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Who We Become

Speaking directly to the camera, Lauren Yap, a Filipina-American college graduate, recalls the time she told her mother about the suicidal thoughts that plagued her. The parent, an immigrant raised in an environment where mental health wasn’t a subject discussed, suggested Lauren should pray in order to feel better. The generational and cultural divide such an interaction illustrates, in which religion takes precedence, drives the under-formed but well-meaning documentary “Who We Become,” from director PJ Raval.

Told through the lens of three young Filipina-American women living in Texas, each attempting to build a bridge of mutual understanding with their parents and their community at large, "Who We Become" begins during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. Each subject films themselves talking to people in their lives, in person or via video calls, about the 2020 election, the Black Lives Matter movement, or the rise in hate crimes against people of Asian descent in the United States. Social media posts and videos the girls use to bring awareness to these issues are interspersed, as the screen often splits into two or more segments to infuse the collection of self-documented clips with liveliness.

Central to Raval’s brisk project is the concept of kapwa, a word in Tagalog for the interconnection between human beings. Not only does the term apply to the meaningful intersectionality that unites oppressed peoples, but to the protagonists’ efforts to engage with those closest to them in their own terms, to find common ground. For Monica Silverio, who decided to participate in protests in response to the murder of George Floyd, this means not dismissing her mother’s desire to pray for all the Black lives lost to police brutality. Mom won’t march, and she disapproves of Monica’s involvement in the demonstrations, but spiritually acknowledging the injustice is meeting her halfway.

Lauren, for example, initially frowns upon how her extended family chooses to still gather despite warnings that this can increase the spread of the diseases. Her stance softens after she manages to cut through her loved ones’ tendency to not speak about their feelings and learns that coming together helps her parents, aunts, and uncles to cope with their unspoken pain. Still, some ideological concerns are much harder to broach. Monica fears many Filipinos around her might be inclined to vote for Trump solely based on his pro-life platform. In one of the most uncomfortably confrontational exchanges, her father, a devout Catholic, laments that higher education brainwashed her into becoming a liberal.

Passages that highlight the poetry of Jenah Maravilla, a former ICU nurse turned organizer, break the monotony of the footage. Maravilla’s verses insightfully examine her father’s anger issues, her resentment against her mother, and the impotence that at times consumes her in the face of collective suffering. These solemn moments of reflection through creativity save “Who We Become” from feeling slim in substance. A founding member of UniPro (Pilipino American Unity for Progress, Inc.), a non-profit that encourages Filipino Americans to partake in advocacy work, Maravilla epitomizes the power of kapwa through an honest and beautiful conversation with her best friend Rachel, a Black activist.

As much as it serves as a window into a specific ethnic group and the intricacies of the political stances of diverse communities of color, by the time this 73-minute tryptic has established its multiple perspectives, one can’t help but wish those involved would have been more inquisitive. Deeper questioning into the aspects of their parents’ upbringings in the Philippines that perhaps make them prone to not question authority or their thoughts on the idea of the “model minority” and its perceived proximity to whiteness could have enriched the already timely individual narratives. More of a brainstorming draft with plenty of compelling threads than a fully formed statement, “Who We Become” at least succeeds at introducing three fascinating families worth learning more about. 

Now playing in theaters. 

Carlos Aguilar

Originally from Mexico City, Carlos Aguilar was chosen as one of 6 young film critics to partake in the first Roger Ebert Fellowship organized by RogerEbert.com, the Sundance Institute and Indiewire in 2014. 

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Film Credits

Who We Become movie poster

Who We Become (2023)

72 minutes

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