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Mabuhay - A FilAm Indie Film

Written by: Gladys Bayani Heitzman

Mabuhay (2023) is an independent project adapted from the short film Reina (2019). The filmmakers behind this project, Aronjonel Villaflor and Lou “Din” Pastrana, are Filipino American creatives who wanted to tell a story that represents the Filipino American experience by preserving and transforming the oral histories of their families and friends into a tangible, documented narrative as a gift to the future Filipino American generations and the country as a whole.

The film tells a coming of age story about a young Filipino American woman living in metro-Detroit. Reina, an unassertive yet creative college student, struggles to find the balance between embracing her identity and individualism and feeling pressured to conform to the expectations and values of her Filipino immigrant family. 

As Filipinos and Filipino Americans, we need to be discerning and critical of commercialized representations of ourselves and our culture, heritage, and history. “There’s no such thing as bad publicity,” or “all publicity is good publicity” are white-capitalist myths which support the notion that any or all mentions in the media aid a cause, even when put in a bad light. This is obviously not true in regard to people and communities of color when they are constantly subjugated to, and negatively affected by, racial stereotypes and warped portrayals in popular media. Whether a product of the culture industry is revisionist, counterrevolutionary, or simply distasteful, we need to be aware of the context of these media products as methods of lowering class consciousness, promoting hegemony (mainstream “Western” global capitalist culture), and containing or silencing the true narratives, aims, and concerns of the masses. 

That is why, to me, Mabuhay is so important. It is the positive and real representation our community needs—it is a film about Filipino Americans for Filipino Americans written by Filipino Americans. The Filipino American community is often misrepresented—if we get representation at all—in American media. Empowerment is crucial in the journey to reclaim Filipino American representation and to ensure that our stories are told authentically and honestly. 

The story location and the specific setting of the Filipino American community in Michigan is a deliberate and intentional choice by the filmmakers to highlight the universality of their experience while also sharing the context of their cultural customs. Filipino Americans are not a monolith—no community is, but by sharing the lived experiences of members within their community, Aronjonel and Din aim to represent their community in a way that is more complete, complex, and empathetic. The project at its core focuses on the theme of shared humanity, giving us insight and wisdom on how to learn and grow in harmony among our different communities. Together, let us uplift each other by celebrating our similarities, differences, and histories.

You can support and contribute to this project by donating to the Mabuhay IndieGoGo campaign or, by promoting and sharing the campaign and project content through your social media platforms and by tagging @mabuhaymovieofficial. 

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