“Gun shots in the Garden of Eden!” The opening line of performing artist Kilusan Bautista’s UNiVERSALself, a solo multimedia show, refers to the bombs the Japanese military dropped on Manila during World War II. Today Bautista credits his great–grandfather’s participation in the Armed Forces of the Philippines during the war for enabling his family to immigrate to America. On April 15 at Mission College, Bautista performed his visual memoir, comprised of theater acting, hip hop dancing and martial arts, to share his personal history and explore his Filipino American identity.
“Since 2012, I’ve been a teaching artist in the New York City Department of Education” says Bautista, a graduate of U.C. Santa Cruz and resident of Brooklyn. “[I teach] a combination of theater, poetry and creative writing. What I want to do is inspire students to create their own original work.”
During his performance, Bautista showed both comedic and haunting faces of his youth. He danced hip–hop, at one point calling out M.C. Hammer and mimicking the rapper’s moves. He also spotlighted the troubled relationship he had with his father, an alcoholic and crack cocaine addict who has since gone through rehabilitation. Bautista shared warmer memories of his grandmother, who connected him to Catholicism, and his mother, whom he regards as a Filipino beauty.
“On Friday nights, we turned off all the lights and watched movie after movie with mom; we had no clue where my dad was … My mom brought home all the goodies – candy, cherry Coke, TV dinners, instant ice–cream,” Bautista recalls. “We watched my mom’s favorite Broadway musicals starring John Travolta, Rita Moreno, Shirley Temple. Sometimes she would cry during her favorite songs.”
Bautista was born in San Francisco and grew up in the Mission District during the 1980s and 90s. He remembers feeling inspired when he learned about Malcolm X in school. He also reminisces about the city’s bohemian hip–hop scene that welcomed all races and cultures.
“Hip–hop found me as a young man that was angry and confused with no place to call home,” says Bautista, flaunting slick dance moves on stage.
“My homeboy Charles told me if you are a b–boy, you can attract the attention of girls,” says Bautista. “A b–boy is urban street slang used to refer to a hip–hop dancer.”
During a pivotal moment of the show, Bautista recalls performing “b–boy moves” during a school dance at Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Academic Middle School. His English teacher, Ms. Holland, saw him dance and asked if he wanted to be in the school play. Unsure if he could act in a theater production, Bautista consulted his mother first.
“You could be the Filipino John Travolta,” Bautista’s mother responded. Her approval allowed Bautista to take one of his first steps toward being the performing artist he is today.