You should stick to being yourself a little bit more.”

As the characters on stage watched Haluan Hip-Hop Dance Troupe, so did the audience. While the performances are a recurring part of the plot, they’re also just one of the puzzle pieces that help bring Bayanihan together.

Photo by Henry Thomas.

“[PCC is] a huge event where all of the aspects of Bayanihan just come together and become one really strong force and unite,” said Sushmitha Varadha, a co-coordinator for Haluan. “You see all of our individual works put together in one piece of art… everyone is able to express their talents and everything in different ways.”

The cast, all members of People Power, an acting and improv troupe housed under Bayanihan, were also involved with other parts of the show. Dani Dayao, who plays Angelo’s sister, Kristina, is also a member of the Acapella Group Kasama and ballroom dance troupes.

“Bayanihan and PCC especially is just a place for me to find community and […] to do the things I love with people who understand me,” said Dayao. “I know I’ve made some friends here who will be friends for the rest of my life […] everyone here is so kind and they’re so welcoming and they just want to make a safe space and a fun space for everyone to be together.”

Photo taken by Abe Munoz at the last dress rehearsal on April 27.

The Kasama Ballroom Dance Troupe flowed elegantly across the main stage theater on Friday and Saturday evening, giving the audience two beautifully choreographed performances.

Photo by Abe Munoz.

Pagkakaisa Dance Troupe (PDT), the traditional Pilipinx dance group, performed the Philippines’ most popular cultural dance known as Tinikling. Pagkakaisa Dance Troupe performer Ben Acoba expressed the difficulty of practicing due to the necessity of near perfection.

“[Tinikling] is an incredibly hard dance,” said Acoba. “Just like navigating [through it] and if you ever, like, mess up, you need to get back on tempo and get back into the sticks and just keep going.”

Tinikling originated from Tikling birds avoiding bamboo traps that were set by farmers in the rice fields. The dancers dance in between and out of the bamboo sticks smacking against each other on the floor flat.

Photo by Henry Thomas.

Many of the musical numbers that were performed at the play focussed on cultural pride, self acceptance, and love. In the final wedding scene, the performers sing “Till I Met You” by Angeline Quinto.

Photo by Abe Munoz.

“I’ve been pretty disconnected with my Pilipinx culture, I don’t really speak the language of Tagalog or Cebuano,” said Acoba. “It wasn’t until [I] started getting involved with Pilipinx organizations and the community […] when I started realizing my love for my culture.”