Emil Guillermo: Why I fringe: Banging my gong for AAPI Heritage Month at the Orlando Fringe Festival

May 17, 2018 3:05 PM

Among Asian Americans, Orlando is a special place for having spawned and unleashed the mashup genius of Eddie Huang of "Fresh Off the Boat" fame.

Remember, the family moves to Orlando from Washington, DC to get that fresh start? 

So it's natural for me to be here for Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month with my new version of me, the solo performer, taking from my columns to shape my spoken-word "Amok Monologues."


I'm here for the 28th Orlando Fringe Festival, the oldest one in America and a theater festival in definite need of an Asian American voice or two.

I'm more than happy to fill that void, and the audiences have been great, for the most part, and very receptive. 


Here's a clip of me during a preview teaser show.

They responded well, but there's not many Asians in the crowd.

We're still in a place where restaurants market themselves as "oriental" establishments.

Orlando is home to about 9,000 Asian Americans, about 3.64 percent of the city. That ranks about 131st among all cities, according to the Census data on USA.com.

By ethnicity, it breaks down this way for an Asian American community that looks like this, with South Asians leading the way:

Indian: 2,468 (27 percent)
Vietnamese: 1,873 (20.59 percent)
Chinese: 1,697 (18.65 percent)
Filipino: 1,291  (14.2 percent)
Korean: 649  (7 percent)
Japanese:  329 (3.6 percent)
Asian, Other:  791 (8.69 percent)

It's the new look of some of our latter-day, evolving Asian American community, where immigration is spurring growth.

The traditional Asian American communities of yesteryear had Asians staying close to ports of entry, namely California. But it's a big country, and the newer arrivals from South Asia and Southeast Asia are helping to change the face of it all. 

The new Asian America really does take a page from "Fresh Off the Boat."

But not at the Orlando Fringe quite yet.

The festival draws performers from all over the world, especially Canada and Europe.

Orlando Fringe is like a smaller version of the famed Edinburgh Fringe Festival, where Maria Askew has performed with her troupe, the Jurassic Parks.  

Half-Ecuadoran, half-British, she immediately understood my show about my father, a colonized Filipino coming to America. 

"I'm both colonized and colonizer," she said, referring to her mixed background.

Most people got the show. 

But on opening night I had what can only be described as a performer's nightmare. 

There was a woman sitting alone in the front row. And despite all the preshow chatter to turn off cell phones and devices, within the first ten minutes, she began to text.

Or as my now late and lamented writing hero, Tom Wolfe, might have noted, she was "CLICK, CLICK, CLICK, TEXXXXXXXXXTINGGGGGGGG!!!!!!!!!"

(R.I.P. our favorite white-suited Wolfe). 

This of course was distracting, but I was more distracted when right as I went into the story of how colonized Filipinos like my dad were treated when they arrived in 1928, she fidgeted and squirmed. As my eyes scanned across the room, it looked like she was doing yoga poses with her leg over her head. 

You're not doing that right now as you read this, are you?

Fortunately,  there was one couple sitting to the other side. And clearly they got my story.
The texting yoga woman ultimately left the show right in the middle, an unbearable breach of theatre ethics, even at a Fringe. But I was more than happy to gong her away, because of the one couple I noticed who were enjoying the show so much.

Afterwards, Joey Canamo and his wife, in an unsolicited way, told me how much they got out of the show. 

"I absolutely loved it. It was very relatable," Canamo, 31, an American-born Filipino who works in Orlando's entertainment industry. "It had moments of comedy. It was very funny. But then there's the history part of it, things I didn't necessarily know. . .like the stories of your dad."

He and his wife, Cory, white and from the Detroit suburbs, met while in college in Florida. She related to my stories of going to a segregated school, and how my white buddies treated me, until our school got its first black kid.

They thought the show was a must-see before taking a family reunion later this year in the Philippines.

They're even going to bring Joey's mom and dad later in the run.

That's the beauty of a grass roots tradition like the Fringe. You tell intimate stories to a reflective audience, and a transfer of energy takes place, live and in color, as they used to say. It's an artistic sense of communion, where you realize our commonality. 

It's a different kind of discourse than we're used to on the racial and political front. 

But I haven't been too bogged down of late. Being on the road, my news consumption is down about 75 percent. 

I've realized that storytelling through solo performance has become a model for the kind of race conversations we want to have but don't. 

Where else can you sit quietly and watch. Not text or do yoga. In a solo performance, I still consider it a conversation with the audience. We experience it all, and then we all walk away and reflect. 

Just like Joey and Cory Canamo.

That's the sort of thing that keeps me both column-ing here, and fringing. 

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Note: You can still get tickets to "Amok Monologues" at the Orlando Fringe Festival from May 18 to May 25 here

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Emil Guillermo is an independent journalist/commentator.
Updates at www.amok.com. Follow Emil on Twitter, and like his Facebook page.
The views expressed in his blog do not necessarily represent AALDEF's views or policies.

Posted by:Emil Guillermo

The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent the views or policies of AALDEF.


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