Welcome to Kapwa!

A newsletter of unfinished yet critical pillow talk on culture, community, and communication

orange tree with a tire swing
Designed by Allison Gozum.

Welcome to kapwa by me, your unreliable author, Aaron Gozum. He/him.

My name is Aaron and I am a queer Filipino American researcher. Some might think this is odd, but I’ve never thought of myself as a writer (and sometimes, I still struggle to do so) until some recent personal reflections on my work as a songwriter and as an aspiring academic. But as someone who grew up with social anxiety and an inclination for introversion, I realized through my reflections that writing—in its relatively slower, less confrontational temporality compared to speech (e.g.; my preference for text over calls)—has become a cornerstone for how I interact and engage with the world. Through the weaving and stitching of instruments, poetry, theories, and harmonies, I discovered that the technology of writing allows us to develop the skill of articulation, a way to create connections and bridges to new ways of seeing and making sense of the world.

In reflection, much of my writing has often been scribbles, jottings, and notes in the margins. I believed my ideas were unfinished, not fleshed out, and thus unpublishable. I equated being a writer with being publishable and because of this, I disqualified myself as a writer. This is something I think we need to unlearn. To be sure, we should become okay with the state of being unfinished and that publishable perhaps should not be synonymous with finished. Taking it a step further, perhaps we should also recognize that the finish line—the point of arrival—might not exist in the realm of ideas. Perhaps, we will never reach a point of arrival and will always be in a looped state of departing and arriving. A lack of a finish line does not mean we should not have goals and does not mean we should not take the time to think critically. My remarks are critical of a teleologically linear way of thinking that sees progress as the graduation from Point A to Point B and obscures the labor of constructing utopian worlds. Instead, we should become more mindful of the different points of entry into the process of thinking and more encouraging to start up a conversation.

Therefore, this newsletter starts with the premise that publishing publicly should be a point of departure, a starting point for discussion, and a conduit to channel new flows of ideas and perspectives. Further, I think we need to normalize being able to change our beliefs and opinions when we are presented with new information. This, to me, is a critical step of change in culture and society.

So in this effort to embrace the decolonizing of epistemologies, I’m launching this newsletter as a way to normalize thinking not as something done, explored, and arrived, but something in process of doing, exploring, and never fully arrived.

I realize this requires a certain degree of vulnerability, so think of this exercise perhaps as a sort of intellectual pillow talk. Pillow talk, despite its sexual connotations, is intended here to guide my writing in a way that is more honest, intimate, and playful (and who knows, perhaps I might venture down the path of lessons and confessions I’ve learned as a queer gay man). In other words, I’m not interested in defending my ideas at the pillory. Rather, I’m very much invested in starting conversations that engage in building community consensus.

This is why I chose the title kapwa, because of the diverse connotations it invokes. For one, Google Translate literally just translates it in English as “both.” But diving a little deeper into the term’s hazy penumbra, many academic scholars point to its use in social psychology as a concept that refers to the ways Filipinos think, behave and relate to others—an articulation often credited to Dr. Virgilio G. Enriquez, a Filipino psychologist. Others have noted its popular usage as a public service tv program in the Philippines. Weighing the strengths and pitfalls of kapwa in his book The Groom Will Keep His Name, Filipino writer Matt Ortile said, “in essence, it is an ethical concept that values a collective ‘we’ or ‘togetherness with others.’” In an etymological elaboration, Karina Lagdameo-Santillan writes that ka- refers to a union or relationship with everyone and everything, and puwang refers to space. It might go without saying, but it is a term that has a porous quality, open to diverse nuances. If we were to make a broad stretch or brushstroke across these nuances, popular consensus might seem to agree that the concept kapwa is perhaps best understood as a space for embracing the principle of togetherness through difference. And this is what I hope to capture in my writing: how do I articulate my ideas through the broader constellation of diverse ideas, histories, and reflections?

As much as I love genres and canons, my newsletter will attempt to stray from such because I want to take a position that centers on questions and problems and works to stitch together connections required to make sense of a particular question or problem.

Broadly, if I have to categorize and bucket my future unfinished thoughts, it will likely fall into discussions on culture, community, and communication, and its constellations of combinations and the creativity and contextualizations critical for recycling and recoding the old to become new.

If that does not quench your thirst for departmentalization, I’ll be writing on communication, activism, art, music, poetry, epistemology, etymology, human rights, media/cultural studies, and politics. And ironically here I am making the laundry list of boxes and buckets I never intended to make. Yes, I’m still unlearning.

Thanks for joining me on this journey. Maraming salamat, thank you very much, merci beaucoup, muchas gracias. Looking forward to writing.

And feel free to share and tell your friends!

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