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TRENDER: Dancer, Writer, Social Activist - Sara David

Tuesday, April 15, 2014


Who are the Rhode Islanders leading in arts, fashion, food, and style? They're Trenders, and GoLocalProv offers a glimpse of the people you most want to know on the scene. Today's Trender is Sara David, a senior at Brown University, a dancer, a writer, and a social activist.

In the past year, Sara produced The Rhythm of Change Dance Festival at Brown University in Providence, RI, where 20 artists from around the world participated in a weekend-long gathering for West African dance, art, and awareness. This young entrepreneur is also writing a book of short stories which is set to be published at some point this year.

Sara was raised in America, but she was born in the Philippines, and she remains closely connected to her heritage. Along with her older brother, Owen, she is working towards a summer of research in the aforementioned Pacific islands. The Davids plan to travel to the Philippines together, where these ambitious siblings wish to visit sites, collect stories, and build the framework for a future novel which will be based on their family's history.

The reasons for Sara's journey with her brother are wide-ranging, but they include academic purposes, as well as the obvious personal and sentimental values, just to name a few. Throughout her life and during her education, this Brown undergraduate student has been compelled to compile the rich tales of Filipino men and women who are now scattered throughout the world. In recent memory, citizens of the Philippines have experienced a myriad of oppressive situations such as: Japanese occupation, rule by dictatorships, and the strain of financial crises. These unfortunate occurrences have caused many individuals of Filipino descent to migrate to a variety of nations across the globe in search of better lives. Therefore, Sara feels as though the stories of both suffering and triumph which have emerged from these trying times could be lost if they are not documented in the immediate future.

In the summer of 2014, the David siblings, with the help of the community, hope to embark on a research-based expedition. This journey will give these two young Asian-Americans the chance to save the stories of past cultural events for their predecessors, while also becoming powerful voices for their Filipino contemporaries. Sara and Owen will delve into the earlier accounts of their own family in the greater historical context of this Pacific Island nation. In our modern world, Sara feels the need to answer an important question about her Filipino heritage and about the human experience as a whole: "what are the threads that bind us together, across space and time?" During her trip to the Philippines, this undergraduate student also hopes to discover the roots of her longing for love and for belonging, as she emerges into adulthood. This return trip to their homeland will also allow the Davids to be reunited with their 13 year old brother who still lives in the Philippines and haven't seen since 2011. If you would like to learn more about Sara David's story or contribute to her worthy cause, you can access her project here - Legacies & Migration: Two Artists Return to the Philippines . With your help, this young local artist will have the opportunity of a lifetime to learn more about her family's history and about her Filipino heritage, as she attempts to find a beautiful and meaningful way to preserve the stories of an entire culture.

At what age did you move from the Philippines to the United States and what was the reason for your migration? What are some of the similarities between the two cultures that you have noticed? What are some of the major differences that you have seen between the ways of life in these two distinct nations?

My mother moved our family here when I was around 7. She was married at 17, and came from a conservative family, and I think that she wanted to give her children access to opportunities like education, jobs, and other foundational elements to building a family life. I also think that she was drawn to the cultural experience of America—how it’s a melting pot of many world-cultures, and how people can carve their own paths in life.

How have you managed to remain close to your Filipino heritage amidst your maturity in America?

My family in the States is really close-knit, and I grew up spending a lot of time with my extended family—mostly cousins, aunts, and uncles. The cousins I was closest to lived in Boylston, and their family was in the Central Massachusetts Filipino-American Association. We attended their cultural shows to watch traditional dance, and always bonded over Filipino dinners!

How have your experiences in the state of Rhode Island, and specifically at Brown University, influenced you as a writer, as a dancer, as an activist, and as a person?

Rhode Island and Brown are so crucial to my development as a person! I moved here in 2007, and I took Mandé (West Afrucab) Dance at Brown, where I met Michelle Bach-Coulibaly. I had never encountered an art form that felt so natural on my body and that was just so much fun—I was hooked! Providence is so fortunate to have an incredible community of West African and Malian artists, including drummers Seydou Coulibaly and Sidy Maiga. Here, I’ve been lucky enough to work with them, which has really taught me that art is where I find my passion. With that as my jumping-off point, I’m always trying to find a way to combine my passion for art with community-building in a sustainable lifestyle.

Where does your passion for writing, dancing, and social activism spawn from? Each of these activities takes part in the beauty of life and attempts to add to the greater good of humanity. All of these pursuits also involve hard-work, practice, and creativity; however, they are surely distinctive interests. How do you unite these three disciplines and how do you believe that they can contribute to positive change in the modern world?

I think I’ve always been a creative person, and that really comes from my childhood. My older brother Owen is my best friend and we were really close as kids. We didn’t grow up with much, so a lot of our games required imagination and creativity. I think that social activism happens most in an environment where people care deeply, and want to take care of each other. In my work, I’ve found that art allows people to collaborate with each other, to open up to one another, and find creative solutions to things.

How did you and your brother Owen decide that you wanted to research the history of your family and of the Philippines? Do you plan for your future novel to be a collaborative work? What genre do you believe that this book will fall under - i.e. historical fiction, memoir, non-fiction, etc.? What will be the format of the text?

My brother and I went to California this February to see my grandparents and dad, and it was just such an incredible trip for me. When I was with them, I just felt like… I felt like I finally figured out what it has always felt like I’ve been missing in my life. Just, being with people who are so like me and who love me no matter what. Owen and I met our grandfather’s brother and sister, and they told us incredible firsthand accounts of the People Power Revolution in the Philippines. Hearing that really gave me an understanding of my people’s history that I never got in my public school, and it made my brother and I want to learn more. Then, our aunt told us that Filipino history is actually slowly being lost due to our diaspora. One night during the reunion, my brother and I were talking about how incredible it was to see all of the similarities between ourselves and our grandparents’ generation, even though we face different times and problems.

My dad told us an incredible story about our grandfather, and Owen said, “someone should write this down.” And we thought, why not us? Owen and I hope to interview all of our living relatives in the Philippines and write a book based on our family history. We plan to collaborate on a fiction/historical fiction novel. Owen’s dream is 100 Years of Solitude, and mine is The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao—but I’m just hoping we land anywhere in those ballparks, ha! We want to write a narrative that shows intergenerational ties.

What are you hoping to get out of your travels, your research, and your writing? What do you think that your novel will have to say about life as an American citizen of Filipino descent? What comment about society and about human experience in general do you hope that your book will make?

I’m most excited about seeing my family. Owen and I have a little brother Nico, who is 13 years old. We haven’t seen him in 3 years, and I feel like he’s growing up without me. The last time I Skyped with him, he was taller than me! There’s also so much family in the Philippines that Owen and I have never even met before! I hope that Owen and I can meet our family and find connections that translate across the language or generational barriers. I hope that Owen and I can speak to the experience of other Filipino-Americans who might feel in-between homes no matter where they are.

What are some of the greatest challenges that you expect to face in your return home to the Philippines? What are you most looking forward to about this trip? (It must be awfully nice to think about the idea of getting to see your little brother again after all this time!)

Well, the language barrier will definitely be hard for me, but I think that seeing my family will outweigh any discomfort I might feel!

Other than monetary donations, how can individuals help you achieve your goal of going to the Philippines for a summer of research?

Sharing our story with your friends is definitely a great way to help us out!


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