On Artivism & Filipino Diasporic Movements

If you could envision a world where true freedom was the heartbeat of your neighborhood, what would it look like? What would it feel like? 

At The Laundromat Project, artists and neighbors are at the center of that heartbeat. With resources and support from The LP, Bed-Stuy artists and neighbors are building a sustainable, liberated, and more equitable future. 

The LP deeply believes that when artists and communities collaborate toward collective visions, they create meaningful transformation, which leads to greater well-being. This is the Theory of Change that grounds our work.

Today, we find ourselves witnessing the devastating effects of hyper-capitalism as it reverberates around the world. Collective action, grassroots organizing, and political protest efforts to end genocide, ethnic cleansing, displacement, and state-sanctioned violence within communities of color are taking place both nationally and internationally. Among these organized efforts is the widespread activist movement to end feudalism, bureaucrat capitalism, and U.S. imperialism within Filipino communities. 

This month, for Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, I sat down with Alex Huaylinos (Artist & Community Development Coordinator at The LP) and actor, writer, and cultural worker Lianah Sta. Ana to learn more about the ongoing struggle to end oppression against Filipino communities both in the U.S. and abroad, and how artivists are leading the charge.

Kas Merriwether | Marketing & Communications Coordinator at The LP

Artivism (n.)
The practice of promoting a political agenda through acts considered to be art, such as the defacing of advertisments. 
Teachers and Writers Magazine

A Brief History of the Philippines

But first, here’s a brief political timeline of the Philippines:


According to the Philippine Society & Revolution by Jose Maria Sison, even after gaining independence, the concentration of power in the Philippines remained in the hands of the same land-owning elite (i.e. the top  %1). The residential landlord class and U.S. nationalists maintained the presence of U.S. armed forces and military bases, passed treaties in favor of U.S. imperialism, and currently intervene in Filipino politics. 

Artists Advocating and Organizing for Human Rights in Filipino Communities

Global Philippines-based arts alliances like RESBAK are taking a stand through creative practice. RESBAK produced a local exhibition at City College of NY to highlight the stark realities of the drug killings under the Duterte administration in the Philippines. The RESBAK exhibition was curated by Jaclyn Reyes, of the Little Manila Queens: Bayanihan Arts project (2020 Artist-in-Residence at The LP). Visit the Little Manila Queens website for more info.

On a national scale, the Mayala Movement USA, a network of Filipino human rights activists, produces artistic political signage calling for an end to fascist dictatorship in the Philippines. “Makibaka! Huwag Matakot!” is a chant popularized by the student/youth-led movement in the 1970s/80s in response to the dictatorship instituted by former President Ferdinand Marcos Sr. under the policy of Martial Law. It continues to be used in Filipino movements today.

Locally, New York 4 Philippine Human Rights Act Coalition held a vigil on October 18, 2021, in South Brooklyn and created an altar observing the united day of action, commemorating the lives lost under Duterte in the Philippines, and demanding the passage of the Philippine Human Rights Act, which was introduced June 14, 2021.

These examples of artistic resistance efforts demonstrate that art and activism across Filipino diasporic movements are inseparable. Together, they work to create new pathways for collective memory, resistance, and freedom. Using our artistic backgrounds as context, Alex, Lianah, and I delve into the power of interdisciplinary art in documenting and amplifying global movements for freedom. 

Read along to learn how our creative practices shape cultural narratives, challenge systems of oppression, and advocate for liberation within communities of color. 

The Interview

KAS: How did artmaking and political advocacy find you?

LIANAH: I started thinking critically about organizing and getting involved in organizing efforts when I first started working professionally. The first show I did was called Miss Saigon, which is about the Vietnam War. 

Lianah Sta. Ana plays Kim in “Miss Saigon” on Broadway. Photograph by Matthew Murphy.

I wanted to go to school for ethnic studies, because of that experience, because I wanted to understand more critically, the show…its role in the larger ideological development of consciousness…the dissemination of ideology through media. I wanted to understand that more. How popular representation of Asian bodies, marginalized bodies, oppressed bodies on stages affect their material realities. That was where it started. My organizing and my artist work are emotional and they influence each other.

KAS: I love that it came to you in practice. What about you, Alex? 

ALEX: Yeah, I’ve had a number of different intersections with art and developed different artistic practices throughout my life. Mostly as a musician, playing folk arts and singing folk songs. But I think where my own artistry intersected with advocacy or organizing was when I took my first photography class.

In college, I took my first photography class and was prompted to do a photo series on something that I cared about or was interested in. I’d been seeing or at least heard of protests against, [in support of] DACA, against the Border Patrol in the United States, so I centered my project on taking photographs of protests in action.  I had a lot of friends with particular immigration stories that were subjected to those difficulties. My own family. I’m Filipino and Indigenous, as well. And, you know, [those communities] have those same sorts of histories of difficult (im)migration stories. That experience propelled me toward being interested in local community advocacy.

“At least to me, community work is its own type of artistry, its own type of creative work, which led me to be more involved with community boards and organizing.”

KAS: From your POV, what is the role of art in influencing and amplifying political initiatives within communities of color? 

ALEX: I think being a person of color or sustaining a community of color in a colonial entity, like the United States, means that your existence, your communities, are inherently political. Constantly having to negotiate the terms of your rights, of your existence even, in certain cases. And I think, you know, just broadly speaking, the role of art in influencing or amplifying community voices within these types of politics is to punctuate the dominant histories, stories, and indexical narratives. There is a very deep historical and economic history behind the Filipino diaspora. 

Alex and family friends posed for Christmas pictures in Corona, Queens, 2005. 

Growing up Filipino in Queens, every other person would ask me ‘Oh, you’re Filipino. Do you know anything about the Philippines? Is anyone in your family a nurse?’. I think it’s a really interesting question because there is a reason why there are so many Filipino nurses. It’s part of the national labor policy of the Philippines, called the Labor Export Policy, to export a large majority of the working-class population to overseas jobs so they can work overseas, funnel money back home to their families, and also to the national economy. 

I think the role where art comes into play in commenting on that type of policy, that kind of reality, is one: bringing it to light. It’s the kind of history that you are not going to learn within the Filipino diaspora, or in a class in New York City, or maybe not even in the Philippines. I think artists are trained to observe. Artists are trained to look at things from their own analytical perspective. And so they’re able to draw parallel threads between what is people’s lived realities versus what is a construed vision of reality. The artist has the opportunity to be part of the historical making, the storytelling process of movements, of histories.

LIANAH: I started thinking about my artistic work as cultural work. I like to think of my own artistic work as a way to influence how we relate to each other, how we relate to our communities, and how we relate to everything in the world around us. I think the ways in which theatre specifically can influence, you know, legislation or political development of Filipino communities…One I mean, it literally can bring us together in a space performance space…It makes that connection possible. 

All art has an ideological standpoint, whether knowingly or unknowingly. In my own practice, I intentionally align with ways in which I can actively stand for the working class. And so, thinking about the ways that art can change how we think about the world …I think that’s really powerful and informing our artistic practice.

KAS: Digging into the cultural history of Filipino communities and bringing to light all the cultural and political contributions that are not a part of the public narrative is really powerful and definitely influential in the space of policy and public health. 

ALEX: Before we go on to the next question, I just want to respond. I think what Lianah said is key to our conversation. The emphasis on the working class. We’re talking about the role of art in political initiatives. Art is a medium for protest. Art is a tool of the working class, not just as a way to let their voices be heard, but to materialize their lived realities. And that’s the very powerful and poignant ability of art within working-class movements or protest movements, within solidarity movements because it forces people to reckon with things that they may only think of theoretically or daydream about.

LIANAH: I love that connection you’re making Alex. I’m also thinking specifically of the example that you were giving before regarding Filipino nurses. I feel like when I talk to someone about Filipinos being nurses, they assume that it’s just a natural part of being Filipino. But what are the specific material realities that make becoming nurses such a trend? 

ALEX: In 1903, President Taft passed the Pensionado Act which allowed certain Filipino students to study in American colleges, and that facilitated one of the first major waves of Filipino American migration from the Philippines to the United States. So, we have this establishment within the institution of higher education, visitor exchange programs specifically for Filipinos to pursue nursing because that was the need during the 1902 cholera epidemic, but also a need during a time of colonial occupation in the Philippines.

LIANAH: That was a really great historical overview. Filipinos aren’t nurses, just because like that’s like, like in our nature, but because that’s the way to survive because of the historical circumstances.

ALEX: Elmhurst, during the pandemic, right 2020 was labeled as the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic, if not in the Northeast within the country. Elmhurst Hospital, a public hospital, was right in the middle of that epidemic. And that hospital, in particular, has a very high percentage of Filipino nurses. There was a photo and visual art installation put up across from the hospital in the local park just sort of uplifting those Filipino nurses, a lot of whom died because they were forced to work during a pandemic. So drawing the parallel, Filipino women being first trained in how to be nurses because of cholera as an epidemic, now you see the same thing with like the COVID-19 pandemic, being forced to work at the cost of their own health, their own lives.

An installation featuring 31 portraits of Elmhurst Hospital staff. 
Photograph by Camila Falquez (Hakim Bishara/Hyperallergic).

And the Queen’s Memory Project, which is an oral history archive and offers a podcast through the Queen’s Public Library, did a special episode, specifically speaking to Filipino nurses about what that experience was like, during the pandemic. So yeah, that’s a good example of artistry that reflects that material reality. 

KAS: What do you feel is most challenging about artivism? What aspects of this work feel most inspiring to you?

LIANAH: There’s a lot that makes it challenging. One, I mean, personally, capacity. I think assessing my own capacity as I organized while also pursuing art is challenging. Two, speaking specifically as a theatre worker, especially in this current moment, as we witness to genocide of Palestinians, there’s a lot of repression in our industry, which takes the form of losing literal jobs or losing representation, or agents and stuff like that.

I think there is this culture of idleness or silence around Palestine, where people just don’t feel empowered to speak up or speak out, or speak with people. I think it’s changing more so within the past couple of months…But yeah, navigating the industry, which might not be open to exploring how ultimately all of our struggles are connected, is a challenging thing. And that also makes participating in the industry, sometimes hard…or like even just finding the willpower to audition for things or to create art at this moment when a genocide is so pressing. 

But with that being said, I’m feeling really empowered by the art that I’m witnessing and the art that I’m creating that isn’t for the industry, that’s being created for the movement. So, yeah, I think the most challenging thing has to do with participating in the industry and still loving my art practice. Also like making a living.

ALEX: I think I could speak from both parts of that artivism spectrum. Having worked in the arts field for a while in theaters, in museums…I’ll say, to build off Lianah’s very real points, that people are being censored and people are being repressed if they speak truth to power. Institutions like museums and theaters are colonial institutions, right? They can serve an educational purpose, they can serve an entertainment purpose, but their origins are in reinforcing colonial narratives, at least in my opinion. 

What’s challenging about that is, like Liana said, speaking up, either for yourself or on behalf of your own people, or other people, even if your struggles are well-documented, whether you’re talking about the Philippines or Palestine, or you’re talking about the imperial and colonial struggles of different diasporic peoples…those types of conversations are not welcome in spaces that are conceptually, inherently colonial. So you know, professionally, it’s always a challenge to bring up those conversations. There’s an inherent sense of fear that you will lose your job.

Or, on the activism-organizing-advocacy side of things, if you present a political stance that is too divisive, you might get doxxed. You might get surveilled by either the State or radical entities. You might get, you know, red-tagged or blacklisted or, you know, something like that. And so, there’s a lot of risk assessment that goes into entering the intersectional fields of art and activism, or artivism. 

But I think what’s inspiring to me at that intersection is that there are still people who do it, right? I think that’s what’s inspiring to me. Even with all of this colonial pushback with all this state repression in our industry or just nationally, there are still people pushing forward.

KAS: I think that is the difference between a people’s movement with an engine and a story that is told in an autonomous way, and movements that die. Movements that are surveilled and repressed to the point of erasure. I love the fact that both of you are bringing up the role of colonial institutions.

I’m thinking about the work we do at The LP, supporting artists whose art practices and political alignments shine through our programs, and what it means to generate resources for people who are doing the work so they can continue to do it uninhibited. 

“Flags of Bed-Stuy” Fellows Activation at The LP Storefront on Fulton St. (2022). 
Photograph by Alejandro Jaramillo.

KAS: What’s one piece of advice you’d give to artists, healers, cultural organizers, etc. who are interested in merging political action with their creative practices? 

ALEX: What immediately came to mind is don’t do it alone. If we’re talking about a people’s movement, the power of a people’s movement is the group. It’s not an individualistic pursuit. Find friends and allies you can rely on and build with to pursue whatever it is you’re trying to create. If we’re talking about the government or police, their power is concentrated in their authority, in their political power. Our power is gained and maintained through the building of a movement, and the building up of our communities. So, that would be my piece of advice. Don’t do it alone. Talk to people. Connect with people. Build with people.

LIANAH: Yeah, that’s beautiful, Alex. My advice is to keep creating. Don’t let the pressure of creating hinder you. I had a conversation the other day with a group of artists, talking about how it’s been really hard to work on our individual art practices at this moment. Even just sitting down and trying to learn a monologue or to write a song is particularly challenging.

But then, I think about organizing and I think about being in community with people. So much of that is creative work. Organizing is creative. It has to be in order to imagine our way out of our reality, to change it. It demands creativity. My art practice informs my organizing and organizing informs my art practice. 

I think the takeaway is to embrace dialectics. Embrace the dialectical relationship that we have in our organizing practice, but also from person to person. Be affected by community, back to Alex’s point. Allow yourself to be affected. Get angry! Get sad! Create from that point. Imagine more! Even if it doesn’t feel like you can create, allow yourself to sit with that, and try to still generate movement from there. 


For Alex and Lianah, and many artists working at the front lines of justice movements, the work is ongoing and iterative. With the power of community and in true solidarity with global diasporic struggles, they feel a collective pull towards organizing as one, with a community-based practice. Artistic practices serve as a vehicle for change in liberation movements experienced by POC communities worldwide. This is what The LP seeds and supports as it continues to work in service of artists, neighbors, organizers, and cultural workers to build a more equitable and liberated society.  

Information and Resources

For more information on the history, organizing efforts, and creative political activations shared in this post, we encourage you to consult the following sources:

History, Data, and Definitions

  1. Negotiating Empire, Part II: Translation in the Philippines under Spanish Rule, 16th-19th centuries (Library of Congress Blogs)
  2. Philippine Society & Revolution (Jose Maria Sison)
  3. Philippines Events of 2023 (Human Rights Watch)
  4. The Social Conditions That Shaped Lola’s Story (The Atlantic)
  5. Anyare? Economic decline since Marcos (Sonny Africa at IBON)
  6. U.S. Imperialism in the Philippines (A History of Domestic Work and Worker Organizing) 
  7. Artivism Links and Resources (Teachers and Writers Magazine)

Organizing Efforts

  1. The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions)
  2. Theater Workers for a Ceasefire
  3. Culture in Resistance Series (Anti-Capitalism for Artists)
  4. Filipinos4Palestine
  5. Bayan USA

Creative Activations

  2. RESBAK! Arts & Resistance Against the Drug Killings (RESBAK) Curated by Jaclyn Reyes of Little Manilla Queens LP project (previous LP AiR)
  3. Vigil Altar (New York 4 Philippine Human Rights Act Coalition)


Lianah Sta. Ana

Lianah Sta. Ana is an Asian American actor, writer, and cultural worker of Filipino descent. After making her Broadway debut at 17 years old in the revival of Miss Saigon, Lianah decided to pursue a B.A. in Ethnicity and Race Studies (Columbia University, ‘22) to gain a more critical understanding of the ideologies and systems enabling popular representations of historically oppressed bodies on U.S. stages. 

Her own creative work, located at the intersection of Filipina/x/o and Filipina/x/o American culture, history, and memory, combines theory and practice to empower audiences and encourage critical consciousness. She is currently developing an experimental, new “kind-of” musical titled Performing Filipina.

Alex Huaylinos

Alexander “Alex” Huaylinos is an arts administrator, cultural worker, scholar, and educator. He is a passionate advocate for paid internships, radical education, and multivocal narratives in museums and the arts at large. Prior to The LP, Alex worked in the Marketing, Communications, and Advocacy department at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts while providing critical support to the institution’s Internships and Venue Sales teams. He holds a B.A. in Anthropological Archaeology from CUNY with complementary training in Ecology and Data Analysis. Outside of work, Alex enjoys volunteering for community projects, reading BIPOC-authored literature, museum hopping, and playing pool.

Kas Merriwether

Kas is a musician, digital storyteller, and curator of community arts experiences. They are committed to weaving visual languages of media to challenge existing systems of oppression impacting BIPOC communities in NY. As an artist themself, Kas looks to the arts as a space for healing and empowering communities, contextualizing & shaping our political realities. Prior to working with The LP, Kas served as a Grant Writer at the Brooklyn Arts Council, a Community Relations Manager at Lang Civic Engagement and Social Justice (The New School), a Co-Producer for various independent projects, including an international dialogue series, short films & podcasts, and a Transcription Intern at BRIC Arts Media. Additionally, Kas holds a B.A. in Culture & Media Studies with a concentration in filmmaking. Outside work, Kas performs original music at local venues, festivals, & community spaces, visits their friends’ arts showcases around NY, and dwells in studios to create new music & media with their friends and peers.