How Geo of Blue Scholars Makes Activism Part of Everyday Parenting
Photo: Joshua Huston
As half of the popular Seattle hip-hop duo Blue Scholars, Quibuyen – also known as Geologic, Geo for short – has inspired thousands with songs focused on socioeconomic disenfranchisement, youth disempowerment and a wide range of social justice issues.
Quibuyen and his wife Chera Amlag – parents of Ajani and Amado – say that their jobs are fulfilling (Amlag spearheads a monthly Filipino-inspired pop-up in Beacon Hill) but it's through their work as volunteer community organizer/activists, and their commitment to making activism and awareness of social concerns part of their everyday parenting, that their passion for improving people's lives is most powerfully realized.
Both have been particularly active in their Filipino community. Determined to do something to stop human trafficking and raise awareness of the struggles of Filipina women around the globe, Amlag helped establish a volunteer grassroots Filipina women's organization now called GABRIELA Seattle. To bring awareness of the senseless killing of civilians in the Philippines, Quibuyen stepped up to join the Stop the Killings Tour. The couple is committed to "a truly sovereign Philippines," says Amlag, and to reducing the gap between the rich and poor globally.
Recently, Amlag and Quibuyen took their kids on an "exposure" trip to the Philippines. The trip was organized by BAYAN-USA and designed to help the participants experience Philippine society, culture, history and politics firsthand, as well as see the daily living challenges faced by many people in that country.
"We integrated into an indigenous village in Mindanao (Southern Philippines)," says Amlag. "Our children were able to experience the daily life of the villagers on the mountain and learn about their rich culture, as well as their struggle against militarization and multi-national corporations trying to displace them to use their land for mining purposes. The indigenous children performed, danced and sang lyrics which reflected their struggles."
The trip took place after Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines, and so the family also helped with relief efforts by donating proceeds they made with their pop-up restaurant and preparing relief packages delivered to typhoon survivors. Ajani helped pack goods that were sent to areas hardest hit by the catastrophe.
"We hope as individuals who participate in these exposure trips, we are able to be better community organizers who can speak to global issues with more experience and conviction because we were able to experience and learn from those directly impacted," says Amlag of her family.
We asked Amlag and Quibuyen to tell us about how their activism impacts their parenting and how they are raising their boys to be change-makers.
You are passionate about having an impact in the world – what does that passion mean for your family?
Quibuyen: I guess it's just our way of paying everything forward. Neither of us would be here if it weren't for passionate family members, friends, colleagues who we've been blessed to be surrounded with constantly striving to make their homes, neighborhoods, workplaces, cities better. To be a part of a circle of passionate people means it also becomes a part of you, and you want to contribute to make things better not only for yourself, but others as well, because all their good work impacts you, too.
Amlag: I believe my passion translates into my two sons seeing their mother not afraid to stand up for what is just and right and to hopefully understand their role in women's liberation and dismantling of patriarchy.
Activism is clearly very important to you. How is this reflected in your parenting?
Amlag: It's an opportunity to shape the world (we) want to live in. How we parent is definitely a form of activism because we are parenting the world's future. One concrete example we do in our household is to teach our kids the importance of working class people. Before we eat dinner, our eldest son thanks the farmers, workers, truck drivers, grocery store baggers – everyone contributing to his ability to eat the food before him. It's this awareness of others and our interconnectedness that is important for us to teach our kids.
Did becoming parents intensity your activist notions?
Amlag: I became a mom at 24. It was a time where I was just out of college and beginning to take my activism off campus. I brought my eldest son to a lot of meetings, rallies, educational discussions. Ajani grew up in a community of activists and artists, where everyone was "aunties" and "uncles," regardless of whether or not they were blood. We broke the notion of nuclear family parenting right away. As the saying goes, "It takes a village to raise a child." A village truly helps raise our children. We also sought out like-minded parents, so our children can be around other kids whose parents have similar community values. Our good friend Amy Pak started the organization Families of Color Seattle, which has been a great avenue to meet other families for us. Parenthood didn't necessarily intensify my activist notions, but rather provided a daily reminder of it's importance.
How do you involve your kids in the issues that are most important to you?
Quibuyen: Before involving our kids in anything, we try to have continuing open conversations about it, particularly with our older son. We're constantly reminded how much children know intuitively, as well as their capacity to process things intellectually, so we try to be influential through engaging in dialogue. Just as we do in community spaces, rather than just dragging them along to things without explanation – which we've experienced a little bit of growing up in our own families and which we've witnessed as one of the struggles in other families learning how to balance this as well. It also helps to have many family friends who play an "auntie" and "uncle" role to our children, as well as other children, who also care about the same issues we care about and make our children feel welcome in those spaces.
Amlag: What is more important to me and my husband is that our kids grow up feeling loved and safe, know how to respect themselves, others, and our earth, practice curiosity and questioning, and just have fun being kids. We model as best we can to our kids values we want to instill in them. What they decide to do as they get older is their personal choice.
Geo, how does your work as a musical artist play into your advocacy work?
Quibuyen: I'm fortunate to have found a partner who shares my concerns, ambitions and creative approach. At times, I get to speak on these issues through song. Other times, my role as a musician allows me into spaces where I can lend support or bring awareness to organizations and campaigns around certain issues. I'd have it no other way – this way I don't have to separate my music life from my family and community life. My music has always been, and will continue to be, a reflection of everything I do as a whole.
What are some of the needs and concerns of the Filipino community here in Seattle?
Amlag: There are several. Among them are the de-skilling of workers – that is having people who have degrees and who worked as teachers, nurses, etc. in the Philippines, relegated to janitorial jobs in the U.S.; mental health issues – Filipino American adolescents have the highest rate of reported depressive symptoms and suicidal ideation, according to a president's advisory commission; human trafficking; domestic violence; racism; internalized oppression; and unemployment.
Do you see your children as personally impacted by the issues you are concerned about?
Quibuyen: Very much so. Raising children and being part of a community of families doing the same has only intensified our advocacy for the same economic and political issues we were organizing around before we became parents. Economic equality, self determination, political freedoms of expression and choice – all these things many of us fight for are done not merely for ourselves, but for future generations. To actually have members of that future generation in your own household makes it that much more real.
Tell us about some ways you see activism budding in your kids?
Amlag: We try to involve them based on their ability and willingness. We [recently] spearheaded the first Adobofest – a community block party/adobo cook off on Beacon Hill. Ajani was a judge along with former Mayor Mike McGinn and four other community members.
Quibuyen: Ajani has become more and more involved in our activities. On the music front, he's even contributed a beat that he made using Garageband to a fellow rapper friend's album! Both our sons are also a part of a growing circle of children of like-minded community organizers, educators, workers and artists who are also involved in varying degrees in their parents' and families' work. It's exciting to see them all grow up together.
When you look back in 50 years, what mark do you hope you will have made?
Amlag: I would like to know that I gave to others more than I received.
Quibuyen: Wow. First off, I hope to still be around by then! Our children by then will be in their 50s or early 60s themselves, which is the age now of my own parents, who are also grandparents. When I think of possible answers to this question, I think about my own parents and how much they've worked and sacrificed, transitioning from growing up in one country to living and working in another, to make sure we (their children) were equipped to take care of our own families and contribute to our communities. I hope, in 50 years, that we've done for our children even a fraction of what our parents have done for us, and that our children become a part of their own families and communities with the same appreciation for others that we inherited.
Cheryl Murfin is a Seattle- and LA-based writer.
Editor's note: this article was originally published in May of 2014.