A New Perspective on PACN

na“What people need to understand is that PACN stands for Pilipino-American Culture Night. The show tries to show the audience who we are, and that means that we’re not just Filipino, but Filipino-American. And yes, there’s a difference.”

I recently had the chance to talk with Amanda Johnson, one of two Co-Coordinators for this years’ 36th annual PACN. As we sat down for dinner, I asked her what PACN meant to her, to Kababayan and to the students of UCI.

“The show is meant to raise awareness about the Filipino community,” said Johnson,  “but it’s also meant to show pride for our culture and our audience, who are mainly Filipino-American.”

And indeed, the night of PACN, the audience’s pride was undeniable. Most of the audience knew to stand instinctively for the Philippines National Anthem without being told it was the National Anthem and there was even someone who would wave a Filipino Flag at the end of every performance. While I couldn’t personally relate to all of the jokes and nods, I appreciated watching a group of people take pride in their cultural identity and just have fun sharing their history and experiences.

But the star of the night wasn’t just the event, but rather the 250 plus Kababayan members and community members who either participated in or sponsored the show..

The PACN Coordinators are chosen along with Kababayan Board in the Spring. In  Fall, all of the members of Kababayan can sign up for a “suite” to participate in during the show. These suites are the different aspects of the show: there’s the technical suites like Costumes, Props and Stage crew and then  there’s nine performance suites. These suites range from Moro suite, the suite that focuses on the Muslim influence in the Philippines to the Tribal suite, which focuses on the animalistic beliefs and stories of the Philippines and  the Kordilyera suite, which focuses on the mountain and warrior people of the Philippines. Each suite has a set of Coordinators who work with Johnson and Daniel Nailes, the Co-Coordinators of the entire show, and they set up rehearsals throughout Winter quarter and for the first few weeks of Spring. At the end of it all, the suites convene during Hell Week: the weeklong continuous rehearsal at the Bren where they go over staging, lights, sound and how everything will mesh together the night of PACN.

The flow of the show, however, was not entirely up to the PACN Coordinators. That responsibility fell to the Skit Coordinators, as they were in charge of coming up with the narrative of the show. The story this year followed a year in the life of the De La Cruz Family, focusing on life events such as the 71st birthday of the patriarch, a wedding and ended with a funeral. The show mirrored real life events as best as it could in order to convey the real lifestyle of the Filipino culture, including events like Typhoon Haiyan, which struck the Philippines back in 2013.

As the narrative progressed, dance and choir numbers were interspersed between scenes, the atmosphere of the acts reflecting the emotion running throughout the story; I was told that this was intentional.

“In the 36 years the show has been around, the structure of the show has always followed this narrative style,” said Johnson. “We want the audience to understand the importance and meaning behind some of these dances and songs, and to feel what we feel when we see them.”

And judging from the amount of applause, the rest of the audience felt, at the very least, impressed, especially after what many people called “the stick dance.”

“That’s called the Tinikling dance,” Johnson explained, “it’s the national dance of the Philippines and it’s the only thing we have people currently audition for since we take it so seriously. The tikling bird, represented by the dancers, elegantly tries to evade the farmers and the traps, or in this case, the clappers and the sticks.  Everyone always loves that performance.”

And while dynamic performances and engaging narratives are one facet of PACN, the cultural significance is the major driving force behind the production.

“UCI has the largest Filipino community in all the UCs,” Johsnon said, “and so obviously, we want to shout to the world our pride about who we are. We’re Filipino-Americans and we’re a family. Who wouldn’t be proud of that?”