L.A. Asian Pacific Film Fest 2023 Review: “Who We Become” Looks at The Ties That Bind as the Social Fabric Unravels

There’s a mix of excitement and dread in “Who We Become” when Jenah returns to her parents’ home in Pearland after months in isolation when the world was in lockdown due to COVID, and as a former nurse living in Houston, she was especially careful about stepping out into public, deciding that the funeral for George Floyd nearby was important enough, but little else besides going out for the basic necessities. This isn’t how she’s bound to start any of her conversations with her parents who would clearly prefer to avoid any talk about current events that could lead to a political discussion, firmly believing that God has the answers for everything and have aligned with Republican Party accordingly, but she nonetheless feels compelled to engage rather than try to cut them out of her life completely, owing to a feeling of family particular to Filipino culture that she can’t shake even if she wanted to.

It’s been a theme of director PJ Raval’s work also not to abandon hope for people and places with which the filmmaker might not agree, previously heading to Trinidad, Colorado to find the unexpected sex change capital of the world in “Trinidad” and Galveston Island in Texas where gay seniors have found a comfortable place to retire in “Before You Know It.” “Who We Become” unfolds at a time when the distance between many Flipino-American families couldn’t be greater either geographically or generationally as the director hones in on three women in their twenties in Texas that have a very different attitude than their elders towards what’s occurring in 2020, both at the start of the pandemic and an election year. Besides Jenah, Raval asks Monica, an Austinite with family back in Brownsville, and Lauren, a recent UT grad who returns to Bedford, to chronicle a year in their lives that one certainly hopes is unlike any other.

The unusual ability of a global crisis to expose both the strengths and weaknesses of a community when put to the test is evident from the very start of “Who We Become” as Lauren’s commencement is held online, with the Radio-Television-Film graduate a bit underwhelmed by the envelope with the orange-and-white tassel to wear with her cap and gown and her name as part of an on-screen crawl of credits in which no graduate is likely to feel particularly special. However, her parents have arranged for the local police to drive down their block, putting their sirens on, and Lauren admits after the fact that more of her family probably showed up at her parents’ house than could’ve made it down to Austin, a particular boon not only to her but the film as well when she arranges a group interview to probe her family’s thoughts on number of current events. It speaks volumes that her mother didn’t want to share that she had been laid off in the week leading up to the ceremony so as not to take away from her daughter’s big day, and it turns out Lauren is keeping things from her family as well, which when brought out into the open goes over far better than anyone would suspect it would.

Maybe it’s out of necessity that Raval has to lean on his three subjects to chronicle their own stories a bit more than the filmmaker is used to, but one of the most interesting aspects of “Who We Become” is how much more eager the Fil-Am millennials are to tell their own story, with Jenah leaving behind the most traditional of professions in nursing to try her hand at poetry and Monica making videos in advance of the presidential election with testimony from people whose lives have been directly and adversely affected by former President Trump’s policies. Whereas the previous generation was raised to be more reserved in discussing sensitive issues, the latest feels compelled to be more outspoken and as all three take initiative to foster community action, particularly in regards to the Black Lives Matter movement and local elections, you can see the traditions being carried on, but with the notion of kapwa extending beyond the Filipino community to make the world a bit more connected to one another.

“Who We Become” does not yet have U.S. distribution.

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