CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Sunday, 1 September 2019

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Invisible faces glow in the limelight

HONG KONG (SE): The faces of a mostly invisible group in Hong Kong were shown off in fine style on July 30, as a group of 55 young, Hong Kong-born and bred Filipinos aged between 10 and 20 took to the stage in a classy production of a musical written by local educator and artist, Catherine Tating Marsden, called The Sway of the Cradle (Ang Ugoy ng Duyan).
Held at the McPherson Stadium in Mong Kok, the musical was presented by Teatro Filipino (Theatre of The Philippines), a group founded by Marsden to provide not only a face for the invisible group in society, but a refuge of community, fun and learning.
In a city where to be Filipino is almost exclusively perceived as being a domestic worker, The Sway of the Cradle challenges that perception, as well as crossing the boundaries of culture between The Philippines and Hong Kong.
Inspired by a much loved nostalgic lullaby, Ugoy ng Duyan (The Cradle’s Sway), The Sway of the Cradle presents life in a provincial Philippine town of a bygone era when fast disappearing customs of family and social relations were still vogue.
However, while the wish of the lullaby, “that my olden days would never fade away,” may indeed have faded into modernity, the olden days still inspire the adaptations that have taken their place.
A university student, Aaron Jacinto, plays the role of Barrie, a young Filipino making his first visit from Hong Kong to meet his cousins.
He walks into an atmosphere that is foreign to him, but while his few words of language do draw some mirth, his little knowledge of etiquette, inadvertently learned from his parents, elicits praise and acceptance.
The lively songs the group presents are in themselves a crossing of cultures for the young cast, as they are sung in Tagalog, a language that the bulk of them do not speak.
But with much of the dialogue in English and the rest with subscripts in both English and Chinese projected onto the electronic backdrop, the musical reaches out to all echelons of Hong Kong society.
Set around town fiesta time, Barrie becomes infatuated with a young mystery woman, whom he later meets in a fantasy and is guided to a former home of Philippine national hero, José Rizal, which is now a museum.
The curator presents him with a book on the life of Rizal in which he becomes engrossed and lives out the life and death of his newfound hero in a dream.
He is struck by the words of Rizal encouraging young people to use their talent and skills to excel, not just for their own sake, but for the society in which they have made their home, whether it be the motherland or Hong Kong.
He is also struck by his encouragement to know his own history and understand something of the condition of his forbears under the racism of the Spanish colonial system, which is described as not being much different from the conditions Filipinos abroad live under today.
But Rizal has another dream for his country people and encourages Barrie to excel in what he is doing, as despite living in Hong Kong he is able to contribute to life in the motherland, as well as the place where he lives.
Sponsored by the Philippine Consulate General to Hong Kong and the International Service Hong Kong Branch, the musical is part of an expansive programme called Celebrate Colours, which the consul general, Bernardita Catalla, described as a contribution from local ethnic communities to the celebrations surrounding the 20th anniversary of the handover of the city from British to Chinese sovereignty.
She pointed out that The Sway of the Cradle is one episode in a series, as last year the group concentrated on the migrant community as being away from home, but this year, eyes are being turned back to the homeland.
The chief executive of the International Social Service Hong Kong Branch, Stephen Yau How-boa, said his organisation gave its support to the project, as it has placed its interest in the well-being of children and youth, families and migrants since its inception 60 years ago.
He invited the audience to join the members of Teatro Filipino as they portrayed their journey to rediscover their roots and culture. “We hope that you will be inspired and rejuvenated in spirit and hope at their performance,” he said.
The secretary for education in Hong Kong, Kevin Yeung Yun-hung, paid tribute to the migrant community of the city, saying it has helped bring colour into the daily lives of the whole of society and, as Filipinos are the largest national group, they play an important role in making the region a better place to live.
In the imaginary life of the stage, Barrie returns to Hong Kong somewhat stunned, but with much to think about after his eventful visit to his motherland that he had previously only known vaguely from a distance.
However, he also returns with his newfound conviction that the sway of the cultural cradle into which he was born will remain part of the rhythm of his life until his dying day.
As the consul general noted the challenge to the young expatriates is to look to the future with the courage of being part of the past and the present.

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