Margarita Alcantara: From Bamboo Girl to healer

'WE ARE IN IT TOGETHER.' Margarita Alcantara is many things u2014 best of all, she is Filipino and proud. Photo from the Alcantara Acupuncture Facebook page

'WE ARE IN IT TOGETHER.' Margarita Alcantara is many things u2014 best of all, she is Filipino and proud.

Photo from the Alcantara Acupuncture Facebook page

MANILA, Philippines - It was the strangest yet serendipitous of meetings.

I first met Margarita Alcantara while scouring through pages old Utne Reader issues. I was in search of magazines that would be interested to publish my early "feminist" poems.

One zine title got me by the eyeballs: Bamboo Girl. The advert said that it featured stories and works of and by “Filipino, Asian women,” instantly piquing my curiosity as it was the only American mag that I have ever encountered that expressly cited “Filipino” as a specific racial lineage as its main feature of interest.

Not just Filipino but “Filipino women” — sounded uber feminist to me.

And so when I sent 3 of these poems to Bamboo Girl's email, its editrix and foundress, Margarita Alcantara, emailed back saying that the zine was no longer active since she started her acupuncture practice a few years back, holding clinics in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut.

She also said that she was interested to publish two of my poems in her acupuncture blog, saying how my poems resonated with the very theme that she is currently into: Healing.

Radical Pinay feminist

Margarita was once described by fellow Fil-Am writer-activist Perla Daly as a "pot-stirrer."

She was the creator, editrix, and writer of Bamboo Girl, an independent print zine in the US that highlighted issues of racism, sexism, and homophobia, and ran from 1995 to 2005. The zine she founded also held the repute of featuring many trailblazing Pinays in the US diaspora: Ninotchka Rosca, Jessica Hagedorn, Perla Daly, to mention a few.

“The zine was created out of the dire need to express myself, and connect with others who were like me, who didn't fit in the cookie cutter molds of society.

"I was very much in the punk music scene, and there weren't very many people of color, especially women of color. As a mixed-blood Asian queer-identified woman who was constantly challenging stereotypes, racism, sexism, and homophobia, I didn't find any publications that spoke to me, and so I created my own.

"I embraced my emerging feminism and fierceness. I had more of a temper then,” Margarita shares. 

Margarita is also a multi-gifted artist: trained in ballet, martial arts, and music, she is also a performance artist and a consummate writer. Interesingly, she also holds the distinction of having fully tattooed arms whose designs were taken from Philippine indigenous Kalinga tatoos. 

Born on June 10, 1970 in Pennsylvania — to a mother whom she describes to be "Filipino-Spanish-Irish-Chinese," and a Filipino father — Margarita discovered early on her interest in her Filipino roots.

“Being Pinay is much more than our food, folk festivals, and karaoke. Sometimes Fil-Ams get lost in trying to own themselves. They sometimes forget it is about the food, language, and culture, but also about solidarity, understanding our roots, honoring our ancestors, revering the fact that we've sprung from peoples who've been able to resist colonization for years, had our own script, ways of healing, and connecting with the world in positive ways.”

As an activist, she was previously active with the Gabriela Network-US, a chapter of the women's national organization founded in the Philippines, and the New York Chapter of Filipino Civil Rights Activists (FilCRA). Most recently, she has been involved with the Audre Lorde Project, providing acupuncture and Reiki services at monthly Wellness Days for the New York community.

Healing after Sandy 

Margarita's shift from a fierce Bamboo Girl activist to healer started in 2002 when she began her Masters of Science in Acupuncture at the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine in New York City. She is also trained in Reiki and is now a licensed acupuncturist.

But her interest in healing also began while dealing with her own health issues, especially in rebalancing her emotions, and seeing from the practice of her radiologist father the strengths of Western medicine. It opened up her mind to the idea of balancing both Eastern and Western healing modalities.

Margarita is currently busy helping New Yorkers recover from superstorm Sandy that hit the East Coast late last year. Fortunately, she recently finished a course with Acupuncturists Without Borders or AWB where she learned skills for healing communities during trauma.

It was serendipitous that she signed up for this training a month before Sandy, not realizing that she would have to immediately put her newfound skills to mobilize on-site community acupuncture clinics for disaster relief. She joined the group's AWB Sandy Response, which is now making inroads in all 5 boroughs of New York, as well as New Jersey.

She presently serves as one of the coordinators of AWB Sandy Response in Manhattan: “I am particularly honing in on any communities in New York City, to provide a space to relax, decompress, and services that help with insomnia, stress, anxiety, and trauma."

Even for those who are not from New York, Margarita's blog offers a wealth of valuable insights on practical self-care, reflections on emotional balancing, and the value of acts of kindness.  

“Energetically, we are all in a major shift. Hurricane Sandy was one big blast of it, the whirling energies surrounding the US election, the snow of the Nor’Easter two days after Sandy.

"Essentially, we are all being called to raise our consciousness in ways we have not had to before, release old patterns in significant and, oftentimes, sudden ways.

If you’ve been feeling unsettled, ungrounded, and sensitive, do not fear. The changes are big, but the unsettled feeling is temporary. We are in it together, and we’re making it!”

Like a modern-day babaylan, Margarita lives up to the spirit of compassion and care that is much needed in a world stricken by impactful disasters, now more than any other time in our history. With climate change creating cataclysms (such as Mindanao's recent experience of Pablo) that will be more and more pronounced over the years, as scientists confirm, Margarita brings our awareness that the storms are just calls for us to take stock of our inner powers by raising our emotional and spiritual energies, collectively.

If there's one thing we can learn from Margarita's variegated experiences as a diasporic Pinay and an intuitive healer, it is the power to use hearts and hands for transformative tasks that will bring back broken selves and communities – once more into thriving. - Rappler.com

(It's #WellnessWed at Rappler, and we are still featuring #NewYearNewYou stories. How did you #Start2013Right? What positive changes have you made to be healthier and happier in 2013? Tell us! Send your story and photos to desk@rappler.com. Use the subject heading #WELLNESSWED.)

(Rina Angela Corpus is an assistant professor of Art Studies at the College of Arts and Letters, University of the Philippines. She survived Sandy while on special detail in New York in October 2012. She practices the healing arts of shibashi-chigong and Raja yoga meditation. Her poems have been featured in Mad Swirl, Philippine Collegian, Philippines Free Press and Tayo Literary Magazine.)