Talking about the Filipino American experience at UC Davis

Ethnic studies may be effective because it is an unusually intensive and at-scale social-psychological intervention.
– Thomas S. Dee, professor at Stanford Graduate School of Education, director at the Stanford Center for Education Policy Analysis, and co-author of the report The Causal Effects of Cultural Relevance: Evidence from an Ethnic Studies Curriculum, a National Bureau of Economic Research working paper

The University of California at Davis is my alma mater, and while I was an English major, I was one class shy of having a minor in Asian American Studies. So I was very excited to have the opportunity to do a talk for Professor Robyn Magalit Rodriguez’s Asian American Studies class 150: the Filipino American Experience this past Thursday, April 27th.

The quad at UC Davis, where I spent many a sunny afternoon reading and having lunch with friends and classmates.

Another view of the quad. Lots of political signs up. I remember listening to Desmond Tutu speaking to a capacity crowd on the quad. Those were the days.

My older sister Heidi is also an Aggie alum. Here we are posing with some Aggie swag.

Professor Rodriguez showed Marissa Aroy’s documentary, The Delano Manongs: the Forgotten Heroes of the United Farm Workers Movement. Then I read an excerpt from my novel, A Village in the Fields. Afterwards, we did a Q&A session, which included my talking about the importance of Asian American Studies in my life – personally and with my writing. Professor Rodriguez and I both stressed the importance of recording the stories of our families, and emphasizing the value to our parents and grandparents of their stories. They need validation of the importance of their stories.

Reading an excerpt from the novel.

Talking about the process of writing A Village in the Fields.

Talking about the importance of Asian American Studies in my life.

I had the opportunity to talk with a number of students after the class. I am uplifted every time I spent time with college students, especially those in Asian American Studies. I was energized by their passion and commitment to AAS and the history of Filipino Americans.

Getting to know one of the AAS students who is majoring in history.

I really enjoy talking with students after events. Here, Rebecca is an English major who is minoring in AAS.

Who doesn’t enjoy signing books?

Thank you, Professor Rodriguez, for a great, enlightening evening!

Celebrating Cesar Chavez Day, University of CA, Office of the President

On Wednesday, March 29th, I was the guest speaker at a lunchtime event sponsored by the Latino Staff Association/Asian Pacific Islander Association affinity groups at the University of California, Office of the President (UCOP). The event, entitled, “When Mexicans and Filipinos Join Together: The Farmworker Movement and Unity in the Making,” was in celebration of Cesar Chavez Day. After reading an excerpt from my novel, A Village in the Fields, I sat down with Belinda Vea, Policy and Program Analyst in Student Affairs for UCOP who did her graduate work on Filipino literature, in an “in conversation” question-and-answer session. Belinda is also co-chair of the Asian Pacific Islander Association.

Among other topics, Belinda asked me about the research process and my family’s story within the novel. The floor was opened up to questions from the audience, which numbered between 45 and 50, which was really nice to see. It was gratifying not only to respond to such thoughtful questions, but to see the interest in people’s faces. In addition to UCOP employees, the event was also advertised to employees from Kaiser Permanente, whose building was across the street in downtown Oakland.

I’m posting photos taken of the event, with gratitude to the photographers, Juliann Martinez, Employee Relations Specialist and chair of the Latino Staff Association, who kindly extended the invitation to speak, Alina Tejera, Pamela Palpallatoc, and Ben Tsai, co-chair with Belinda of the APIA.

The flyer advertising the event.

A wonderful poster welcoming the audience.

A nice spread of Filipino and Mexican cuisine.

A very nice slide show of Filipino and Mexican farm workers was shown before the event.

Reading an excerpt from my novel.

A close-up of my reading.

Belinda Vea “in conversation” with me after my reading.

Belinda at the ready with her questions.

One of the things I talked about was the value taking Asian American Studies classes at UC Davis both in my personal life and in my writing.

An animated me answering a questions while the audience leans in.

A beautiful basket of vegetables and two of my books were raffle prizes at the end of the event.

Me with Pamela Palpallatoc, who works for UCOP and is a UC Davis alumna.

Talking beyond the lunch hour about Filipino American history.

My hosts – Belinda Vea, Ben Tsai, and Juliann Martinez.

Patricia Beckmann Wells: a ‘fan of poetry told through moving images’

I think animation is a very truthful way to express your thoughts, because the process is very direct . . . You go from the idea to execution, straight from your brain. It’s like when you hear someone playing an instrument, and you feel the direct connection between the instrument and his brain, because the instrument becomes an extension of his arms and fingers. It’s like a scanner of the brain and thought process that you can watch, or hear.
 – Michel Gondry, French indie director, screenwriter, and producer

Patricia and her son, PT, in the Los Angeles Contemporary Museum of Art's rain room, site of the Los Angeles International Children's Film Festival.

Patricia and her son, PT, in the Los Angeles Contemporary Museum of Art’s rain room, site of the Los Angeles International Children’s Film Festival.

Before Patricia Beckmann Wells’s “Family Tale” premiered at the Los Angeles International Children’s Film Festival in December 2015, she posted on the Adoptive Families Facebook page about the animated short film’s subject of building a transracial family: “It documents the story of a young family who lost their own biological children, but found love by getting on the roller coaster of adoption. This journey led them to embrace open adoption, which in turn led to its own wonderful and unexpected results. It exists as our son’s story, so he can have record of what led him to join us.” “Family Tale” was also an official selection of this year’s LUNAFEST film festival, which premiered this past September.

She recognized that animation was the best media to tell her story and to personalize her story of adoption. “The audience did not judge me as a face with bias, but were presented with my interior,” she explained. “It was easier for them to identify with the pictures as symbolism than with a human face they may not have liked.”

Still from the short film, "Family Tale."

Still from the short film, “Family Tale.”

Indeed, Patricia shared how her film gave her insight into a larger story. “Somehow that film melted the cold exterior off of strangers,” she said. “I met many, many people with similar stories, and made many friends. It is remarkable how many people have suffered alone with a pain that was taboo to discuss. Usually a quarter of my audience identifies. I have chatted for hours with folks after the film. And have a new world view now.”

Still from "Family Tale."

Still from “Family Tale.”

Animator, professor, author
Patricia earned her Master of Fine Arts in Cinema and her EdD. in Educational Psychology and Leadership from the University of Southern California (USC). As a tenured professor, she teaches animation, game/toy design, virtual reality production and emerging technologies at Irvine Valley College in Irvine, Calif. She has also authored several publications on emerging technologies and art.

Patricia with her animated class and her animations!

Patricia with her animated class and her animations!

Being an animator, professor, and author have all shaped her as filmmaker. Animation suits her preference for being able to work alone and at her own fast pace, and for the way her creativity evolves. “There is creative power in daydreaming and low-stress experimentation,” she pointed out. “A line can lead to a doodle, leading to a truth that only comes from looking sideways at an upside-down thought.” In the college classroom, Patricia has gotten to know a diverse group of students. “This gives me stories,” she said. “All three [animator, professor, author] are just who I am – a sincere fan of the poetry told by moving image,” she said, simply.

Still from "Family Tale."

Still from “Family Tale.”

Navigating the animation industry
Patricia had previously worked on several movies as an animator for Warner Brothers Digital and other film companies. While she was Manager of Shorts Development at Film Roman, three of her entries won the Playboy Animation Festival in 2000. Soon after, she was tapped to develop content for Oxygen Media, the Romp, and Playboy. Later, she was in charge of training as an executive at Walt Disney Animation studios, and as Head of Training assisted Dreamworks SKG in building production studios in India, but it came at a price. “I got distracted by taking on a managerial role in the big animation studios, and lost the time required to develop new ideas,” she said.

Patricia Beckmann Wells, at home.

Patricia Beckmann Wells, at home.

Since becoming a professor, Patricia is able to work on her own ideas, but can only dedicate five months a year for a creative project because of her teaching schedule. “Ideas are mulling all the time, but they pop into production when all of the inspirations and tools present themselves,” she said. “I don’t take on commercial work anymore because there are much more talented artists than me out there who deserve the work, and I want to be free to be creative.”

The animation industry has seen an explosion of talent, but while it has evolved, centralized power and gender disparity still exist. Techtopus, recent lawsuits in which the animation industry tries to control and blacklist talent, is still affecting animation, and few women hold creative leadership, according to the Geena Davis Institute on Gender and Media. “I work alone. I doodle, think, and keep on. My animation heroes are all indie,” she affirmed. “The story is the thing, not the method (which currently happens to be animation), and I am so happy there are many more outlets for media than there were 20 years ago.” With the indie movement firmly entrenched in the industry, she declared, “We do not need to join studios any more.  As a professor, I am in a perfect position to keep making my stories while encouraging new voices to speak as well.  Emerging media is creating new outlets for creativity daily.”

Still from the film, "Don't Cry."

Still from the film, “Don’t Cry.”

Having faith in indies
Patricia is currently in production for “Don’t Cry,” with soundtrack by Boston-based ska punk band Big D and the Kids Table. The film, which is expected to be released in summer 2017, explores a mother’s unconditional love for her adopted son and how she will influence his own family. Patricia is also developing a comedy series “motivated by subtly educating people about the science of global warming,” a science-fiction film about the outsider and education, virtual reality experiments, and educational shorts created for her son.

She hopes that audiences who see her films “leave with faith in the little guy.” “Independent film has an authentic voice and usually just one writer,” Patricia said. “I hope I get better and better and eventually can tell a story that wraps people up in a peaceful blanket of my heart, smothers them with kisses, and leads them back into the world drunk with love.”

Note: You can see Patricia’s short film at LUNAFEST East Bay’s screening on Saturday, March 18th, 7:30pm, at the El Cerrito High School’s Performing Arts Theater. For more information, click here.

Alumni Journal Q&A in Syracuse University Magazine

There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.
– Maya Angelou, American poet, memoirist, actress, and American Civil Rights Movement leader, from I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

I received my fall/winter 2016, vol. 33, number 3 issue of the Syracuse University Magazine in the mail today. In late summer I was interviewed by associate editor Amy Speach for a Q&A in the Alumni Journal section of the magazine. The Q&A is in the current issue.

Fall/Winter 2016, Vol. 33,no. 3.

Fall/Winter 2016, Vol. 33,no. 3.

The full-page Q&A.

The full-page Q&A.

You can access the online version here. Thanks to Amy for a great interview. And thanks to my alma mater, the Creative Writing Program, and mostly to my amazing classmates and writers. One day, I shall return.

#GivingTuesday poem

Today was a long day. I’ve yet to participate in #GivingTuesday. Until then, here is a poem for us all.

Isabella and me at the Holding Hands around Lake Merritt event, November 13th, Oakland, Calif. (with Kelly, Kara, Lisa, Kim, Estella, and Ethan) (photo credit: Kelly Whitney).

Isabella and me at the Holding Hands around Lake Merritt event, November 13th, Oakland, Calif. (with Kelly, Kara, Lisa, Kim, Estella, and Ethan) (photo credit: Kelly Whitney).

When Giving is All We Have

By Alberto Rios, inaugural state poet laureate of Arizona

One river gives
Its journey to the next. [epitaph]

We give because someone gave to us.
We give because nobody gave to us.

We give because giving has changed us.
We give because giving could have changed us.

We have been better for it,
We have been wounded by it—

Giving has many faces: It is loud and quiet,
Big, though small, diamond in wood-nails.

Its story is old, the plot worn and the pages too,
But we read this book, anyway, over and again:

Giving is, first and every time, hand to hand,
Mine to yours, yours to mine.

You gave me blue and I gave you yellow.
Together we are simple green. You gave me

What you did not have, and I gave you
What I had to give – together, we made

Something greater from the difference.

Seattle book tour in review: Part 3, Yakima Valley

The origin of the name remains unknown, though there are legends that describe the derivation of the city’s name. The most popular legend explains that the daughter of a Native American chief from Moxie ran away breaking tribal rules and settled on the Yakima River. In this legend the name Yakima means “runaway.” Another derivation of the name is what the Native Americans used to refer to Yakima as, “Beginning of Life, Big Belly, and Bountiful.”
– Yakima Valley Museum

The last leg of my Seattle book tour, along with Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Marissa Aroy, was in Yakima Valley. Our tour was sponsored by numerous generous organizations, including Pinoy Words Expressed Kultura Arts (KWEKA), Alaskero Foundation, El Centro de la Raza, the Meaningful Movies Project, Filipino American Students Association (FASA) of the University of Washington, 4 Culture, Office of Arts & Culture (Seattle), Filipino American Community of Greater Yakima Valley, Imperial Gardens, Filipino American National Historical Society (FANHS) Chapter 26, and the FANHS National Office.

The perfect time to be visiting Yakima Valley.

The perfect time to be visiting Yakima Valley.

Amazing blue sky with cirrus clouds, fog in the hills, and fall across the valley floor.

Amazing blue sky with cirrus clouds, fog in the hills, and fall across the valley floor.

Not bad for taking photos through the window of a moving car! I wish I had time to stop and enjoy the scenery. Next time.

Not bad for taking photos through the window of a moving car! I wish I had time to stop and enjoy the scenery. Next time.

Maria Batayola served as our wonderful host for our book tour. She showed me a side of Seattle I had never seen (see my two previous news posts “Seattle book tour in review: Parts 1 and 2”), and for that, I am deeply grateful. On Saturday morning, October 22nd, my good friend John, who, along with his partner Kris, had welcomed me into their home for my stay in Seattle, dropped me off in Factoria, Wash., where I met up with Maria and Marissa, and away we drove to eastern Washington.

Layers of sky, cirrus clouds, foothills in fog, and forest.

Layers of sky, cirrus clouds, foothills in fog, and forest.

Just another photo of the spectacular sky.

Just another photo of the spectacular sky.

And mountains that will soon be covered with snow.

And mountains that will soon be covered with snow.

I’ve visited Seattle a number of times, but I’ve never been to the eastern part of the state. I had read David Guterson’s 1999 novel, East of the Mountains, and understood that where Seattle was lush, the eastern part of the state was arid. However, I was also told that the region would remind me of California’s Central Valley because it was rural farming land dotted with small communities.

Huge trees in Ellensburg, Wash.

Huge trees in Ellensburg, Wash.

Close-up of the blazing leaves.

Close-up of the blazing leaves.

The drive took some two and a half hours. Along the way, we saw some amazing landscape – clear streams meandering through different varieties of trees in spectacular gold, orange, and red. Bodies of water were low enough to reveal stumps of trees. And then we entered vast farmlands and signs for Honeycrisp apples. While Yakima Valley is the bread basket for numerous fruits and vegetables, the region is well known for its apples. Eastern Washington is home to more than 175,000 acres of apple orchards, with Yakima Valley being the largest apple-producing region in the state.

If you find yourself in Ellensburg, Wash., eating a meal at the Yellow Church Cafe is a must-do.

If you find yourself in Ellensburg, Wash., eating a meal at the Yellow Church Cafe is a must-do.

The interior of the restaurant.

The interior of the restaurant.

One of the best BLTs. Ever. Hands. Down.

One of the best BLTs. Ever. Hands. Down.

We stopped for lunch at this charming and popular restaurant called The Yellow Church Cafe (111 S. Pearl Street, Ellensburg, Wash. 98926, 509.933.2233), which, as you can guess, is a converted church. The food is heavenly, no pun intended. Whenever a BLT appears on the menu, that’s what I order. What was special about this BLT is that it made with their special bread, which tastes like a fluffy asiago cheese bagel, and instead of the tired mayonnaise, it had an aioli sauce. The chai latte was not overly sweet. The place was hopping. Afterwards, we wandered over to a brightly decorated house a few blocks down inhabited by happy artists. Ellensburg proved to be a quaint and beautiful town.

Entrance to the colorful and cheerful house at 101 N. Pearl Street.

Entrance to the colorful and cheerful house at 101 N. Pearl Street.

Beyond the colorful fence is a yard full of mischievous characters, including this runaway bear.

Beyond the colorful fence is a yard full of mischievous characters, including this runaway bear.

Art lives - indeed - and it also nourishes, brings beauty, gives hope, empowers, enables dreams, and so much more.

Art lives – indeed – and it also nourishes, brings beauty, gives hope, empowers, enables dreams, and so much more.

Key details and a hand waving hello and goodbye.

Key details and a hand waving hello and goodbye.

Found art of bicycle wheels makes a lovely tree.

Found art of bicycle wheels makes a lovely tree.

When we arrived in the town of Wapato, we were first met by Kuya Ray Pasqua, president of the Filipino American Community of Yakima Valley (FACYV). Kuya Ray is a leader in the community, but he also worked with Filipino American labor leader Larry Itliong during the years of the Delano Grape Strike and the United Farm Workers Union. It was an honor to meet him and to hear his stories of those difficult but very important times. FACYV’s Filipino Hall in Wapato, Wash., is the first Filipino Hall built in the United States. FACYV was preparing for its 60th anniversary the following evening, which is a big event that was anticipated to feed some 600 members of the community. It was too bad that Marissa and I would be leaving for home the following morning.

The first Filipino Community Hall in the country.

The first Filipino Community Hall in the country.

Let the 60th anniversary celebration begin!

Let the 60th anniversary celebration begin!

The Filipino Community Hall had a nice display of FACYV achievements through the years.

The Filipino Community Hall had a nice display of FACYV achievements through the years.

The Saturday evening event comprised a short reading from my novel, the screening of Marissa’s documentary, Delano Manongs: The Forgotten Heroes of the United Farm Workers Movement, and a panel discussion with Kuya Ray, Marissa, Maria and me, moderated by local reporter Ryan Yadao. Although attendance was light, the community members who showed up were very engaged in the subject and some had been involved in the farm labor movement, which was great to learn about and to meet them after the event. I can’t say it enough: It was an honor for me to hear of their sacrifices in the fields and across the country in the name of social justice for farm workers.

Group photo of some of the wonderful community members in Yakima Valley.

Group photo of some of the wonderful community members in Yakima Valley.

After the Q&A and book and DVD signing, we were invited to the home of FACYV members Fred Fontanilla, who is a retired chemist, and Bob Plummer, retired professor at Heritage University, for a wonderful dinner, which included great conversation among the 12 of us. And then FANHS Chapter 26 members Dori Peralta Baker and her husband Geoff Baker hosted us for the night. In the morning, we were treated to gorgeous views of Yakima Valley. Dori related the activity of casually counting the bald eagles and salmon in the streams, and how the hills are covered in snow in the wintertime. Dori had put together a display of local Filipino Americans who served in the Vietnam War. She told us the sobering news that Yakima Valley bearing the burden of being the region in the country with the most soldiers of color who fought in the Vietnam War. I should not be surprised, but I was still shocked by the fact that the high school counselors advised the Native American, Filipino American, and Mexican American boys to join the armed forces and serve in Vietnam War because they were not college material. I’m sure this practice was rampant across high schools in America at the time and to this day, but to have your home region bear that awful distinction is heartbreaking.

The beautiful view from our host's backyard.

The beautiful view from our host’s backyard.

Beautiful morning, looking for bald eagles.

Beautiful morning, looking for bald eagles. The hills in the background will be white with snow in the wintertime.

The canal feeds into the river, which I am assuming is the Yakima Valley River. Stunning.

The canal feeds into the river, which I am assuming is the Yakima Valley River. Stunning.

We left Yakima Valley early Sunday morning to return home. I learned so much while on this book tour and I met so many wonderful, giving people. And I saw another beautiful part of Washington State. I hope to return to Seattle and Yakima Valley in the near future – to this wonderful community that I now claim as part of my Filipino American home.

Heading back to Seattle and its fall foilage.

Heading back to Seattle and its fall foilage.

Mt. Rainier bids adieu.

Mt. Rainier bids adieu.