“Weaving came just at the right time into my life. It is a vehicle which, in a tactile and kinetic way, helps me deepen my process of re-indigenization as an Ilocana.”
Rachel Lozada, owner and in her own words “dreamweaver” of HABIness, the textile and craft pop-up, is a veteran organizer and activist whose pedigree in community work literally spans the Pacific Ocean. Still, she notes a recent evolution in perspective as a key motivator for her foray into small business, specializing in handmade and handwoven textiles directly sourced from the Philippines many of which Rachel herself sews into more wearable contemporary-designed pieces. Rachel explains, “Habi” is the Pilipino word for “weave”, so HABIness is a play on words that evoke the happiness that weaving brings into my life.”
“I immigrated to the States when I was 30, so I didn't have the ‘stereotypical’ experience that most Fil-Ams might go through. I had been an activist in the Philippines since my mid- to late teens, and so the anti-colonization and anti-imperialist struggle was very much a focal point of my adult life. But the awakening to the need to reclaim my indigenous Ilocano identity came in the last six years, and into further fruition when I got involved with Kalingaforina Laga, a weaving circle of women promoting the art of Kalinga backstrap weaving called “laga”,” Rachel says.
With its strong affinity to Kalingafornia Laga, HABIness invites people to connect with the story and tradition of the meticulous traditional handicrafts of the Philippines. To explore that connection through the threads of their own lineage and hopefully gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of where they come from.
“Kalingafornia Laga weaving circle gradually grew out of a common desire to learn laga, the art of Kalinga back-strap weaving. But it’s about more than just learning to weave, it's a traditional art form, a conveyor of indigenous culture that has survived despite colonization. And our circle engages in place-making projects and activities for community to gather together and connect around common interests around our culture, history and our roots both in the homeland and here in Diaspora. It's very much a decolonization and maybe even a re-indigenization project and effort,if people awaken to that level,” Rachel says. And hers is a continuous process as she now begins to learn “abel”, the Ilocano weaving tradition.
Certainly, the spiritual process of reckoning with decolonization and re-indigenization is as unique to each person as their individual history. But through both Kalingafornia Laga and HABIness, it has become clear to Rachel that it’s a process that many if not most Filipinos in the diaspora are undertaking, and is only strengthened by forming strong bonds with others who share national, ethnic, linguistic, and generational ties.
“There is a real curiosity in the Filipino-American community to see more handicrafts like what HABIness offers. There are so many issues within our community that stem directly from colonization. Dealing with that has to start somewhere, and a good place to start is by recognizing and using our Filipino ancestry and re-discovering our indigenous identities that have been eroded as a base for building our identity and community. Art is such an accessible vehicle – it's visual, it's tactile, and it’s even wearable – and I think weaving is such a powerful vehicle for folks to experience that connection to ancestry and open them up to aspects of their indigenous identity that is there for us to reclaim and rediscover,” Rachel says.
In turn, Rachel cites childhood memories of traditional, heritage crafts as yet another touchstone for her relationship with her lineage and, by extension, the ways that HABIness looks to help its community strengthen their own connections to their roots.
“Growing up, my grandparents on my father's side would always give me and my siblings Ilocano woven blankets. They were beautiful. So I always had this romantic thing about weaving, something that I approached with the mindset of ‘Oh, it’s so pretty and I love it, but I could never do it. It’s too hard for me.’ And then as I learned to weave and furthered my practice, I found that it was also deepening my process of resurfacing my indigenous identity,” Rachel says.
As she continues to unravel the history and craft of weaving and her personal relationship with the practice, she has found that being part of the rising tide of entrepreneurs and small business owners concentrated here in the San Francisco diaspora constitutes a serious responsibility to the indigenous identity that all Filipinx people share.
“I think there's that umbrella of Filipino or Pinay-Pinoy entrepreneurship, whether it's Filipino-oriented graphic tee shirts, books, textiles, hand-carved pendants, or baybayin calligraphy on postcards – these are sacred pieces because, in these forms, they are vehicles for us to convey culture - especially indigenous culture - that has been eroded, suppressed, and marginalized within Philippine culture as well. That's a very powerful process for our people to engage in,” Rachel says.
In that way, people who come to Undiscovered SF and take home or buy a gift of an Ilocano weave sewn into a contemporary wrap or scarf from HABIness are doing even more than just supporting local business, or even growing the Filipino Cultural Heritage District. They’re preserving traditions that are hundreds of years old and helping advance alongside their rightful bearers as Filipinx people continue to connect and make community.
“For me, HABIness is a way for myself and for others to publicly manifest our proud identity as ‘Filipinos Living In The Diaspora,’ or ‘Filipino-Americans’ or however people want to identify. My hope is that HABIness contributes to inspiring Filipino people into centering ourselves and making our voices heard and positively project our place in society. I want to encourage people to learn more about weaving and handmade crafts as a tradition and a language of our people!”
Written by Paul Barrera and Cat Jimenez.