My Baryo, My Borough to Preserve the FilAm Experience

My Baryo, My Borough will use video recordings to preserve the experiences and stories told by generations of Filipinos living in Queens. (Photo courtesy of My Baryo, My Borough)

My Baryo, My Borough will use video recordings to preserve the experiences and stories told by generations of Filipinos living in Queens. (Photo courtesy of My Baryo, My Borough)

A once quiet history may finally be heard.

My Baryo, My Borough, a community-engaged oral history project, is recording the underrepresented experiences of different generations of Filipinos in Queens. “Baryo” means town or small village in Filipino.

This program, commissioned by The Laundromat Project, has been training Filipino community members to conduct video-recorded interviews with other Filipinos about their experiences and memories of growing up in the borough. The interviews will take place in various locations, usually with a pair of interviewers facilitating the process.

“Queens in particular, I find, is a very significant place in the Filipino-American identity – nationally. I feel it hasn’t been given that type of weight,” said Claro de los Reyes, the organizer of My Baryo, My Borough. 

The Filipino-American stage performer and filmmaker currently lives in Brooklyn and is also an arts-based educator who has worked with the Filipino School of New York & New Jersey and Apollo Theater Education.

De los Reyes, 31, said that there is a large number of Filipinos living in various Queens neighborhoods, some going back a few generations.  The neighborhoods with high concentration of Filipinos include Sunnyside and Woodside, which is known as Little Manila.

He noticed that compared to the west coast, there is not as much archival material readily available about the Filipino experience in New York. There is a longer history of Filipinos settling on the west coast.

De los Reyes laments this, knowing some Filipinos move out of the borough or pass away without their unique experiences being recorded.

For him, making their accounts available would help this diverse group develop a sense of community and help young Filipinos to develop a better sense of their Filipino-American identity.

The project will record diverse Filipino experiences and archive them for future use with the help of the Queens Memory Project, a borough history program run by Queens College and the Queens Library. De los Reyes also hopes to make them available online too. Joanne King, the Queens Library Communications Director, said that the Queens Memory Project has teamed up on other similar projects, having partnered with Irish and Chinese ethnic interest groups.  “It is one of the ways we insure diverse voices of Queens are represented in the material Queens Memory collects and preserves,” said King in an email.

For de los Reyes, the appeal of the project is clear. “As a fan of history [I believe] the only way to move forward is to learn about the things that happened in the past, the victories and maybe the losses or challenges,” he said.

To spread the word about the project, de los Reyes has been organizing a series of community events in partnership with local Filipino organizations since June. Those public events have served dozens and included such activities as “Fil-am-ily” picnics and graphic storytelling workshops.

Claro de los Reyes (center) holds intergenerational community workshops in Queens. (Photo courtesy of My Baryo, My Borough)

Claro de los Reyes (center) holds intergenerational community workshops in Queens. (Photo courtesy of My Baryo, My Borough)

De los Reyes said from these interactions he has heard a number of interesting stories from Filipinos, ranging from accounts by those who have started local businesses to others who spoke about the early hip hop culture of the 1970s or maintaining relationships through line dancing groups. 

“Some say, ‘Oh, I’m not interesting,’ or ‘Why would you interview me?’ There’s a lot of self-deprecation. Part of this project is to really encourage folks at least to rethink about their place in New York City,” he said.

A public event is planned in early December to showcase 10-15 of these recordings as well as art inspired by the newly acquired archive material.

De los Reyes hopes to make My Baryo, My Borough a multi-year archival project, expanding it to involve more Filipino experiences including those from residents of the other boroughs.

For more information go to MyBaryoMyBorough.com

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