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The Lil’ Gay Shop, reaspora, and the artist’s life

“Bakla” the sign screamed at me as I pushed open the heavy glass door to a small shop in Makati City’s ‘Backwell’ area.

I looked around. “TIBO” yelled another sign, wreathed in pink roses.

I was in The Lil Gay Shop, and it was fabulous. Colorful, quirky jackets and shirts, some embroidered or appliqued, were hung on racks. Tote bags made out of rice sacks hung from hooks. Trays filled with stickers in all the colors of the rainbow invited patrons to touch. Darnas in all shapes and sizes on postcards were strung on clotheslines against a wall.

The shop is a pop-up of Pineapple Lab x Hollow Block, and is an “exhibit-slash-retail experiment featuring products made by members of the LGBTQIA+ community,” according to their informational material.

“Celebrating all things queer and dear,” TLGS brings together the various creative goods of artists and entrepreneurs, in a 70-30 sharing scheme, with the store’s share going toward “the sustainability of our creative hub, Pineapple Lab as well as its Artist-in-Residence Program.”

Pineapple Lab, which opened in July 2015, is a creative hub that finds “innovative ways to showcase the works of Filipino art makers, international artists, and collaborators.”

They house a “visual arts gallery, performance space, and produce original programming for local and international performing and multimedia artists.”

Their Artists-In-Residence program “accepts applications from artists at different levels of their development while they continue to hone and craft their works in the Philippines.”

Located beside TLGS and a part of the Pineapple Lab ‘gayborhood’ is Glorious Dias, a vintage clothing shop. They carry deadstock barongs from the 1960s and ‘70s, ternos from the 1920s onward, as well as shirts, pants, skirts, jackets, and other items of apparel, some in psychedelic flavors.

My daughter Rika bought a lounging kimono and a paper-thin blouse with embroidered accents, both at affordable prices, to mix and match in her own fashion style.

If the name ‘Glorious Dias’ makes you think of the iconic beauty queen, yes, she was the inspiration for that. She has even visited the shop!

Jodee (@jodinand on Instagram) is the Fil-Canadian who owns both shops. Originally from Bulacan, he grew up in Canada, but returned to the Philippines to explore and express his artistic, creative, and spiritual side in a way he can’t abroad.

This was exactly how Rika and I felt when we were living in the US, that there were things we could pursue only in the Philippines. For artists, and to some extent academics, life is more congenial here, despite the crappy way the country is run. Life is slower-paced here, with more room and opportunities for artistic pursuits. Abroad, it’s all about the grind.

Jodee, myself, and my daughter are not the first to chuck foreign residence to return to the Philippines for various reasons. He calls this phenom ‘reaspora,’ and I love the term, it’s quite apt.

While packing up all my worldly goods (mostly books) gained over two years’ residence in the U.S., I was surprised to find out how many Fil-Ams plan to return to the Philippines to live out their golden years. “Buti ka pa, uuwi na,” they told me, with envy in their voice. “Kami nag-iipon pa.” The reaspora is real, but for most it happens after retirement.

In Jodee’s case, and mine and my daughter’s, we came back well before retirement, seeking to establish (or reestablish) careers here.

In Jodee’s reaspora, he has found meaning and purpose in creating a community for gay and queer Filipinos, providing a place where they can showcase and sell their art. Through his entrepreneurial ventures TLGS and Glorious Dias, he shows us the beauty and grooviness in the vintage and retro, and that true style does not mean slavery to commercial fashion trends.

Jodee says he’s often asked why he returned. “Nandoon ka na sa ginhawa, bumalik ka pa!”

Sometimes it’s not about the money. Sometimes the soul needs to be fed and nurtured, and sometimes it’s the Philippines that’s the gay and perfect place to be.

Pineapple Lab-RLGS-Glorious Dias are at 6053 R. Palma St., Poblacion, Makati City. /FB and Twitter: @DrJennyO

Topics: Jenny Ortuoste , The Lil Gay Shop , LGBTQIA+ , Pineapple Lab x Hollow Block
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