Since March 18, 2017 my family and I have been on a journey towards being naturalized citizens of the United States of America. Prompted by fear of detainment at borders and the unpredictability of the US political atmosphere combined by the apparent views of the president, all five members of my family applied for citizenship. It has been 18 years since we have moved here and it was long over-due. The process and the $640 per application fee seemed disheartening but seemed now, more than ever, necessary. Many months later in batches we were invited for biometrics, an interview and a swearing in ceremony. I became citizen on September 26, 2017, my mother and father on December 18, my brother a month later, and finally my sister today, August 15, 2018.

My newly naturalized family and I in front of the Christ Church Cathedral, Indianapolis

My newly naturalized family and I in front of the Christ Church Cathedral, Indianapolis

Since then I’ve felt the urge to be more Filipino and to question what is American about me. It’s funny how distance and having to “denounce allegiance” to my country and being has brought me closer to it. I’ve found a new community of Filipinx artists and curators and have returned to the Philippines after 11 years. I spent the most crucial chunk of my growing up in those islands. I became human there; but, here I’ve gained a new point of view and have educated myself in ways unattainable if I remained an islander. With a new confrontation and challenge to figure out what Filipino-American means and my new political awareness I aim to create work that addresses my new found label.


"I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God."


Upon leaving my sister’s naturalization ceremony I brought up being a registered voter, immigration laws and the number of children detained for simply seeking what we were lucky enough to have. We passed by Christ Church Cathedral while walking to get food. It was a compelling collision between my circumstances, thoughts and conflicts. Read about it. All at once feelings of appreciation, rage, privilege, turmoil and activism rushed over me. 

At the ceremony just minutes ago an officer of the USCIS told the newly sworn citizens, “This is not just a fancy new piece of paper. It is a privilege. You now have the right and more importantly the voice to speak up and to make a difference. Go back to your communities  and make initiate a change.”


Foreignoy - humble pie

The moment they depressurized and opened the cabin door you can feel the joy from the audible cheering and clapping. All those Filipinos returning home. Some has been gone for work, some for a short period and some, like me, haven’t returned for a very long time.

It’s been eleven years since I’ve returned. But, somehow this place still feels like home. Although I came to visit for a month in 2007 all the memories attached to this place or that I can try to recall are from the first decade of my life. The smells, the taste, the language, and the heat. Ever since “denouncing” myself as a Filipino and becoming a naturalized American, I have felt the need to reconnect. “This trip will be good for me,” I thought.

Sunrise accompanied by sounds of birds, roosters and engines starting for morning commute.  

Sunrise accompanied by sounds of birds, roosters and engines starting for morning commute.  

We haven’t slept since I got here (not counting my mid afternoon 2hr nap). I stayed up all night listening to matriarchs of the family share stories and gossip. I recalled always being around this. Oral stories, filipino myths and legends, family drama, and religion, were the stories I listened to. My great aunt recollects a time in the past year when she cursed religion. She promised to never return to church. And, she was angry at the hand she was dealt. Unhealthy, un-wealthy and feeling desperate. That evening she cried herself to sleep but woke up to a vision of Christ. As she described the image I believe it to be the iteration of Christ of the Sacred Heart. Which she then prayed to at a distant church atop a hill, Grotto.

This casually shared religious anecdote reminds me how prevalent Catholicism is in Filipino culture. Tomorrow we travel to Orani, Bataan, my birth place, to the fiesta of Wawa, my birth neighborhood. We will partake in the festivities all of which is somehow connected to religion and the Catholic Church.

Rubber bands should be the natural toy of the Philippines. I spent many hours entertaining myself with rubber bands.  

Rubber bands should be the natural toy of the Philippines. I spent many hours entertaining myself with rubber bands.  

For lunch we visited one of my aunts. She prepared for us a meal consisting of nilagang pata, talbos kamote ensalada, manga (which was picked in my ninang’s yard), galungung, and baggoong na isda. The meal was fantastic and all I ever needed. There’s so much to be said about how food is directly connected to the soul. The highlight of lunch was being able to spend a couple of hours living the way this part of my family lived. I’ve been isolated for so long that I’ve forgotten about my privilege and the misfortune of others. But, the thing is, they were happy. Absolutely delighted, ecstatic and the most hospitable even with their shortcomings.

She asked me what I was taking a picture of. I said, “you!” And, she gave me this pose.  

She asked me what I was taking a picture of. I said, “you!” And, she gave me this pose.  

They lived in a one room house, if you would call it that. Walls were made of sheets that has been hung, roofing is patched with old scrap metals, a garden hose serves as plumbing and wiring consists of numerous connections of extension cords. It’s tucked at the bottom of a steep hill after a couple of winding side streets. They had chickens, ducks, and dogs. Some are roaming some are caged. We had our lunch in the front of the house, muddied from the outdoor bath in which the children just partook. The table was a contraption of two-by-fours and a large piece of balikbayan-box served as a tabletop. The meal was served. It’s was delicious and was made with care and love. There were only three seats available so of course the guest got to sit while the entire family had to make due with eating standing or on other makeshift tables.

Tabo at batya, this is how Filipinos of all ages bathe. 

Tabo at batya, this is how Filipinos of all ages bathe. 

It was such a humbling meal. The most humbling meal I have ever had. Meals like this, out of hunger, out of love, or out of hospitality beats any lesson a ritualistic communion can ever provide. Joy and awe, appreciation and admiration, washed over me along with realization that I am in a position to help. I’m in a place to share what I have to people that I love and admire.

Strange Fire Collective Interview


Rafael Soldi: I can tell just by looking at your work that you’re a perfectionist! Your lighting is dialed in, and your presentation is very deliberate. Can you tell me more about the part of your process that comes after taking the pictures? How important is presentation to you?

Kelvin Burzon: As a performer and self-proclaimed control-freak, presentation might be the most important part of what I make. I’ve always argued that taking the image alone is only a small percentage of my process. The artwork is never done until an audience member consumes it. All images I make belong to a predetermined presentation, whether it’s meant to be in a diptych, a book, or the central image of an altarpiece. Presentation is never second thought, at most, it is first thought. I strongly believe in experience and performance, and that translates to my final products. 


Excerpt from an interview November 2015

Do you think there is a fluid connection between your life and your art? If so, how would you define it?

            Yes, My personal life and my art definitely cannot be separated. I’m inspired by my life and by who I am. I’ve tried to tackle issues and concepts far from who I am. I’ve tried hard to separate myself from my work. It’s only been recently that I started embracing the idea of creating personal work. Using my life and myself as a source of inspiration is burdensome. Every piece of work or idea is precious and vulnerable right from the start. In my opinion the art can never be separated from an artist’s life. Being an artist isn’t a choice; it’s an internal essence and drive.
This all being said there is still a clear separation between my family and my artistic life. I never tell my family about my art, there is a distinct separation between these worlds. This distinction and separation is strongest with my most recent body of work. Marrying homosexuality and religion, two integral parts of who I am, is hard. In a way it’s turned my artistic passion into a sinful act, something disrespectful, something I’m hiding.

Do you seek out activities to further your artistic practice or do you let your natural interests dictate your work?

            I don’t necessarily seek out activities to further my artistic practices. I find art in everything that I do. Even the smallest activities turn into an artistic exploration. I mainly do what I’m interested in. I try to get out of my practice so that the art making process doesn’t drive me insane. I pride myself in the diversity of my interests and talents. I can’t imagine having a singular passion/outlet. If I had to establish a hierarchy, as an artist I would categorize myself as a performer first, then a photographer, a musician, then a dancer. My natural interests don’t dictate my work but they definitely inform them and merge into the works that I do.

Are you most attracted to the tangible or intangible? Which describes your work and how so?

            I’m most attracted to the tangible, especially with art. I feel like there is so much intangible bullshit involved in art creation today. I like to create things that don’t need much explanation, accessible, and tangible. I want to create work that doesn’t require a scholar with an honorary doctorate degree to write pages of rhetorical analysis before the general public can understand the work. I strongly believe that one of the most fundamental and essential duties of an artist is to turn the intangible into the tangible. If an artist doesn’t complete this translation and creates work that is still inaccessible to the audience, he/she has failed.

How do you decide which media is best to illustrate your concepts?

            The concept comes first and the form comes after. One thing I find exciting about my practice is that I don’t quite know what’s going to come out at the other end when I first begin. I like to implement everything that I know and keep things different and exciting.

First Crit of 2016

I've been in the studio a lot lately preparing for my first critique for the semester. I've gotten lots of friends to agree to come into the studio and deal with my neurotic art making, which is usually the difficult part. With this new set of photographs for NOLI ME TANGERE, I'm trying to inject more of what Catholicism looks like as a Filipino. I'm so full of ideas and imagery that I simply can not produce quickly enough.

I've also been frustrated with the quality of images my digital camera is producing. Purchasing a new camera is out of the question so I'm attempting to shoot 4x5's and processing them myself. Wish me luck!

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