Imagine Otherwise: Mark Villegas on Collaborative Abundance in Hip-Hop Cultures

by | Jul 21, 2021

Mark Villegas on Collaborative Abundance in Hip-Hop Cultures

by Cathy Hannabach and Ideas on Fire | Imagine Otherwise | ep 137

About the episode

Much about academia trains us to view the world through a scarcity mindset. We are taught to compete from pretty much the minute we enter the academy—we compete for department funding, for tenure track lines, for mentors, and for publishing opportunities.

In this framework, there is assumed to be a limited pie of money, resources, or notoriety and it is up to each individual to scramble for their small slice.

But more and more scholars, editors, and publishers are rejecting scarcity as the value we want to organize our intellectual and professional lives.

We are instead building models for collective thought and action organized around abundance.

Those of us in the interdisciplines—those academic fields that emerged from and are responsible to movements for social justice—have always known difference as an abundant source of creativity, power, and fecundity.

We know why interdisciplinarity helps ideas grow bigger and better than a single academic field can contain.

Centering abundance in the ways we show up in our scholarly and professional endeavors can shift what we think is possible.

For instance, what would an abundant approach to writing feel like as a daily practice? How might viewing our research projects as emerging from collective brilliance transform our models for academic publishing? And how would our classrooms shift if we understood students as fellow theorists of our shared worlds?

In episode 137 of Imagine Otherwise, host Cathy Hannabach interviews filmmaker and hip-hop scholar Mark Villegas, who has built his career foregrounding the power of collective abundance.

Highlighting the strength, inspiration, and generosity that emerges from collaboration, Mark’s endeavors illustrate the transformations that take place when diverse ideas, populations, and cultural traditions are brought together.

In the conversation, Mark and Cathy chat about why multiracial, transnational, and cross-generational hip-hop cultures have been such a vibrant model of political and artistic abundance.

Mark explains how his new book Manifest Technique traces these genealogies as well as how Filipino American cultural producers use hip-hop to theorize belonging and resist colonial legacies.

They also talk about the new communication strategies and gathering practices that Brown and Black hip-hop communities have developed during the COVID-19 and discuss how they can serve as models for life beyond the pandemic.

Finally, we close out the episode with Mark’s vision for an abundant relationality, one that emerges organically from collaboration and can shape new futures.

Mark Villegas wearing a tweed hat and purple sweater. Quote reads: I want a world full of joy, imagination, and genuine relationality. And we see that from hip-hop over the past 50 years of its existence. Hip-hop has thrived on interracial collaborations and contributions. I would like to see more of that organic type of community formation.

Guest: Mark Villegas

Mark R. Villegas is an assistant professor of American studies at Franklin & Marshall College as well as a filmmaker whose research and creative work are rooted in community engagement and collaboration.

His first book, Manifest Technique: Hip Hop, Empire, and Visionary Filipino American Culture (University of Illinois Press, 2021), examines Filipino Americans’ decades-long commitment to crafting, worldmaking, and collaborating in hip-hop culture.

Mark’s current project, Geek Hop: Study, Science, and Orientalism in Hip Hop Culture, examines hip-hop’s lesser-known core aesthetic: the “geeky” elements reflected in comic book culture, martial arts, anime, and science fiction.

Episode themes

  • Foregrounding abundance in research and writing
  • Moving beyond the “lone genius” toward collective brilliance
  • Hip-hop’s role in transnational Filipino identity
  • New modes of relationality and communication
Mark Villegas wearing a tweed hat and purple sweater. Quote reads: My research methodology is mixed. My inspiration comes from the communities I've been involved with and the collaborations I've made over the years.  I've been involved with film festivals, Filipino American cultural festivals, the poetry scene—all these different spaces I've been a part of and communities I've built with have shaped my understanding of this universe.

Transcript

Click to read the transcript

Cathy Hannabach: Welcome to Imagine Otherwise, the podcast about the people and projects bridging art, activism, and academia to build better worlds. Episodes offer in-depth interviews with creators who use culture for social justice and explore the nitty-gritty work of imagining otherwise.

[00:00:19]

I’m your host, Cathy Hannabach.

[00:00:21]

There’s a lot about academia that trains us to view the world through a scarcity mindset. We’re taught to compete from pretty much the minute we enter the academy. We compete for department funding, for tenure track lines, for mentors, for publishing opportunities.

[00:00:36]

In this framework, there is assumed to be a limited pie of money, resources, or notoriety, and it’s up to each individual to scramble for their small slice.

[00:00:46]

But more and more scholars, editors ,and publishers are rejecting scarcity as the value that we want to organize our intellectual and professional lives and are instead building models for collective thought and action that are organized around abundance.

Those of us in the interdisciplines—those academic fields that emerged from and are responsible to movements for social justice—have always known difference as an abundant source of creativity, power and fecundity.

[00:01:15]

We know why interdisciplinarity helps ideas grow bigger and better than a single academic field can contain.

Centering abundance in the ways that we show up in our scholarly and editorial endeavors can shift what we think is possible.

[00:01:31]

For instance, what would an abundant approach to writing feel like as a daily practice? How might viewing our research projects as emerging from collective brilliance transform our models for academic publishing? And how would our classroom shift if we understood students as fellow theorists of our shared world?

[00:01:51]

My guest today on the show is filmmaker and scholar Mark Villegas, who has built his career foregrounding the power of collective abundance. Highlighting the strength, inspiration, and generosity that emerges from collaboration, his endeavors illustrate the transformations that take place when diverse ideas and cultural traditions are brought together.

[00:02:12]

In our conversation, Mark and I chat about why multiracial, transnational, and cross-generational hip-hop cultures have been such a vibrant model of political and artistic abundance. Mark explains how his new book Manifest Technique traces these genealogies as well as the ways that Filipino American DJs and cultural producers use hip-hop to theorize transition and resist colonial legacies.

[00:02:38]

We also talk about the new communication strategies and gathering practices that Brown and Black hip-hop communities have developed during COVID-19 and we discuss how they can serve as models for life beyond the pandemic

[00:02:52]

Finally, we close out the conversation with a vision for an abundant relationality—one that can shape new collaborative futures. 

[00:03:00]

Thank you so much for being with us today, Mark.

[00:03:02]

Mark Villegas: It’s good to be here.

[00:03:03]

Cathy Hannabach: So this month that Ideas on Fire, we’re focusing on how to center abundance in our projects and to resist the scarcity and the competitive mindset that capitalism and, all too often, academia as well tend to advocate.

[00:03:18] So I’m curious, how is abundance showing up for you in your projects?

[00:03:22]

Mark Villegas: I planted a garden, so that’s one project I’m working on right now. My garden project is trying to produce vegetables and greenery. So I’m thinking about the abundance in a, in a very different way at the, at the very moment.

[00:03:35]

Abundance, in terms of my academic projects, I’m thinking about how an abundance of ideas arise from the things I’m consuming on a daily basis.

[00:03:44]

My new project I’m working on is looking at the intersections of geek culture and hip-hop. I see an abundance of ways that arises in everyday popular culture and even for my students themselves.

[00:03:57]

I think what inspires me nowadays is the abundance of ways we’re interacting. In this COVID year, Zoom and the virtual world has been the main way of connectivity And so, connecting with my own academic research and my writing and my teaching, I’m seeing new ways in which people have been communicating with each other in a way that they probably wouldn’t have otherwise.

[00:04:19]

So Zoom events that connect Indigenous folks with Black Lives Matter, with Latinidad questions about these identities and these movements. I’m inspired by the ways that we’re connecting now.

[00:04:31]

And I think that that’s a good thing that we’re seeing and hearing multiple voices and making community in new ways. So that inspires me a lot nowadays.

[00:04:42]

Cathy Hannabach: Do you find that that kind of creativity or that interdisciplinarity also shapes the way that you approach your writing practice through abundance?

[00:04:51]

Mark Villegas: I think so. My writing practice is really scattered in a way.

[00:04:56]

Cathy Hannabach: I think that’s pretty normal these days.

[00:04:58]

Mark Villegas: Yeah, and I understand and I realize that, but I want to embrace that too. Like the ways that  sources of knowledge come from multiple places. It might seem distant but I think I would like to see that as a strength. Knowledge and inspiration comes from multiple places in collaborations from multiple communities.

[00:05:19]

So I see my writing process as paralleling that type of inspiration that arises from different places.

[00:05:27]

Cathy Hannabach: Do you find yourself doing a lot of collaborative writing projects or is it more that collaboration shapes your thought process while you’re figuring out what to put on a page?

[00:05:38]

Mark Villegas: Yeah. I mean, my book, Manifest Technique, that is coming out very soon, that is a collaborative project in a way. 

[00:05:44]

I think that the collaboration comes in at many points in running a project. It takes more than one person to do these projects.

[00:05:52]

My first anthology book, Empire Funk, came out, I guess, almost seven years ago. And so that was a project that was truly collaborative because it had multiple authors and community leaders and educators and artists involved.

[00:06:08]

And so, that helped push forward the single-author book, the Manifest Technique book, because it confirmed my ideas of what has been in my head for a long time.

[00:06:21]

Cathy Hannabach: I’d love to dive a little bit into Manifest Technique because I think it’s a really fascinating book. And in many ways it is the perfect book to illustrate the worldmaking possibilities of abundance, which is why I thought you’d be such a great guest for this topic.

[00:06:35]

First of all, for folks who are new to the text, what is Manifest Technique all about and what got you excited about writing it?

[00:06:42]

Mark Villegas: Manifest Technique honors the creative labor of four decades of Filipino American collaborations and contributions in hip-hop. I do this by highlighting the imaginative ways that Filipino Americans create their worlds and create community through hip-hop.

[00:06:58]

But it’s not really a history book at all. It’s really looking at the cultural productions that Filipino Americans have been doing through hip-hop. Filipino Americans have been key constituents in the origins and the revival of hip-hop on the West Coast, along with Chicanos, along with Samoans, of course, the core group being African Americans.

[00:07:16] 

So I’m trying to make that more visible. This book is looking at the abundant ways that Filipino Americans create their own Filipino-ness through hip-hop. So that’s the core of the book, paying attention and listening to Filipino Americans’ own cultural productions through hip-hop. I’m emphasizing that Filipino is a creative process. It’s a project of self making that isn’t restricted only to the colonial nation-state and US multiculturalism.

[00:07:44]

So, to paraphrase someone like Gloria Anzaldúa, she talks about the in-between spaces as being abundant with poetics, life, and theorizing. I see that in the same way with Filipino American culture. hip-hop has been there for a long time, since the early 1980s, and has been key in creating Filipino-ness for a lot of Filipino Americans.

[00:08:05]

Cathy Hannabach: What got you into this? Were you part of these communities? And then when you moved through the academy, were you like, I know that I want to write a book about this or did it evolve more organically?

[00:08:16]

Mark Villegas: More organically. Being Filipino American. I’ve been a part of these hip-hop spaces growing up in multiple cities because I’m a military brat.

[00:08:25]

I really got curious. This book was in my brain since I was a child, I just didn’t know it. I took it more seriously as I went to college and went to grad school and all that. What got me excited about this topic and what really inspired me was trying to take seriously the need to map out these connectivities of what seems to be multiple and disparate Filipino American communities across the country. 

[00:08:52]

So I asked the question, for example, of why there are so many good Filipino DJs, really talented DJs, in places like Virginia Beach and also in Washington State and San Diego, California. They’re very different places across the country. I get excited to have these different spaces speak to each other and to demonstrate that this hip-hop thing is a cultural movement that can be explained beyond just coincidences.

[00:09:22]

There are connectivities that I’m trying to forge amongst Filipino American communities. And I want to amplify this connectivity and this searching that hip-hop allows is a resource for Filipino American creativity and self-making, as hip-hop has done for other communities, especially African American communities and Latinos.

[00:09:44]

I’m trying to show that hip-hop, for Filipino Americans, has been a way of conceptualizing movement, travel, and transition within Filipino American communities.

[00:09:57]

I’ve been a part of that, living in these different communities, growing up in the 1980s and 1990s and the early 2000s and witnessing these really talented people, really exceptional performers and participants, within hip-hop culture.

[00:10:14]

I don’t think it’s a coincidence. I think something bigger is happening. So I’m taking that seriously as a scholar and paying attention to it.

[00:10:21]

Cathy Hannabach: You have a really long history of foregrounding community collaboration, as you were mentioning earlier, in your scholarly projects and in your creative projects, I would love to hear a little bit about how that played out for this book, like how you worked the different groups, the different artists, the different communities, and different spaces and organizations through the process of doing research. How did collaboration shape your research methodology for this book?

[00:10:49]

Mark Villegas: I will say that my research methodology is very mixed. It’s trying to analyze visuals and texts as well as some ethnography within the book.

[00:10:59]

That’s where my inspiration comes from, from the communities I’ve been involved with and the collaborations I’ve made over the years. I’ve been involved with film festivals and Filipino American cultural festivals, as well as the poetry scene at my undergraduate college. All these different spaces I’ve been a part of and communities I have built with have shaped my understanding of this universe of Filipino Americans in hip-hop. That is reflected within each chapter of the book.

[00:11:31]

Cathy Hannabach: Are you finding a similar thing is happening with your current book project? The one about geek culture and hip-hop, are those connections similarly at work in the way that you’re approaching that new project?

[00:11:41]

Mark Villegas: I would say no, I would say that the geek culture project that rose from my teaching.

[00:11:47]

Just observing my students and what they’re into over the past decade, I’ve noticed more and more Black and Brown students being into geek culture stuff like anime, video games, and all that, as well as being into hip-hop. So I took that seriously. I was like, “What’s occurring here?” This an unashamed embrace of geek culture that prior perhaps had some sort of shame attached to it. Like no one wanted to be geeky, but nowadays everybody’s geeky. Iwanted to pay more attention to that and take that more seriously.

[00:12:23]

My students really helped me appreciate geek culture and its intersections with hip-hop because they’re the ones living it. What I realized is that geek culture has been there for a long time, since the beginning. Hip-hop has always embraced martial arts, chess, video games, and comic books. And that’s been invisibilized for some reason and exchanged for a different version of hip-hop that’s much more commodifiable. My students helped me understand and appreciate that.

[00:12:53]

Cathy Hannabach: Have you found that the hip-hop scenes that you’re writing about and that you’re participating in have changed during COVID? I mean, obviously events have changed radically, but have you noticed them shifting in other ways?

[00:13:08]

Mark Villegas: Yeah. I mean, this is interesting question. I think that the virtual world really is where these hip-hop lives live nowadays. With dance culture, people are battling and forming teams online.

[00:13:21]

I see challenges in that because it’s hard to do live events. But I think it’s working out for some people.

[00:13:28]

And also with the music world too. Ever since Myspace, music has been living online. And I think that COVID has punctuated that and made that more apparent and amplified the virtual world within hip-hop music and all music culture.

[00:13:45]

Cathy Hannabach: This brings me to my favorite question that I love closing out every interview with, which gets at that big why behind all of these creative projects that you’re involved with. That’s that version of a better world that you’re working toward when you step in front of a classroom, when you sit down to write a book, when you do these kinds of collaborative projects with artists and activists and other academics.

[00:14:07]

What is the world that you’re working toward? What is the world that you want?

[00:14:12]

Mark Villegas: I want a world full of joy and imagination and real relationality, genuine relationality, amongst folks. And we see that from hip- over the past 50 years now of hip-hop’s existence.

[00:14:23]

Hip-hop has existed and thrived on interracial collaborations and contributions. I would like to see more of that organic type of community formation.

[00:14:35]

On this earth, we only have each other. I think that we need each other, but also, eventually, I think we need to understand that we want each other in this world that we have.

[00:14:46]

Cathy Hannabach: Thank you so much for being with us today and sharing all of these amazing ways that you imagine otherwise,

[00:14:52]

Mark Villegas: Thank you so much, Cathy.

[00:14:54]

Cathy Hannabach: Thanks so much for listening to another episode of Imagine Otherwise. Imagine Otherwise is produced by Ideas on Fire and this episode was created by me, Cathy Hannabach. Audio editing was provided by the awesome folks at Pro Podcast Solutions.

[00:15:13]

You can check out the show notes for this episode on our website at ideasonfire.net where you can also read about our fabulous guest and find links to the people and projects we discussed on the show.

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