Barrio Fiesta Shows Us the Meaning of “Utang Na Loob”

Claudia Sanchez

Scene Editor


Barrio is Kasamahan’s largest event, bringing students, alumni, and families together to celebrate Filipino culture through performance. One of Barrio’s choreographers, junior Chanelle Mariano describes being in Kasamahan as, “it’s a party all the time. It’s like being at home growing up in a traditional Filipino household, your families are huge and they’re noisy, and this is just like this. I want Barrio to feel like that.”

The annual Barrio Fiesta was coordinated by Kasamahan’s Cultural Director Jazlynn Pastor, and Cultural Co-Chairs John Panganiban and Elizabeth Kalt. It explored “Utang Na Loob” through student performances. Barrio integrated traditional and modern dance, comical skits and political commentary as a way to define the theme. Kasamahan defines “Utang Na Loob” is defined as “reciprocity of gratitude.” It promotes respect, love and, more importantly, ties back to Kasamahan’s theme of “Kapwa,” or unity, at USF.  

“Debt and Gratitude” was a realistic, comical and triumphant performance about finding your place and community at college while expressing pride and thanks to your heritage. It focuses on freshman Abby Asuncion’s fear of disappointing her parents after being placed on academic probation. Asuncion effortlessly displayed the fear, shame and eventual happiness after realizing that her family only wants her to be happy, while her mother (Activities Director senior Melissa Oei) provided some much needed comic relief, who only wants to take a perfect family picture and see her children succeed.


“Bae Area Love Story” was an adorable skit about a hardworking waiter at his family’s restaurant who falls in love with one of his customers. It’s a story that would be perfect in sitcom format, and even appeared to come with its own laugh track, courtesy of the audience.

The more serious skits focused on socio-political issues within the Filipino community.  “Stand with Davao” dealt with the 2016 Davao explosion, a tragic terrorist attack on a market that left 16 people dead. “Speak,” a spoken word piece by Pastor and junior Kiko Valle, was a touching and personal look into Filipino-American identity and the connection and desire to give back to the community. Presentation Theater was filled with snaps and whistles of approval throughout the performance.


Juniors Samantha David and Mariano choreographed a contemporary routine that expressed their definition of “Utang Na Loob.” “It was interesting to choreograph a piece that was very related to the theme, which is kind of like “giving back” in a way, but there isn’t a direct translation. So we chose a song that was about family, which is where we want to start when giving back,” said Mariano.

The hip-hop dance numbers were set to current hits like Migos’ “Bad n Boujee” and songs off of fellow Filipino Bruno Mars’s new album “24K Magic.” The “24K medley,” choreographed by Carly Avenis, felt familiar and fun, like being at a house party with your friends, but with much better dancing. Juniors Grego Gadio and Jered Lee’s “Grego and Jered’s Hip Hop” and freshman Shayna DeGuzman and John Panganiban’s “The Medley Never Stop’s” routines were also crowd pleasers, that left the audience dancing in their seats and singing along.


Barrio’s final three dances composed the Moro/Muslim Suite. “Vinta” and “Asik and Singkil,” choreographed by Pastor, and “Kinakulangan”, choreographed by Kasamahan President Nikki Sanchez, were a magnificent tribute to Filipino storytelling and traditional dance. Performers came out in elaborately embroidered outfits carrying scarves, labba baskets and Tinikling sticks to tell stories about the Philippines.


In “Vinta,” Panganiban and senior Angela Magao, play a royal couple traveling across the sea in a ship called the Vinta to settle the Philippines. The routine features fan and scarf dancers, mimicking the moving sea, as Panganiban and Magao defied gravity while dancing on Tinikling sticks carried on the shoulders of other dancers.


But the real standout of the suite was “Asik and Singkil,” which featured most of the cast. Dressed in luxurious bright satin fabrics as they followed elaborate Tinikling, scarf, fan and parasol dance routines. The cast appeared perfectly in sync, which was a clear result of hours of work.  

“We started since last semester, doing signups and even a symposium to teach people about Barrio. For show week practices we started at about five or six [in the evening] and kept practicing until three or four in the morning. It’s exhausting, but it’s totally worth it,” said Gadio.


The hard work clearly paid off, as both shows (on March 31 and April 1) were sold out. Presentation Theater was packed with family and friends carrying flowers and signs for the performers. They were clearly enjoying every minute of the show as they laughed and cheered.  


Cecile Altamirano-Cuna, freshman Alexa Altamirano’s mother said, “It’s just so nice to see the school supporting the cultural activities.” Alexa’s father, Noel, added, “There wasn’t a boring moment, it kept us up the whole night. And you notice the enthusiasm of all the participants, and that’s the great part about this. It was a great production.”

Photos Courtesy of Nick Wu


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