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Display of objects on a black and white checkered textile: dark wooden figurine of a child riding an ox, an ivory dagger with bronze handle, a circular dark brown container, a woven coin purse in purple, red, yellow, and tan, a wooden box with an engraved scene on top, and a photograph of open-air huts and palm trees on a mountainside, a lake in the distance.

Among Filipiniana objects from across the archipelago, a photo overlooking Taal Lake on the island of Luzon.

Photo by Anthonie Tumpag

  • From Family Photos to Filipiniana: Piecing Together My Filipino American Identity

    I grew up in a time that seems so long ago, when memories were captured on film and sent off in canisters to be developed and printed. The final product was frozen in time between pages of cardboard and flimsy sheets of transparent plastic. My generation called this the photo album.

    While I say all this with levity, I’m truly grateful to have a tangible binder of memories to occasionally lift from the shelf and rifle through whenever there’s an urge to feel sentimental. Nothing beats the multisensory experience of an actual photo in hand, freed from the pixelated grip of a computer monitor. But these days, my photographic memories are blurred, my album having gone through years of reorganizing to the point that any chronological story that existed has been lost.

    As I look at it now, my photographs are an assemblage of memories of my early life growing up in both the Philippines and in different parts of the United States. My mom, an immigrant to the United States, largely raised me single-handedly and worked tirelessly as a nurse. Because of her, I have these snapshots of a full childhood. From the Bay Area to the Pacific Northwest, even the American South, my mother and I made memories and the most of what little we had. And yet these photos tell my story only so far. Newer entries abruptly stopped when the world entered the digital age of social media that sounded the death knell of the physical photo album.

    Familiar Things

    Nonetheless, the album has remained a fixture throughout my life. I pack it with care whenever I move. Although once I settle in, it quietly slips into the backdrop easily enough to be forgotten. In hindsight, if I were to ever lose it, a huge chunk of my early life would vanish. There are no negatives to develop. Every tear or crease each photo has weathered confirms they too are only here for a moment. Beyond family stories and fragmented memories of childhood, sometimes conjured up by the aroma of certain Filipino foods, these photos are among the few tangible means I have to recall my early life in my mother’s homeland, the Philippines.

    Gallery
    Display of two photographs and a model airplace, with a variation of the Filipino flag on the tail, on a white backdrop. The photos both depict a young boy and adult, on the left riding a wooden horse, and on the right standing on a mechanical airplane ride.
    Growing up, I was fortunate to have family in both the Philippines and United States. I have fond memories aboard airplanes and one pilot giving me an airline pin as a keepsake.
    Photo by Anthonie Tumpag
    Display of two photos and a wooden sculpture of a person holding one child on its back and another standing on its shoulder. Old family photos show young boy with elders.
    Living with extended family helped expose me to different cultures and personalities for which I am forever grateful. I recall the warmth of their embrace.
    Photo by Anthonie Tumpag
    Display of a silver spherical container carved with floral design, a family photo, and a metal pipe on a chain also containing stained white teeth.
    The metal container was identified as a payraan, or tobacco container, by a local Maranao. The metal pipe with horse-teeth chain is thought to come from the Indigenous Cordillera region of Luzon. Both items conjure memories with relatives smoking away as they tended to little children.
    Photo by Anthonie Tumpag
    A photo of a woman laying on a couch, partly obscured by a white gauzey mosquito net.
    One of the more pronounced memories of the Philippines is the brutal heat. I recall taking many uncomfortable naps choked by mosquito nets.
    Photo by Anthonie Tumpag
    A silver toy truck with the words Philippines on the top and Mabuhay on the side, next to a photo of a young boy with a yellow balloon.
    The jeepney is a WWII-era vehicle turned public mode of transportation. The sounds and exhaust they emit is certainly something to remember.
    Photo by Anthonie Tumpag
    Family photo of a child’s birthday party, with a cake and many other dishes of food on the table. Next to the photo, a small plate containing three bread rolls.
    Filipino food has always been a constant in my life, and their savory aromas have the power to transport me back in time. Birthday celebrations were an exciting time for both presents and food! Pandesal rolls have always been a filling snack to enjoy throughout the day.
    Photo by Anthonie Tumpag

    Recollecting that time takes a bit of digging. Infrequently there is a clue scribbled on the back of the photo, a snippet of information. I scan the image with my eyes and wonder aloud, who is this person beside me? Something unexpected sometimes jogs my memory. My eyes are drawn to an object in the background that the photographer likely thought nothing of in the moment of taking the shot. Suddenly, something out of focus or barely in the frame takes center stage, an object strange yet familiar to me. Yes—that floral artwork made of coconut shells, wooden carving of a man hunting, or image of a lady balancing a votive candle on her head are all things I’ve seen throughout my life both in the Philippines and the United States.

    I have gradually come to realize these objects have been with me throughout the decades, at my mother’s home and those of her Filipina friends. Such objects can be found hanging on the walls, inconspicuously greeting visitors. Perhaps I was too preoccupied by the Christmas party spread of Filipino foods and nonstop karaoke to think much about them.

    These objects have also popped up unannounced in my everyday life. I have stumbled upon similar objects  while partaking in a favorite pastime: thrifting and antiquing. Only later in life did I learn a word to broadly describe such objects that sometimes bore the sticker “Made in Philippines”—Filipiniana.

    Early Days of Collecting

    While living in the American South, I had a limited connection to my heritage. For quite some time, I even felt shame. My ethnicity set me apart from others, leading to unfortunate episodes of bullying, name-calling, and racism from both peers and adults.

    I can’t pinpoint when, but gradually I found myself no longer running from my heritage, but totally embracing this part of me. Perhaps it was those phone calls with my grandfather, Lolo, who often shared warm stories of life back in the Philippines. Perhaps it was those courageous feats of resilience he enacted in WWII while serving the U.S. in the Philippines that put everything into perspective. Maybe it was something as simple as Filipino food itself that gave me such comfort and feelings of belonging. No matter if I was simply eating at home or with my mom’s Filipino co-workers, sharing savory dishes potluck-style, I felt I belonged. Filipino food was even resilient enough to withstand the occasional jeers and taunts of classmates at the cafeteria lunch table.

    Gallery
    Display of tarnished metal container, scattered silver and bronze coins, and an old photo of a mom holding up a toddler.
    These coins were among the first Filipiniana I received. Over the years, I have come across pieces like this Maranao payraan that incorporates American colonial-era Philippine currency as a sort of finial.
    Photo by Anthonie Tumpag
    A photo of a mom holding up a todder, both dressed in red. To the right of the photo, a brown wooden and woven artwork depicting a vase of flowers.
    This floral artwork of coconut shell and perhaps a Philippine sinamay fiber background almost didn’t make the shot with my mother and me.
    Photo by Anthonie Tumpag
    A photo of two young boys standing in front of a TV. In front of the photo, a wooden sculpture of a man, seated, playing guitar while a woman danced holding cups balanced on her head and hands.
    This is one of the few childhood photos I have of my cousin Garizaldy and me together. While we largely grew up an ocean apart, we stayed in touch. Tragically, he passed away last year. The Pandanggo sa Illaw dance is featured stenciled on the console. The dancer balances votive candles on her head and hands. The beauty of the flickering candle is always a warm sight and will forever remind me of my dear cousin.
    Photo by Anthonie Tumpag
    A small wooden bench, displayed with a decorated bamboo container with geometric pattern in dark red, black, and green, and a photo of a young boy sitting on a similar bench, with green bamboo stalks in the background.
    This small and weathered bench, or bangkito, reminds me of my younger self. Behind me are green bamboo stalks. The colorfully painted bamboo is a Maranao lakub container, just an example of beautifully created material culture stemming from the local environment.
    Photo by Anthonie Tumpag
    A tan wicker chair with hourglass-shaped base and curved top. The outer edge is black-and-white striped in a twisting patterns. On the chair is a photo of a young boy, standing next to similar wicker furniture.
    Another local industry in the Philippines is wicker furniture. This iconic miniature peacock chair, distinctive with its candy cane-like border, is an intricate yet hardy piece of furniture that withstood my childhood antics.
    Photo by Anthonie Tumpag
    A handmade grass broom, woven where the strands are gathered with a red, yellow, and black design. The green handle reads: BAGUIO. A photo sits next to it of two children.
    The walis, or household broom, is a common fixture in Filipino homes. It often calls for a special technique in sweeping.
    Photo by Anthonie Tumpag
    A tan woven fan with a loop handle. Under it, a photo of an elder man sitting and reading the newspaper inside a house.
    This pamaypay or buri fan is a traditional necessity during a sweltering day. Here my lolo, or grandfather, reads a newspaper while his red pamaypay rests beside him.
    Photo by Anthonie Tumpag
    On the left, figurine of a saint with gold and beaded embellishment. On the right, photo of a family at church.
    One of my most prized Filipiniana is this miniature Santo Nino de Cebu given to me by my lolo. The statue has been through so much, ultimately losing his tiny hands. I have housed him in many unique ways throughout the years for protection. Once he was even encased in an old domed tennis ball container. The photo is of my tita, or aunt, taking me to church with a Marian statue in the background.
    Photo by Anthonie Tumpag
    On the left, carved wooden figurine of a person holding a frying pan-shaped object. On the right, photo of kids in a living room.
    Although hard to see, a wooden statue of a hunter wielding a bow and arrow stands guard under the shell artwork. The statue likely originated in the Cordillera mountains of the northern Philippines. This tattooed figure was made by the Indigenous people of that region. He holds a gangsa gong and wears what looks to be an oklop wooden hat.
    Photo by Anthonie Tumpag
    On the left, photo of a child and adult sitting together in a green armchair. On the right, a pair of wooden heeled sandals. The sides of the heels are carved with the scene of a white house with blue roof and a palm tree.
    One Filipino tradition that I have carried with me wherever I go is leaving shoes by the door and putting on house slippers, or tsinelas, inside a home. The traditional wooden clog known as a bakya often features a scenic carving of a bahay kubo, or traditional home.
    Photo by Anthonie Tumpag

    Filipiniana became a profound means for bonding with my heritage. I remember talking on the phone with aunties, my titas back in the Philippines, asking them to send me something Filipino. One of the first things I received was a bag of old Philippine coins that was found under a house. How ironic! I knew my mom often sent money back home to help relatives. Now, these Philippine coins were helping me to further my sense of belonging. And while some were engraved in the Filipino language, others were from the U.S. occupation of the Philippines stamped with the all-too-familiar words, “United States of America,” and a bald eagle perched above a crest.

    This was one of my earliest brushes with the legacy of colonialism, an eleven-letter word that has often served to impede and obscure my journey to find and understand my Filipino heritage. Moreover, such products of the colonial encounter have been recycled and incorporated into the material cultures of some Indigenous peoples of the Philippines, showing the layers of complexity in relation to trade, cultural exchange, and agency.

    Lolo’s Lessons through Filipiniana

    In my early childhood, I connected with my lolo during birthday calls or on cross-country family trips to his home. I remember the daily routine fondly. Watching The Price Is Right, followed by soap operas and then naptime, but the most memorable times together were spent eating seemingly endless amounts of food like warm pandesal bread lathered with butter, coupled with a hot beverage. I also remember the large and ominous statue of Santo Nino de Cebu, decked out in ornate regalia, peering down on me with his curly locks and piercing expression.

    When I helped Lolo move to our home in the South, he kept with him few possessions. The first things I unpacked were related to his Catholic faith. I remember carefully unraveling statues of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Jesus who he had wrapped with strips of cloth, rosaries, and medallions of Pope John Paul II. He also brought miniature statues of the Santo Nino de Cebu. Observing my keen interest in these tiny figurines, he happily gave them to me along with a couple antique barongs, Filipino formal men’s attire. I felt I had inherited a great fortune and was another step closer to connecting with my Filipino identity.

    A box full of documents shed equal light on what life was like for him in the Philippines: his old college transcripts and picturesque postcards featuring scenic views. Joining the coins, these keepsakes from my lolo were the start of a growing collection of Filipiniana, touchstones along a journey to bring me closer to my roots, a  journey that I have come to find is actually lifelong.

    Clues in the Photos

    My family photos served as inspiration in my collecting as I worked to identify the cultural significance of the objects I saw. I also sought to learn about Filipiniana that didn’t make a cameo in my photo album. At first what I uncovered felt small and random, like facts about our native sport sipa and the children’s game sungka. I would ask my family questions behind cultural traditions we practiced during the new year and other holidays. I read books on topics from local industries to ethnic folk dancing. I proactively asked to study the Philippines for school assignments or reports when possible.

    Gallery
    Display of bronze figurines of people and livestock, arranging in a kind of village scene. Behind them, an old family photo.
    These Tboli lost-wax brass figurines remind me of provincial life that I briefly got to experience in the Philippines as a youth.
    Photo by Anthonie Tumpag
    On the left, a photo of a young boy and woman kneeling in a wood-paneled room. On the left, a dark gray circular slab, carbed with a scene of people dancing in front of a hut.
    The bahay kubo is just one of many traditional houses of the Philippines. It is a simple and humble stilt house that can be transported to new locations with the help of the community. This particular artwork is said to be made of volcanic ash taken from the Mount Pinatubo eruption of 1991.
    Photo by Anthonie Tumpag
    On the left, a photo of a woman standing in on a grassy hillside. On the right, figurine of woman and man in patterened cloths using wooden beaters to pound rice in a wooden container.
    Rice is a main staple across the Philippines. Here my mother poses in front of rice terraces with Filipino dolls pounding to dehusk the rice.
    Photo by Anthonie Tumpag
    On the left, photo of four young boys, one holding a basketball and another a volleyball. On the right, a ball made from wovven wicker, resembling patterns of a soccer ball.
    While American sports like basketball have become widely popular in the Philippines, traditional games like sipa are still played, especially among children. The ball is made of rattan and is played with one’s feet, similar to hacky sack.
    Photo by Anthonie Tumpag
    A photo of a child and adult on green armchairs rests on top of a black wooden game board, with cups and a handle carved into each. Each cup holds seven small cream-colored shells.
    Another traditional children’s game is sungka, similar to the African game mancala.
    Photo by Anthonie Tumpag
    On the left, a wooden sculpture of various fruits on a platter. On the right, a family Christmas photo.
    One Filipino holiday tradition calls for a bowl of thirteen round fruits to signify good luck and a prosperous new year.
    Photo by Anthonie Tumpag
    On the left, postcard showing a traditional dance troupe posing in front of a hut. On the right, a wooden sculpture of a human figure withouts arm spread out, feather burst from its head.
    This postcard depicts the Sayaw Ed Tapew Na Bangko dance where dancers maneuver atop traditional benches. The statue depicts an Ifugao Dungdung dancing-like figure from the Cordillera region worn by elite women. This particular one stands atop a hagabi bench which is tied to prestige ceremonies.
    Photo by Anthonie Tumpag (postcard from the National Book Store, Manila, Philippines. Courtesy of Barangay Folk Dance Troupe)
    In the center, photo of an elder man in front of a white VW Beetle. To the left, a tan woven reed fish trap. To the right, a darker brown wooden carving of a bird.
    Here my lolo shows off his catch in Manila. To his right is a traditional Filipino fish trap. In Butuan, it is called a higaonon. The ornate bird is called sarimanok by the Maranao and is often depicted with a fish dangling from its beak or at its base.
    Photo by Anthonie Tumpag
    On the left, a photo of two adults sitting on a couch, with framed floral artwork on the wall above them. On the right, a cube-shaped candle holder, the sides made with white translucent shell.
    Shell art is another local industry in the Philippines. This aquatic painting above my lolo and mother is actually made of individual pieces of shell! The votive candle is made of traditional capiz shell. These shells are also used as an alternative to glass in the windows of traditional homes.
    Photo by Anthonie Tumpag
    On the left, an ornament with a star/flower shape in white, blue, and pink on top, and red, green, yellow, blue, and white circular shells cascading down. On the right, photo of a boy standing in front of a Christmas tree. A large start ornament hangs in the background.
    Capiz shell is also used to make popular parols, or Christmas lanterns. Growing up, makeshift parols were made of available materials like tinsel and tissue paper.
    Photo by Anthonie Tumpag
    On the left, photo of plates of food set on a table in front of an image of Jesus Christ. On the right, a domed cover for setting over food, lined along the bottom with white and pink seashells.
    In certain parts of the Philippines and other places in Southeast Asia, food offerings are an important religious practice. Food coverings are also essential to shield goodies from pesky flies and other insects. This one is made of sinamay and seashells.
    Photo by Anthonie Tumpag
    A photo of a woman in white blouse and gold earrings. Around it, three pieces of  metal jewelry: a gold necklace with coin, gold necklace with spherical shapes, and necklace with dark brown triangular shape, golden figure of a saint, and shape of a hand in gold.
    My mom always had a simple elegance about her. She’s not one to wear flashy jewelry. When I was a child, she gave me a pendant of Saint Christopher which I carry with me to this day. Along the way, I began to collect other Filipiniana jewelry such as this anting-anting, or amulet, made of coconut and brass charms. The coconut triangle is known as a trespico. I bought it during a trip to Quiapo several years ago. The ornate filigree necklace is called a tambourine necklace and harks back to the Spanish colonial period.
    Photo by Anthonie Tumpag
    On the left, ceramic pot. On the right, many kids doing an activities outdoors at a school.
    I have always been fascinated by local pottery traditions. This vessel is said to be in the style of precolonial Batangas-ware with its unique globular form and incised reliefs. Such vessels were associated with the afterlife and burial. The plastic tub highlighted is of a far less historic origin used for play.
    Photo by Anthonie Tumpag
    A photo of a woman in purple dress leanings on the back of a couch, draped with white lace. Underneath the photo, an arrangement of white plastic jasmine flowers, green leaves, and tan doilie lace.
    While the Philippines has a rich textile tradition dating back thousands of years, some textile arts date much later to the Spanish and American colonial era. Doilies were a common fixture in some Filipino homes. Other fabrics of the era are pina cloth used in traditional clothing. They often have intricate floral embroidery such as sampaguita or jasmine flowers.
    Photo by Anthonie Tumpag
    On the left, photo of a boy in bed with a tan stuffed monkey. On the right, beaded necklace with a figurine of an orange and brown tarsier climbing a green stalk of bamboo
    There is a wide range of unique flora and fauna found in the Philippines. Among my favorite animals are Philippine prosimians, known locally as tarsiers. They are typically nocturnal with large bulging eyes. Growing up in the States, I had my own stuffed monkey, a relative of the prosimians, that kept guard over me while I slept.
    Photo by Anthonie Tumpag
    A small stack of candies wrapped in blue, green, pink, and orange wrappers, in front of a photo of kids in a classroom, one eating a snack.
    In grade school, I often enjoyed the mixture of both Filipino and American snacks. The colorfully wrapped candies are known as polvoron, a childhood favorite.
    Photo by Anthonie Tumpag
    Wooden rectangular container with a top that slides open. The black and nature design reads PHILIPPINES on the side. Behind it, a photo of a boy at a desk, holding a pencil.
    Traditional handicrafts are another big local industry. This pencil holder is among the many types of souvenirs produced in the Philippines.
    Photo by Anthonie Tumpag

    I came to appreciate how diverse my mother’s homeland is—a nation of many ethnic groups, languages, and religions. Eventually, I felt confident enough to identify material culture from different parts of the Philippines. I also came face to face with complex histories brought on by colonial encounters as well as struggles Filipinos have faced since independence.

    I began to curate exhibits in the communities I lived in, and the Filipiniana I collected helped me bring to light some difficult topics. Through this work, I also sought to bring greater awareness and advocacy for the Filipino American experience.

    Today, 4 million people of Filipino ancestry live across the United States. Our history on this continent goes back to the late 1500s, yet many in our community share feelings of invisibility for reasons too complex to explain concisely; however, a large part is arguably due to a history of underrepresentation in the educational system and popular media and the fact that Filipino spaces are few and far between.

    So, where does that leave young Filipino Americans like myself who want to know our history? For me, this became a personal journey through memories, stories, collecting, and engaging in full-fledged research and studies abroad.

    Healing through Object Storytelling

    Object storytelling is a process and practice that has been healing for me. It has been a means for transcending past traumas of bullying, racism, and even domestic violence I experienced as a child by a male parental figure who found fault in me for not living up to his expectations of masculinity. It has helped me to take agency over my own life.

    In adulthood, I set out on my own, living in and out of homeless shelters while struggling to work and attend community college. I put faith in the notion that education would bring a brighter future, words both my grandfather and mother instilled upon me in my youth. I graduated magna cum laude and was offered a scholarship to a four-year university. This began my transition from homelessness to dormitory living with a full meal plan and a greater semblance of stability.

    Gallery
    Printout of a newspaper article with the headline: From homeless to hopeful: Tumpag pledges to help others. On top of the paper, a pair of toy boxing gloves, one with the Philippines flag design and the other with American flag.
    This copy of a Lambuth University article highlights my journey from homelessness to university life. Education was a Godsend for me and opened many doors of opportunity that I am forever grateful for.
    Photo by Anthonie Tumpag
    An old dagger in wooden sheath carved with a leaf design. Behind it, photo of a boy in cowboy costume.
    While games like Cowboys & Indians seemed fun as a child, retrospectively, they painted grand stereotypes of Native peoples as “savage” among other things. Into adulthood, I learned that such stereotypes were also ascribed to my people. The dagger here is known as a talibong, a traditional blade of my people in the Visayas islands. This particular dagger is attributed to the Panay highlands and features a naga or bat hilt called uyutang.
    Photo by Anthonie Tumpag
    On the left, hat made from half of a dried brown gourd, with a brown cord strap. On the right, old photo  of a kid wearing a brimmed hat.
    Here I am wearing a colorfully woven hat made of pandanus. The gourd hat is called a kattukong among my Ilocano people and is sometimes associated with revolutionary freedom fighters during the Spanish and American period.
    Photo by Anthonie Tumpag
    In the foreground, a stereoscope card with doubled image of a group of people in a courtyard. The photo rests against a tan wooden instrument. In the background, photo of a young man holding the same type of instrument, with a rectangular body, held like a guitar.
    The boat lute is a traditional musical instrument once found in several parts of the Philippines. In some cultures, it is paired with the bamboo zither, featured here. The stereoscope card reads, “Bagobo Maids, Philippine Village circa 1904.” The Philippine Village was part of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition where Native people from the Philippines were showcased in human zoos as part of colonial propaganda to legitimize so called “civilizing feats” by U.S. colonizers.
    Photo by Anthonie Tumpag (stereoscope card, © T. W. Ingersoll, 1904)
    In the center, a photo of a man holding up a small white box with an ornament inside, standing next to a woman. Around the photo, other small ornaments made of metal or polished stone. Some are abstract shapes, some depict animals or human figures.
    The lingling-o is an ornament found in the Philippine Cordillera. Variations are found throughout the Philippines in the archaeological record and even across Southeast Asia. They remind me of the ancient trade, migration, and cultural exchange between people of the region. The photo is taken at the Field Museum while touring their Philippine collection with my mother. Together we pose with the lingling-o ornament I helped interpret for their Philippine exhibit.
    Photo by Anthonie Tumpag

    My culture and elders’ teachings guided me along some rocky points. I drew inspiration from old adages and the histories of a resilient Filipino people. I dug deeper, questioning culturally established norms in my culture like machismo among other byproducts of colonialism. I focused my attention on how gender is viewed through a nonwestern lens. I learned that among different cultures of Southeast Asia including some in the Philippines, gender was thought to be more fluid. I read about times in history when cultures valued those in their community who embodied what we today consider non-binary.

    Moreover, gendered objects helped me convey this knowledge to others. For instance, variations of Southeast Asian material culture similar to lingling-o helped me to find peace with myself, that I didn’t have to fit into this Western notion of masculinity, that my culture and ancestors had already carved out space where I too belong.

    Object Lessons

    Research became my ticket to reconnect with the diverse world I read about in my early childhood. I was accepted to my university’s Ronald McNair Scholars program which mentors minority students who dream of one day attaining their PhD like the program’s namesake, Dr. Ronald E. McNair, the second Black astronaut who tragically died in the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion. Through the program, I developed and presented research on the topic of the Filipino American experience at conferences and delved into the research fairs circuit.

    This work helped me see that there is value in my people’s history and experiences. My senior year, while studying the impacts of cultural tourism upon Indigenous peoples, I booked a flight to reconnect with family in the Philippines, visiting places like Baguio where many of the Filipiniana I had collected was originally produced. It became a homecoming in so many ways.

    Gallery
    An old dagger in wooden sheath carved with a leaf design. Behind it, photo of a boy in cowboy costume.
    The Ronald E. McNair Scholars Program has been instrumental in helping me understand the value of research and advocacy for my people. My lolo’s college transcript also helped instill the value of an education.
    Photo by Anthonie Tumpag
    On the left, hat made from half of a dried brown gourd, with a brown cord strap. On the right, old photo  of a kid wearing a brimmed hat.
    Visiting a handicraft vendor in Baguio.
    Photo courtesy of Anthonie Tumpag
    In the foreground, a stereoscope card with doubled image of a group of people in a courtyard. The photo rests against a tan wooden instrument. In the background, photo of a young man holding the same type of instrument, with a rectangular body, held like a guitar.
    Standing next to an oversized dabakan drum with ornate okir designs, used particularly among Muslim people of Mindanao. The pommel, or dagger handle, also uses okir design, forming an abstract cockatoo.
    Photo by Anthonie Tumpag
    In the center, a photo of a man holding up a small white box with an ornament inside, standing next to a woman. Around the photo, other small ornaments made of metal or polished stone. Some are abstract shapes, some depict animals or human figures.
    On the road to Baguio, I stopped to pose with an oversized statue similar to the ones I used to display at home in the States.
    Photo by Anthonie Tumpag
    In the center, a photo of a man holding up a small white box with an ornament inside, standing next to a woman. Around the photo, other small ornaments made of metal or polished stone. Some are abstract shapes, some depict animals or human figures.
    Visiting a group of vendors who set up shop under a bridge. Depicted are many Filipiniana found in my own collection.
    Photo by Anthonie Tumpag
    In the center, a photo of a man holding up a small white box with an ornament inside, standing next to a woman. Around the photo, other small ornaments made of metal or polished stone. Some are abstract shapes, some depict animals or human figures.
    Hand-painted pottery and utensils showing both geometric and organic designs.
    Photo by Anthonie Tumpag
    In the center, a photo of a man holding up a small white box with an ornament inside, standing next to a woman. Around the photo, other small ornaments made of metal or polished stone. Some are abstract shapes, some depict animals or human figures.
    Kneeling in front of a large mural at the Baguio Botanical Garden. I was lucky to find a small-scale carving at a thrift store in the Chicago suburbs. The cloth is known as a tapis from the Ifugao people. The bamboo flute has geometric designs attributed to the Cordillera region and may perhaps be a tongali nose flute. The large mural depicts a woman playing a similar flute with her nose.
    Photo by Anthonie Tumpag

    Later, as I pursued my master’s degree in anthropology at Northern Illinois University, I connected with members of the Filipino community of Greater Chicago. This led to opportunities with the Philippine-co-curation program at the Field Museum, where we engaged with the museum in a collaborative effort to identity and better understand 10,000 objects their anthropologists had collected since the 1900s. I was one of the guest speakers at the program’s opening ceremony and served as presenter at later events engaging in object storytelling around themes like gendered objects. I also helped in co-curating a Philippine exhibit in the Field Museum’s Regenstein Pacific Hall.

    Moving to Chicago, a large hub for Filipinos, also afforded me a chance to reconnect with Filipino food at local restaurants and grocery stores, as well as participate in Filipino community festivities like Simbang Gabi during Christmas. Through these spaces, I further grew my networks and created new memories.

    Meanwhile over the years, I continued my own independent exhibition work curating exhibits at NIU’s Southeast Asian Collections gallery. While sharing Philippine cultures in my new Midwest community, I also highlighted my experiences studying abroad in other countries like Madagascar and Indonesia. As a summer intern at the Smithsonian’s Summer Institute in Museum Anthropology, I trained under esteemed professionals and developed my own preliminary research on the institution’s large collections of Cordillera wooden utensils of the Philippines.

    Today, I continue to explore opportunities related to my professional passions. I am fortunate to live in the Greater Chicago area as a community cultural worker because of the rich diversity in the area. I have been lucky enough to participate in area cultural programming, particularly with members of the Chicago Cultural Alliance. From volunteering to help digitize FANHS Greater Chicago photographic collections to curating a digital exhibition in response to the pandemic with the Trickster Cultural Center, I am grateful to help share our collective voice on issues that matter, like community building.

    Gallery
    Display of a brown wooden carving of two people riding an ox, a white embroidered face mask, and a photo of women in nurse uniforms, all on a white backdrop.
    Much of my cultural work is dedicated to my mother. Displayed next to her is a couple riding a carabao in the midst of farm work. The mask reminds me of her ties to healthcare as a nurse. The designs and fabric are the same as those used in traditional Filipino attire.
    Photo by Anthonie Tumpag
    Objects in the glass shelves of an exhibit, including bright beaded jewelry in yellow, red, red, and black, black-and-white portrait photos, dark brown bowls and other containers, and tan woven items.
    Designing and curating an exhibit at my alma mater, Northern Illinois University, entitled Pride of the Philippines. The exhibit sought to bring Indigenous and Muslim art to the forefront while gaining insight into the peoples’ cultural wisdom, technology, and innovation.
    Photo by Anthonie Tumpag
    On the left, photo of a young boy in a restaurant, posing next to a statue of a large humanoid bee with red coat jacket and red and yellow striped abdomen. On the right, smaller figurine of the same bee.
    Standing beside a statue of the famous Jollibee. The restaurant is among the more popular mainstream Filipino products, with chains found across the United States, including three in Chicago.
    Photo by Anthonie Tumpag
    A photo of two people holding a rectangular box containing a piece of tan bamboo. Behind the photo, a blackened tablet with script in another language etched in.
    The Field Museum’s anthropology collections manager Jamie Kelly invited my mother and me to the Philippine Vaults, where 10,000 artifacts are housed. Here he shows an example of precolonial Philippine writing etched on a bamboo tube. The Filipiniana object is a replica of the Laguna Copperplate which is the oldest attested written document of the Philippines, dating back to roughly 900 CE.
    Photo by Anthonie Tumpag
    A man in white dress shirt and beaded necklace stands in front of a glass display case of a museum.
    Standing in front of the Philippine exhibit at the Field Museum. One of the items showcased is a lingling-o which I helped to interpret.
    Photo courtesy of Anthonie Tumpag
    Two photos: in one, a man wearing blue latex gloves handles an object in a museum collection. In front of him, boxes full of carved wooden spoons arranged on a table. In the other, closeup on bare hands holding a dark wooden spoon. Around the photos, eight wooden spoons, each carved with a human figure as the handle.
    In 2016, I was an intern at the Smithsonian’s Summer Institute in Museum Anthropology, where I conducted preliminary research on the significance of Cordillera figural utensils. This material culture is slowly undoing centuries of colonial trauma that forced my people to forget. Surrounding the photo is my own collection of Cordillera utensils highlighting the different styles and accessories.
    Photo by Anthonie Tumpag
    In the center, photo of four people seated on a stage, one speaking into a microphone. Under the photo, arrangement of three types of woven cloth: one purple and black, one purple and yellow plaid, and one white and blue with geometric pattern.
    Presenting at a panel discussion on traditional and contemporary regalia at a Trickster Cultural Center program titled “Culturally Powered.” The fabrics featured represent various parts of my heritage from the northern to central islands of the Philippines.
    Photo by Anthonie Tumpag
    A man in embroidered face mask and gold pendants on necklaces holds up a small abstract painting in yellow and purple. Behind him on a gallery wall, other paintings and display cases.
    Showcasing part of my collection and artworks for the exhibit Distant Journeys of Cultural Exchange that I curated in collaboration with ATAYAL at Trickster Cultural Center in 2021.
    Photo courtesy of Anthonie Tumpag
    Two dark wooden carvings of naked people, knees slightly bent. Under them, bright red, yellow, and black striped textile.
    A pair of bulul rice granary statues from the Philippine Cordilleras standing guard over the exhibition. Traditional and contemporary material culture intersected to tell broader stories on resilience, community, and spirituality during the height of the pandemic.
    Photo by Anthonie Tumpag
    In the center, photo of four people standing in a circle in a gallery, one holding a string of beads. Arranged underneath the photo, in the shape of a smile, a necklace of beads in various shapes and styles, mostly in maroon, yellow, blue, brown, and white.
    Brief object storytelling with a group at Waterways: Our Ties to Water & One Another, an exhibit I designed and curated with ATAYAL and in collaboration with Muslim American Leadership Alliance in 2021. Here I show my strand of Philippine trade beads, explaining that even beads can tell stories of cross-cultural exchange as they travel to new locales and are adopted into cultures and ascribed new meanings. The Kalinga-inspired necklace shown below is made of beads from across the globe.
    Photo by Anthonie Tumpag
    A dark wooden spoon with embroidery-like pattern in black, white, and red on the handle, and a small dark wooden figurine of a person, on top of a light hatched wooden platter, with an image of a man riding an ox and a woman carrying vegetables in a tray on top of her head.
    A grouping of Filipiniana from different regions.
    Photo by Anthonie Tumpag

    My family photographs remain invaluable to me for so many reasons. They remind me where I came from, guide me on a path of self-discovery and belonging, and provide opportunities to share with others along the way. Objects of Filipiniana, my unexpected travel companions, have proved an unexpected treasure. Encountering these objects across space and time has brought both comfort and inspiration to me even prior to the pandemic and hopefully beyond.

    I see these as reminders of our human connections. Filipiniana objects hold different meanings for every Filipino. Some understand Filipiniana through the lens of local culture and contexts while others appreciate and interpret based on their individual experiences with them across the diaspora. No matter these differences, Filipiniana open doors of opportunity to start the conversation about who we are and share our diverse stories!

    So what stories can you tell through objects?

    Anthonie Tumpag is the regional director of Illinois for the nonprofit organization ATAYAL and a graduate of Northern Illinois University with a master’s degree in cultural anthropology and certificates in applied anthropology and art history. He has been honored as an Asian Pacific American Youth Leader by the Illinois state comptroller and recognized by the Cook County Treasurer for his commitment and dedication to the Filipino American community.

    Tumpag would like to thank all who have welcomed him into their spaces over the years including members, staff, and partners of the Chicago Cultural Alliance. This story is dedicated to all babaylanes, past and present, especially Dios Buhawi and Papa Isio from Tumpag’s ancestral homeland of Negros.


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