Beyond Rituals and Rhetoric

(Reflecting as a member of U.P. Artists Circle)


How much of your past can teach you? How much of its lessons you bring with you to your futures?


I joined the University of the Philippines Artists Circle Sorority (UPAC) in October 1995. My elder sister was a member of this same sorority much earlier than I. After almost a year of hanging out with her brods and sisses, I found myself wanting to belong too— to this group of people, who are all too different, with each their brand of eccentricity, but a solid group; one that is within an invisible but a very real circle.


In January 2020, after some years of living elsewhere, I started teaching full time at the University of the Philippines College of Fine Arts. With this I was also invited to take over the task of Faculty Adviser of UPAC Frat and Soro. I accepted. I have not really been active since after I graduated in 1998. I show up from time to time, but never really stayed long enough to be of service to the organisation. As I take on the assignment as Faculty Adviser, I launched the Parthenon Project. This is the legacy project for the Sorority, which has 3 main arteries—a program that will aid sisters in different situation of distress (Distress Protocol), a program that will aid sisters in their professional practice (Apprenticeship Program), and the AC Archive, an archiving program that will collect and organise the material memories of the group. I invited two other senior alumni sisters to lead the Distress Protocol and the Apprenticeship Program. I am handling AC Archive. We’ve also decided that the AC Archive will be a shared project of the Frat and Soro. It is in this renewed connection that I now sit to reflect on the questions I posted above.


Lesson #1: My first month as adviser was greeted with a squabble between resident brods and sisses. The details aren’t too pertinent in this narrative. What is more important is that it made me try to remember how we were when we were their age. This generation is obviously so different from ours. But anyway, what generation is the same as the other? And really, who is to say that one generation got it worse than the other? Or whose generation is better than the other?


The struggle to be is generational. Indeed, there are some issues and trials that linger cross-generation, but each sees them in the lenses of their specific generation. The specificity of each generation is moulded by different pasts and imaginations of futures. What we share however is a present that is never the same for everyone. What hold these disparate spheres of realities to form one cohesive world is HUMILITY: To be able to accept that your truth may be different from others; that what is important to you might be irrelevant to others; that whatever it is you thought you could contribute is just a wasteful effort for others. Life has a way of reminding us that indeed we are not the centre of the universe. Embracing this and allowing oneself to be guided by others besides your own thoughts and beliefs, besides your own opinion and conviction, is something that empowers one to be in tune with the ever-changing world. It allows one to take the form of the vessel—not to be invisible but to occupy the spaces that needs to be filled.


Lesson #2: The ultimate project of the Archive is to create the roster of membership and build our family tree. It is a symbolic mapping of our togetherness in the 50 years that UPAC has been in existence. With the help of the Archiving Team, there have already been a little less than 1TB of pictures collected. A comprehensive directory of members is at least 60% built. And perhaps our top achievement, we have already written 70% of the Soro’s Herstory, including the UPAC Women’s Auxiliary Group from 1975, which answers a long running question among the sisses—where did we come from?


As a social grouping, as Frat and Soro, is considered a family. Unlike other organisations, it is not focused solely on a service goal. It is supposed to have a meaning to all aspects of your life. Just like the biological family, this social family requires each one to do their role—a child, or a parent, the younger, or the elder, etc. But unlike biological family, this social family, only has one’s LOYALTY to tie them up with the others. Loyalty is the Frat and Soro’s umbilical cord. And one isn’t born with it, it is something that you chose, hone and live by.


Loyalty to what though? As the directory grew bigger, we’ve “discovered” and reconnected with brods and sisses whom we have not met before. Some of them we knew by name. I particularly wanted to share the initial meeting with the Women’s Auxiliary Group. I approached Pioneer Brods Bim Bacaltos, Benjie Cabangis and Rock Drilon to help us track the sisters. After a couple of weeks of exchanges, we were able to organise a Zoom meeting with 5 of them (Malou Zarate, Menchu Aquino, Bernie Cunanan and Dulcie Dee). Much later we have a comprehensive list, including Precy de Guzman, Cathy de Leon and Gladys Barcela. The group now adapted the batch name Tandang Sora’75. This “discovery” of the Soro’s origin, and the entry of more names in the directory, made us realise more that there are too many members whom we have not met before or see anymore. We could roughly estimate that the number of active members is only 50% of those listed in the directory. It is like a painting with too many holes. But it also gives us the answer to that question at the beginning of this paragraph. Loyalty to being a member of this family. The family ends when members stop being members. It is both a privilege and a responsibility for each member to continue to participate if they want the family to continue existing. While it is dire realisation that a lot of our members have cut their umbilical cords and are rid of us temporarily or for good, the fact that UPAC is celebrating its 50th next year is a sliver of hope that there are those who kept and continue to serve their pledge.


Lesson #3: The year that was and the years that are coming are bleak. Survival appears to be the only essential task; everything else is secondary.


But isn’t it that it had always been the case—survival as primary and everything else was secondary? Could it be just that tribulations we have been facing are now magnified more times over because it is backdropped against the pandemic? It is in this breathe and in the teachings of art history that I can recognise the third lesson, which is DETERMINATION.


Art history will tell us that the years 1500-1800s, from the tail end of the Medieval Period until the bourgeoning of the Modern Era, birthed art movements/ styles that shaped our current art practice.  It was also the time of numerous plagues, pandemics far deadlier than what we are experiencing now, with medical science far less advanced than what we have now. Perhaps, what I am driving at is that we should not stop at survival—at trying to survive. We have the opportunity and the gift to continue this long tradition of surviving creatively, and for this to happen, we should not only be capable, we have to be determined.


As the great author, Torri Morrison once said:

This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.


Beyond the rituals and rhetoric that were passed on to us as members of the UPAC, what stayed with me in my 25 years as a member are the essences of sisterhood and brotherhood. It had guided me all these years in my many different affairs—academically, creatively, socially. It had and continue to guide me in improving myself, as a teacher, as a creative, and as person, It reminds me that despite and besides whatever else is happening in the world, I have a place in it, no matter how small, and it is up to me to make it better, until the day when I need to leave.


Dayang Yraola