Mara Elissa Palma
Wellesley College, Class of 2015
Political Science and Theatre Studies
What’s your passion?
My truest passion is theatre-making, mostly as an actor but also as part of the creative technical team. I want to make theatre as a profession, a career, whatever you want to call it. I believe in theatre’s ability to tell stories, to make people think, to engage with other creative artists, audiences, and people in general, and to challenge everyone—theatre-makers and audiences alike—to do better by revealing realities people might not otherwise experience. Through this summer internship, I’ve also realized I want theatre-making to have a deeper purpose, as well. I know now that the work I want to do needs to have a social impact component because I want my work to make other peoples’ lives better. I’m not sure yet how to do that, but I’m confident the opportunity exists or better yet, I’ll have a hand in crafting such an opportunity!
Why do you support a creative economy?
I firmly believe that a career in the creative arts is just as important and reputable as any other career a person wants to pursue. Theatre requires years of training, hard work, patience, and networking… In this way, a career in Theatre Arts is similar to other professions! I support a creative economy for artists right NOW who deserve professional support and for artists in the next wave—like ME!—who want to pursue creative careers but who might not see a way to do so without sacrificing financial and personal stability.
I also think “creative” applies to more than the “traditional” fine and visual arts. The “creative economy” includes innovation and entrepreneurial pursuits that contribute not only to a country’s economic development to personal development. At the end of the day, an economy is about the people and if the people are allowed opportunities to be creative, innovative, and inventive, the people benefit from a better standard of living and the country benefits from a more competitive and innovative work force.
Why are you interested in PULSE?
I was looking for an opportunity that worked within the Creative Arts since that is my career interest. Through the Wellesley College connection (shameless plug haha!), I met Rovaira and when she talked about her company in the Philippines that worked to promote Creative Manila, I was immediately interested. It seemed the perfect opportunity to pursue my interests in the Arts and in Community Organizing as a Theatre Studies and Political Science major. Thanks to an internship grant from the Madeleine K. Albright Institute for Global Affairs, I was encouraged to pursue an internship abroad and when I heard about an opportunity to intern in the Philippines I pursued the chance!
PULSE’s mission statement also interested me because I know that a “Creative Career” is not usually talked about in conjunction with “Economic Development.” I was interested to learn more about how exactly PULSE sought to do this and why specifically the “Creative Economy.”
What interested you in diaspora?
I hadn’t heard the term in the Filipino/Filipino-American context before Rovaira showed us the MNL trailer and explained her work in the Philippines. What interested me was Rovaira’s own narrative about how she relates to the term “diaspora” and her own experiences. Her story really resonated with me and I began to realize there were others who went through similar experiences growing up as a person of color, a person of “two worlds.” Even through this internship, I’ve also expanded how I think of diaspora. Of course Filipino-American is what I have the most experience with, but there are Filipinos all over the world and I have no idea what their lives and experiences are like living in those countries around the world.
What is your diaspora story?
My parents and I migrated to the United States to seek better job opportunities for them and better education (among others) opportunities for me. I remember growing up and oftentimes I was the only person of color in my classes. It wasn’t until college that I became interested in Asian/Asian-American issues and that was also when I met other Filipinas my age through Wellesley’s Club Filipina. Then, Wellesley hired Professor Alex Orquiza who taught, “U.S. and the Philippines: 1896-1945” my junior year, a historical survey looking at the relationship between the 2 countries. That class really opened my eyes and widened my horizons, so they say! I came to the realization that I didn’t really know that much about my home country or really my home countries (plural), that I suddenly wanted to know more, and that I was really interested in this topic. During that time period, Typhoon Hai-yan hit, and the entire Wellesley community, led by our Club Filipina group, came together to talk about the events, think critically about the media attention surrounding, and dealing with our own feelings of helplessness and uselessness half a world away. A few months later, Rovaira came to talk with Club Filipina at Wellesley about PULSE and I was struck with a funny idea that I wanted to go back to the Philippines, and the PULSE internship program might just be such an opportunity to do so.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve been thinking about how I want to give back to the community I’ve come from because it gave me so much. Part of my diaspora story is one of a returning migration of sorts because now I’ve got it in my head to pursue opportunities that will allow me to come back to the Philippines or to create lasting, sustainable, impactful change for Filipinos.
What do you think is Manila’s pulse?
This one’s a tough one because Manila and the Metro Manila area are so large; I couldn’t say there’s just ONE thing that could be considered Manila’s pulse. If I had to simplify, I’d say Manila’s pulse lies in the connection between past and present. I see there is an interest in preserving and remembering the nation’s history but there is an eye towards where people want the country to be and where they want the country to go in the next decade or so. Within the arts, I’d say the Film and TV creative scenes are the most “alive” while the Theater, Dance, Music, Performance, and Visual Arts creative scenes are emerging slowly, but steadily. Maybe Manila has so many different pulses, that everyone truly can march to their own BEAT! There is amazing creative work happening in Manila, and I’ve been able to see many different theatrical productions where I’ve been blown away (in a great way) at the talent. The productions I’ve seen have inspired and encouraged me that Filipino artists are just as relevant and important as ever.
What are examples of experiences or thoughts you’ve had while here?
The human connection is still a powerful force in the Philippines. I’ve seen how easily my Titas and Titos can strike up conversations with perfect strangers. In some instances, those conversations pay off well –we’ll get a good tip on where to sit in a theater or people around us join in and everyone feels less anxious while waiting in line. In the States, I’ve noticed how much computerization makes personal interactions less frequent and “cold.” I know I’m going to miss the warmth and kindness of the many folks I’ve met or even just briefly interacted with here in the Philippines.
Your family will take care of you, and you will always take care of your family. Families here are tight-knit units, even if daughters and sons move away to another city to live and work. I am so touched by the amount of care and time people will put into visiting their loved ones, even if they have to take a plane, train, car, tricycle, whatever! My family helped take care of me in so many different ways when I came to Manila this summer, and the fact that some of them weren’t really related by blood made me so grateful that my mom and I have such wonderful people in our lives who will go out of their way to spend time with me and help me get settled in a new city. I know that I want to pay it forward and help them in whatever ways I can (especially if they come visit me in the States!).
Creative Manila is vibrant as ever but what is missing is more support and infrastructure to encourage growth and sustainability. There’s plenty of talent in the Philippines and that is so encouraging and exciting to realize! However, in all of our conversations with folks within PULSE’s network and some with those outside of it, it’s clear that there isn’t enough support, especially monetary support, in order for the creative industry to really take off. I’m interested in where PULSE might be in five years but for now, I’m trying to learn as much as I can so that I might be able to contribute to the progress in building up a growing creative economy and finding a way to make lasting change.
There is more than enough woman- and manpower in this country that could be optimized in such a way to benefit the people and the country, even on a global scale. One thing I’ve had to adjust to is the sheer number of people everywhere. I’m not much of a city girl and I live in rural Western Massachusetts (much love to the 4-1-3!). Certain things, like malls for example, are different in the Philippines because there are so many salespeople ready to help you with making purchases, answer questions, etc. I’ve been wondering why I see so much wealth disparity between the wealthy and the poor. Is it about not having enough jobs? Or is it about those jobs having low wages that no one can make a living off of it? Why is the wealth so concentrated and is there ever hope that such a phenomenon will change? The Philippines could do some amazing work to boost the economy using its woman- and manpower because ultimately a country is made of people. Focus on the people, and give the people what they need and want.
How do you think this experience will influence your lives back home?
As with any travel experience, I cannot see things the same way again. My experience has challenged me to think more deeply about whether there might be a possibility to spend a longer period of time here in the Philippines after college. It has strengthened my belief that I want to give something back to this country that I also call my own. It doesn’t matter what citizenship or passport I hold, I discovered I have a deeper calling to contribute something positive to the Philippines. I have discovered that I want to work with an organization focused on social impact and even better, would be working with an “emerging” market. I want to go where I could make the most difference and for me, that’s some place that could benefit most by my contribution and skills. I’ll take these experiences with me, and I know my academic pursuits in school and career pursuits afterward will be geared towards creative work in conjunction with social impact.