It is 5:30 p.m. on a Friday night and a line snakes out of the Bren Events Center as friends and family patiently wait to see Kababayan’s 35th annual Pilipino-American Cultural Night (PACN). I spot a familiar face, and wait for the doors to open as my friends prep me with information about all the different acts and performances I am about to see.
As a first time PACN viewer, I admit that I had no idea what to expect. As a previous board member of a different culture night, I thought I had a good grasp of what was to come. Yet my friends insisted that that I was about to experience something completely new and different. They were not wrong.
The energy of the organization was clear even before the show began. Passers-by received a sneak preview of the show in the neighboring parking lot as dancers squeezed in last minute practicing and other performers scoured the floor for available seats in order to cheer on members of the pre-show. Friends and family also went all out in their own preparations; one group of friends prepared an unflattering photo of a performer and superimposed it onto a piece of cardboard.
It was becoming increasingly clear that compared to other culture nights I have attended, this one was, truly, a different animal.
This year Kababayan, one of the largest collegiate Pilipino-American organizations in California and in the nation, celebrates its 40th anniversary. Its mission statement is to spread Pilipino-American culture, tradition and heritage to family, friends and the community.
“During the past year, we’ve been reflecting on how far this organization has come,” Diane Aguilar, president of Kababayan said. “We’ve found out that PACN first started 35 years ago with just 15 people at the dorms. And now, here we are, 35 years later, with a 250-plus cast, at the Bren Events Center. It just goes to show the love and dedication of the people who have come before us.”
Each year, a culture night is presented with its own challenges. Rachel Ann Cauilan and JR Baruela, PACN Coordinator and Assistant Coordinator respectively, admitted that this year’s show met some unusual challenges: practice teams were kicked out of parking structures and the organization almost got in trouble with the city of Irvine.
“Despite all of the strives and struggles we went through producing this show, we as coordinator and assistant coordinator could not be any more proud of our cast and everyone that has contributed to this show,” Baruela said.
PACN’s 35th show is titled “Our Dream” and focuses on the generational disconnect between Pilipino immigrant parents and their American born children. The story spans two familial generations, following Maricris (Mia Celedio), the youngest of three daughters, who witnesses tragedy at a young age. Through experiences with her family, such as her ambitious sister Maribelle (Crystel Jungan) and lazy son Angelo (Trent Liu), Maricris realizes that her lessons in life can be passed on — even to her stubborn son.
When asked about the story for this year, Baruela spoke with absolute pride.
“I really believed in [the writers’] idea. When we were interviewing them, they had this idea from the beginning. Rachel and I chose them because we really believed in what they wanted to represent.”
But a culture night is not complete without its performance groups and PACN is certainly not lacking in this regard. The entire night was full of an array of talent. The choir sang in both English and Tagalog and was accompanied by an accomplished orchestra throughout the night. Dance performances explored a range of genres, from Kordilyera, a traditional Pilipino dance, and contemporary hip-hop with Kaba Modern.
With a show that has such a long history, performance groups always have a challenge to be original and memorable.
“Since there have been thirty-four culture nights before us, we really wanted to focus on keeping the [standard] we’ve seen in previous years,” Jan Vincent Aguilar, a Maria Clara Suite coordinator, said. “We made sure to do the basic stuff, but also added our own twist.”
Each suite brought its own color to help produce a wonderful show. The costuming suite brought a dazzling element to the stage, amd the commercials played during set changes were hilarious and entertaining — it was clear that there were many hours of hard work and dedication given to make this culture night come together.
After talking to multiple performers that night, it became obvious that despite all of the sweat, and probably tears, that come with putting on a culture night, students are more than willing to do it every year.
Djae Borja, a graduating senior and PACN veteran, admitted that participating in a culture has its own challenges.
“We practice a lot, you may stress out a lot, but the people you rehearse with suddenly become your family. It’s totally worth it.”