Saturday, April 2, 2016

Filipino American Youths: Remembering the Kids at SIPA

Dark Horse, movie

We saw a wonderful movie from New Zealand, Dark Horse, based on the true story of Genesis Potini, who suffered from bipolar disorder, and who, after being confined in medical facilities for a year, starts a chess club for youths. Potini is Maori and the kids he deals with are underprivileged kids, children of gang members, the type of kids who, as one of them did, tried to burn a school down. The movie is somewhat painful to watch because of the almost hopeless condition Potini and the kids are in, but at the risk of spoiling the movie for you, I will let you know that it ends on a high note.

Genesis Potini

The real Genesis Potini ran the chess club for years before he died at the young age of 47. During the last decade of his life, he made a strong contribution to his community and is called a “hero.”
The movie, Dark Hose, has been called “one of the greatest New Zealand films ever made.”

This movie touched me very much because these Maori youths who had nothing to look forward to except for abuse, failure, and narrow painful lives, found a way, via chess, to experience a bigger world, and most important, to free their minds and hope for something better. That was what it was, really, Potini’s chess club gave the kids the opportunity to open the doors of their minds to other possibilities of what they could do. 

Strangely (or perhaps not so strangely) I recalled how, many years ago, I received a grant to conduct writing workshops at a nonprofit that served Filipino American youths. It was called SIPA (Search for involvement of Pilipino Americans) and was located in Los Angeles. I had funding from the California Arts Council to conduct three or four Saturday workshops.

SIPA kids now, not the ones I taught

SIPA was something like a Boys’ or Girls’ Club where Filipino American youths went for programs or to hangout. Some of those kids were or had been involved in gang life. To be honest, I was somewhat nervous to teach there, but off I went with notebooks, pens, and snacks for the kids. Joel F. Jacinto, who ran (and continues to run SIPA) brought me to our classroom. There were around 20 teenagers, boys and girls, mostly Filipino Americans, although there was one Latino young man, named Lobo, who looked tough and whom the kids looked up to. They were all dressed neatly; they were polite; they behaved; they paid attention; and they did their exercises and so on.

For three or four Saturdays, I went to SIPA, and the kids showed up on time, with their homework, and they kept up their exceptional good behavior. I did not at the time fully appreciate what went on, but when I saw the movie, Dark Horse, I saw in those Maori kids, the same SIPA kids whom I taught. And I understood what it must have meant to the SIPA kids to study creative writing, to open their minds to the possibility of being a writer, a poet perhaps, instead of being a gang member, or a bad kid, or a child from a broken home.

I recall two memorable incidences. 

I gave them a visualization exercise and had them write, and two young men were stunned to have written poems. Regie was the name of one kid, and he almost turned pale from shock that he wrote a poem. The other fellow who was surprised at his writing was the bad-looking dude, Lobo. Lobo was not as shocked in appearance as Regie was -- Lobo would never be shocked -- he stood up … or swaggered up … and read his poem with confidence, and the entire group applauded him. Their leader had written a POEM.

I don’t know what happened to Lobo, but one day, years after that workshop, I received a letter from Regie informing me that the workshop had changed his life and he was now a counselor in a nonprofit.

The movie, Dark Horse, brought the memory of those SIPA teenagers again. And I thought about the grant money given to me, and how if it changed the lives of one or two or more of those kids, it was money well spent.

Read also
 Tags: youth, teenagers, community, Dark Horse, movie, SIPA, Filipinos, Filipino American, gang members, writing, teaching

This is all for now,

No comments: