filipin* fatphobia is so passé
tabachoy power all the way
In 2019, Alia Ceniza Rasul was a practicing comedian that pushed herself to write a poem everyday as an exercise to process her thoughts and feelings. As the world entered lockdown, Rasul continued to share her poetry on Instagram, where numerous supporters encouraged her to keep writing. To her surprise, it was the weird, specific thoughts that she didn’t think people would find relatable that people resonated with the most.
In April 2021, a collection of Rasul’s warmhearted, sincere, and hilarious poems were published in her first poetry book, Super Important Filipina Thoughts, which reflects her musings on identity, family, navigating relationships and friendships, and growing up Filipina.
Amid Filipinx Heritage Month, Cold Tea Collective had the pleasure to chat with the Toronto-based Filipina Muslim artist, comedian, and producer on how she became a passionate storyteller by focusing on her personal experiences and the Filipinx diaspora.
A multidisciplinary storyteller
For Rasul, her identity as a Filipina Canadian plays a substantial role in many of her poems, as well as her drive towards being a multidisciplinary artist of various mediums.
From acting, performing, doing Improv, writing essays and poetry, designing greeting cards, and carrying out Tarot and Oracle readings, Rasul loves playing with a wide range of artistic mediums that spark her interest, and in doing so, she prefers to collaborate with community-building.
Rasul’s artistry stems from her natural desire to create as much as she can, simply because it brings her joy. The interconnection of her artist, comedian, and producer identity is demonstrated in her consistent curation of witty memes shared on her Instagram.
Also a founding member of the award-winning, all Filipina comedy troupe, the Tita Collective, and the previous Inclusion Director at Bad Dog Theatre, Rasul describes herself as still being in an exploratory phase.
“I still haven’t really matured in any medium yet”, explained Rasul when asked how she does it all. Nevertheless, with a strong commitment to the arts and her community, Rasul has left her mark in Toronto, where she continues to grow her online and offline presence.
A helping hand from her culture and community
Rasul believes in the notion of mutual aid and communities or collectives working to go further together. For example, a community member who had been following her work made her book possible by connecting her with a publishing company.
Community and family is a topic for several of Rasul’s poems as it is an avenue of therapy. She now appreciates how strict her mother was about family dinners and talking about their day. For her, while there’s “a lot of toxic traits that [Filipinx society] needs to be accountable for”, Filipinx culture helped with mental wellbeing.
“Always feeling like you can belong to a community is a huge part of mental health”, expressed Rasul, “Because I immigrated here by myself, I was an international student, and for a very long time, I felt isolated.”
In her feelings of alienation, Rasul turned to the Filipinx community for a sense of belonging. According to Rasul, she didn’t have doubts of finding belonging as for her, part of Filipinx culture is embracing one right away.
Pulling from family history
Rasul describes her inspiration for poems as “everyone, all the time”, but her latest source is family stories. She is currently working on a project called “15 Ways My Dad Almost Died” which illustrates the several instances her Filipino father almost died, like while singing a high note during karaoke.
As children of Asian immigrants, we often don’t realize that our parents have lived full decades before birthing us. She realized that her parents, and their parents before them, had complex lives and their personal experiences in the Filipinx Diaspora.
“With all of the anti-Asian things happening these days, I’m kind of like, well, what was it like being the only Asian in an even more racist time?” she said.
Rasul recalls the story of her grandparents moving to Syracuse, New York, during the late ‘60’s and early ‘70’s, as PhD students with a family of five children. In a period of segregation and heightened Asian racism, Rasul said that her Filipino grandparents and family eventually had to move back to the Philippines as they were the only Asian people in their school and hated it there.
See more: Filipino is just the first level
Stop and smell the roses
A project manager by trade, Rasul calls herself a lover of planning, yet found it difficult to enjoy the excitement of her projects when overwhelmed by stress. While she never liked journaling, writing poetry became her personal manifestation of the phrase, ‘stop and smell the roses’.
“It’s like paying attention to your feelings and your thoughts as opposed to just letting them flip up,” Rasul explained, “If you really indulge yourself with time, you really pay attention. The more I [write poetry], the more I understand how I think – which is very important when it comes to art.”
“There’s no point in planning and planning, and running from one project to the other, if you didn’t give yourself a chance to enjoy it,” she said.
Advocacy in artistry
In her creative journey, Rasul faced forces that harmed her confidence and slowed her down, such as the disheartening experience of being told you’re not good enough. To avoid feeling discouraged, she has an advocacy in her artistic mandate: to focus her work on what she cares about in life, such as making sure that Filipinx are heard and that their stories are told.
Part of this advocacy is the urge to speak out against anti-Asian oppression in order to tackle such issues for the next generation. For Rasul, motivation is driven by anger and frustration at the world, as well as her love for her community and fellow Filipinx and artists.
Featured image from Alia Rasul’s Instagram.
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