Ancient art and traditions

Catching a glimpse of the Lion Dance from the Great Hall balcony
Catching a glimpse of the Lion Dance from the Great Hall balcony

We were crazy enough to attend the Lunar New Year festival yesterday at the Met in New York City.

It was nerve-wracking, trying to catch glimpses of performances and art pieces as we maneuvered our way through the swarm of fellow Asians filling the halls of the vast museum. And all this with kids in tow.

Chinese music performed by a youth orchestra surrounded by ancient art
Chinese music performed by a youth orchestra surrounded by ancient art

But it was well worth it, experiencing with other young families the beauty and history contained within such awe-inspiring traditions and art, some of which were thousands of years old! It was worth a chance encounter as well.

Just before heading out the door, I had parked our poor wilted panganay (oldest child) on a bench with our friends before going to the comfort room (as restrooms are called back home). An Asian man was sitting near her and raised his eyebrows at her several times, in an almost comical way. The eyebrows were a dead giveaway – she knew at once he was Pinoy (Filipino). For Pinoys, as she well knew, are experts at conveying emotions, greetings, and even teasing with a mere lift of the eyebrows.

Learning about the types of Chinese tea
Learning about the types of Chinese tea

I heard the full story on my return – he and his wife had started talking about my daughter in Tagalog, my native language, only to realize by her reactions that she understood every single word. He greeted me by a name I almost never hear – “Kababayan!” Fellow countryman. Memories of home flooded my heart instantly, and the couple and I started chatting away like old friends. I learned their two young sons, who were born here in the U.S., also knew how to speak Tagalog and attended a gifted and talented school in the City. I was impressed, not so much by their brilliant kids – I know quite a few – but by their desire to pass on their native language to their children. A rarity in the past, I’m now happy to see a resurgence of this tradition in young families here with Tagalog-speaking parents.

A beautiful (gigantic) ceramic teapot
A beautiful (gigantic) ceramic teapot

I jokingly tell my friends sometimes that the only prenuptial agreement I had with my husband was that I would teach our future kids Tagalog. It is an uphill climb, teaching your kids a “second” language your spouse doesn’t speak. But it is part of who I am – part of who they are – and I insist upon their learning it. It is but one key to the rich heritage that comes from being Filipino, no matter how infinitesimally small a part of one’s genes it may be.

Making a Chinese good fortune banner
Making a Chinese good fortune banner

I came to the museum expecting to appreciate ancient Chinese traditions, and came away renewed in my appreciation of our Filipino traditions as well.

Tagalog-speaking or not, it is my hope that with the help of the ideas in this blog, other children and families may be able to discover and appreciate their Filipino roots, their rich heritage, and the joy that comes from living it.

Mabuhay! 

Emy

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