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Deep Sea Fishing, Filipino Roots and Belonging ‘Where We Are’

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A person poses on one knee, looking directly at the camera with their right arm stretch forward toward the photographer.
Adonis is a DJ, deep sea fisher and martial artist. (Courtesy Adonis)

View the full episode transcript.

Like all good sailing stories, Adonis’ love for the ocean begins with a shipwreck followed by a face-to-face meeting with a huge eel. It involves the search for personal identity and the need to pad pockets with paper. Just like many other aspects of Adonis’ life, it centers community.

Adonis is a DJ who is immersed in downtown Oakland’s nightlife scene. They currently work with Club A.B.L.U.N.T. (Asian Black Latinx Uniting with Native Tribes) throwing parties that center queer folks at venues around Oakland.

Adonis stands behind a set of turntables while DJing at an event in Oakland.
Adonis stands behind a set of turntables while DJing at an event in Oakland. (Courtesy of Adonis)

When they’re not on the turntables, Adonis spends significant portions of their summers doing deep-sea commercial fishing in Alaska. Adonis sees it as a way to pay bills, build community, and learn more about their Filipino roots.

Adopted from Cebu City as a child and raised in Maine, Adonis’ quest to learn more about their heritage has taken them across oceans and seas. They’ve taken trips to visit the Philippines, and have studied the Filipino martial art of Eskabo Daan.

This week we discuss how it all intertwines — the search for self, love of community, deep sea fishing and appreciation of the Bay Area.

A pile of fish appear in the foreground of a photo of two people in a boat on a body of water.
Adonis and a friend bundled up on a cold but successful day of deep sea fishing in Alaska. (Courtesy of Adonis)


Episode Transcript

This is a computer-generated transcript. While our team has reviewed it, there may be errors.

Pendarvis Harshaw, Host: Welcome to Rightnowish, it’s your host, Pendarvis Harshaw. 

Ok, we all know that one person who has a damn good life story to tell. You know, that one person who has seen some wild things and has had some extraordinary experiences, someone like today’s guest. Their name is Adonis.

Adonis is a deep sea diver, a nightclub DJ, a commercial fisherman, and a highly-trained martial artIst, plus they also have a day job. Still, through all of these experiences, they have the ability to find community anywhere, be it in a sea of people in a crowded club or literally in the middle of the ocean. 

When it comes to the Bay Area, Adonis has participated in collectives that have been influential in Oakland’s vibrant, queer nightlife. Each one brings much-needed representation and exposure for queer, BIPOC DJs and performers.

Adonis told me some amazing stories about exploration, friendship, and getting connected to the roots of their Filipino identity. I invite you all to enjoy this ride, right after this message.

Pendarvis Harshaw: You have this wonderful story of your fascination with the ocean and the seafaring creatures of the world. Where does it all begin? 

Adonis, Guest: I really think a big part of this story, for me, is being an adoptee. Uh, my parents were from Maine, or, and they live there now. And so I went to Maine, and I started to be a bit rebellious, they might say. And so there was a punk scene in Maine, it got me traveling around. I had lived in Guatemala in Quetzaltenango. I was going to this school called Proyecto Lingüístico de Quetzalteco.

There had been a post online. It was called riseup.net, which is what all the anarchists use. It was encrypted, uh, encrypted email. And so there was a group that I had been in at the time, which was for women and trans women and non binary folks to connect around shared interests of travel, punk, whatever, music. And so, there was a call out that there was an anarchist sailing meetup in, uh, Rio Dulce, in Guatemala. I wasn’t on the internet like that, so I reached out on my little computer, actually probably I had a library computer, and tried to figure out who was going from our crews.

There were two spots and, or maybe three spots, and me and a couple friends, who also used to live here in Oakland, we all, we grabbed those spots out of many people ‘cause of our charisma and good looks, I imagine. And so we all got down to Guatemala, however we got down there, and, uh, jumped onto, into these workshops. People had brought their boats, there was people from Spain, people from Canada,

I really got to see the ocean in a very specific way through sailing. And we were going from Rio Dulce to the Las Islas de la Bahia in Honduras. I forget which one. I think it was Utila. And the boat just fell apart in the storm. Like, the tiller, which is how you control the rudder of the boat, just snapped off. Everything just fell apart and we had to limp back. 

And they were like, “Oh, I’m so sorry. Like, this was supposed to be really cool for you.” And I was so seasick. This was the first, I was like throwing up everywhere. I couldn’t keep food down. It was four days of just trying to get to this place that was not far away. And I, we got back to land and like, “We understand if you want to get off,” and I just looked at them and I was like, ‘That was the most amazing thing I’ve ever done in my life.’  

[Music]

Pen Harshaw: You said you had come in contact with an eel..

Adonis: Right, so eventually, we finally made it to Utila. We had to go back, because we were eventually going to go up to Cuba and I think this was 2012. And, um, from where, where I’m from, if you’re in Maine, if you are in the ocean, it’s probably because you fell in and you’ll maybe die there. You just don’t do that. There’s a lot of sailors there. They’re like, “No, no, no, we don’t go swimming here, that’s how you die.” And so I had that in my head, that’s what would happen.

We get to the Bay Islands and they’re like, oh, we’re going scuba or not scuba diving, uh, “We’re going snorkeling.” [Chuckles] And I was like, ‘That sounds boring.’ And they’re like, “Oh no, we just crossed this really razor sharp reef over here in our flippers walking backwards. And then you jump in and it’s really beautiful.” [chuckles] And, uh, they finally convinced me. I put on these flippers and so I flopped in, and the reef is just this like, It felt iridescent. The sun was coming through the water. There was just colors everywhere, fish flying around my face. 

Um, I looked down and there’s this emerald pile of something on the ground. I’m like, ‘What is that?’ I knew I could dive a little bit. And so, I dove down as deep as I could. And I got close enough and I was like, ‘Oh, that’s a moray eel.’ It was a, like, 15 to 20-foot long moray eel and it had a head that was maybe the size of my own head and it was opening its mouth up and down, up and down with these razor sharp teeth and I was so enamored with this beautiful thing in front of me. I just put my face into it and I stared at it.

I don’t even know how long I had been down there for. So we go back up, and they’re like, “What the hell are you doing down there?” And I was like, ‘Did you guys see that?’ They were like, “Yeah, and that thing could bite you. Like, you just don’t do that.” But I was so enthralled, and I was like, I can’t stop. And so for the days that we were there still repairing our boats, every day I went down there to just look at things. And from that day forward, um, my life became sailboats. And then after that, I would sail for about four years, having my own vessel, um, going up to Alaska and fishing up there, uh, going, taking other people’s boats to Cuba back in the day and helping people get down to Panama, going through Panama canal, all over. So that’s really how it all began. 

Pen Harshaw: It could almost seem conflicting to some, where it’s like, wait, you fell in love with the eel specifically, the fish, and then you in turn become a hunter and later become a fisherman. And what, what’s the connection between the two? 

Adonis: I was on these boats with these really amazing women who were sailors, and they all sailed together. They would go to different parts of the world, meet back up, and these women were like, I was like, ‘what do you guys do for work?’ And they were like, “Oh, we are commercial fishermen in Alaska.” And I was like, ‘So I can just go up there and make thousands of dollars salmon fishing?’ And they were like, “This is the best kept secret. You should come up there and we’ll help you get a job.” So these women actually helped place me into these positions.

I know Native folks, and I know a couple of like, uh, Black folks, even that came up from Oakland in the 70s that fished up there. But people who were actually running boats or crew, it’s very rare to see people of color up there. And so there’s a whole lineage of Filipinos that were up there in this cannery, which I now fish for. There’s actually a little hut that’s called San Paquita and Caul and that’s where all the Filipinos would hang out at. Um, and it’s still there to this day, and there’s graffiti all over it in this old cannery. And it also has this very huge connection to my life and understanding my own identity. 

I was adopted from Cebu City. I didn’t feel like I had this connection, right? I was like, oh, I don’t know how to speak these languages. I don’t know what my people were doing. I don’t feel connected to my bloodline. And so to have that all tied back together with, I mean, our people were sailors, how did we get there?

You can look at the Bajau people.  Those people are spearfishing. They make their own goggles, they were making their own flippers out of whatever they had around, and they were diving down there for 5, 6, 7, 8, 10 minutes getting food. And they’re still more or less nomadic people that live on boats in the Philippines.

As I was doing these things, I was like, ‘Oh, this is what my people did. Oh, I can sail. Oh, I know how to fish,’ like, these are skills and talents that live in my blood. And so I created that, like, art from that, just even, like, the art of sailing, knowing how to sail well, and knowing how to fish well, and knowing how to create lures, and knowing how to cast nets. That lives in my body and so I get to express it. Even though I’m not in the Philippines, it was beautiful to feel like I could integrate my mind and body into skills that I feel my people were amazing at. 

Pen Harshaw: That common thread of things that are, that have been present in your ancestors showing up through you through multiple ways, you have a wide array of talents and fishing is just one of them and you’re deeply involved in the community and a number of different groups.  I wanted to bring the discussion to the work that you do in Oakland in the nightlife and, and your involvement in it. And so if we could get a little bit of background on yourself as a DJ, tell me about that. 

Adonis: What was cool about that is that I met this person, and we decided to make art together. And so we created We Are The Ones We’ve Been Waiting For. And I started working here as a wardrobe stylist and set design, um, when I came to the Bay Area. And so, I would use those skills I was learning in the commercial world, in the commercial industries, and bring it to We Are the Ones, which was highlighting the narratives of, um, Black and brown trans folks in the bay. 

Over the three to five years that We Are The Ones was organizing together, um, we just had some really beautiful parties, a lot of amazing people came through who are now, like, doing really well out here in nightlife. And so now I’m with Club ABlunt, which stands for [chuckles] Asian, Black, Latinos, United with Native Tribes. And that was a collective that my very good friend, Melanique Robichaud, or Black, she started with these other women in the 90s, in the early 90s. And so once We Are The Ones went its direction and a few of us went another direction,  and so it’s now me and, uh, Aura and DJ Brown Amy and Black who are working together to do a very similar, similar thing. it just feels like we’re now out of the underground and we’re, we’ve been at the Oakland museum at the, I’m going to be representing then at the SF library.

We’ve been able to pull much bigger, uh, artists as well. People want it. Like, we had Susie Analog at Counterpulse for Oakland Pride and so it’s been really beautiful to feel united on a, on a more global front.

Pen Harshaw: So much about Oakland in general, specifically downtown Oakland, the nightlife scene-how would you describe what’s going on right now in Oakland’s queer nightlife scene for folks of color?

Adonis: You know, so I feel like I took off a year and a half from going out, and I was like, okay, I’m gonna work on some other projects. It’s been really beautiful to reintegrate into nightlife because, and especially into queer and gay nightlife, which is something that I hadn’t really done. I was creating those events for people, and now I’m going to other people’s events at bars that I really had never spent time in. So, like, I mean, The Port’s about to close down, or like, going to the White Horse, or going to Fluid, which is a new place that’s doing really well. It’s really beautiful and seeing that just proliferate. Because a lot of the times I’m like, ‘SF actually doesn’t really care about us.’ SF feels really gatekeep-y and it’s just pulling all this talent from other parts of the world when there’s so much talent here in the Bay. It’s so nice to see this talent in Oakland.

Pen Harshaw: I’m noticing this common thread of community and it brings me to wonder, like, when you think of the concept of belonging, what comes to mind?

Adonis: I guess, as an adoptee, again, I didn’t feel like I belonged.  But I feel like I just had to kind of alter my mindset. And be like, I do belong, and I can be here with you, can you be here with me? And when we ask these questions, and I think we really have to look internally and accept ourselves and love ourselves, to know that if anything, we belong where we are.

And no one can take that away from you. They can try, and they will and it gets violent, but no- I think that’s why we even choose to fight back, is because we understand we belong. And that’s why I do the work that I do, or even just be kind to people because I’m like, ‘You belong and your life should also be filled with ease and grace.’

Pen Harshaw: When I think about, you said like, it’s a way of fighting, you literally are trained in martial arts as well. And even through that further community, further sense of belonging, maybe we could start with, um, what led you to martial arts and then we could talk about belonging in that as well.

Adonis: I mean I danced for a very long time in my life. I played instruments and I think all of those things are connected to the soul of just, you know, being Cebuano, being Visayan, and so I was like, ‘I’m gonna find another art,’ and so I chose-I was like, oh, I’ll try martial arts.  So I went on the internet. There wasn’t many places I found, but one stood out, which was called Eskabodan. 

When I first walked in, I knew it was a place I belonged to. The school was doing really well at the time on Polk Street and so I stayed.  I still train with Grandmaster Kastor today, and he is also a legend.  I mean, and now I’m training for my second degree black belt.  And I also am assisting him in teaching when we travel to Europe.

It’s been really beautiful to feel another, another type of community here that is very Filipino and very rooted in a Filipino art and very rooted in martial arts. It’s like dancing and it’s a total meditation, which makes me feel really calm and it makes me feel confident.

And so when I’m in a place that I think at one point that I would have felt nervous about being in, for my own safety of my body or emotional safety or whatever. I can remind myself that I can be calm and I can remember that I do belong here and that I don’t really have to be afraid.

[Music]

Adonis: I was in Paris actually, coming back from a seminar that we were teaching and, uh, some young kid ripped, tried to rip my necklace off of my, off of my body. And I have never had to use any of my skills that way. And I just remember my knee jerk reaction was to grab them, twist, twist their wrists in a certain way, and then I saw, I saw it. I saw all the openings. I saw where I could have caused this person harm, or taken them out in a certain way. And all I did was I just like, put them on the ground. [laughs] And I was like, ‘That’s mine. Please give it back,’ and he did. 

Like, time felt like it slowed down, and I was like, oh, this is what I do this for. I do this so I can protect myself, and I can also protect my friends, and I can be confident in the world, which is what I feel like a lot of the work that I’ve done in general is about. 

Pen Harshaw: That’s beautiful, because I’m watching my daughter do martial arts now and I’m like, ‘I wonder will this actually sink in,’ you know? 

Adonis: It really sinks in. And once it sinks in, it feels like, you can only learn, it’s, it’s like a lesson in life. There’s always more to learn, but the stuff that you learn is priceless and it will always be with you.

Pen Harshaw: The folks who raised you, your parents, what do they think of your journey, of all the skills that you’ve acquired, all the places that you’ve been, this person that you’ve become? Do they appreciate all of that?

Adonis: They do. They’ve always loved me and told me that I was doing a great job. You know, so I was raised by white people, and so I feel like they have this thing where they’re like, “You can do whatever you want in the world.” And so I was told that and, you know, I actually really appreciate that from them.

I mean a lot of my friends, they were told that they were basically demons and-for being queer or gay or being trans or whatever and just demonized for their beliefs or kicked out of their house. My parents would never have done that to me. I didn’t even know parents were like that ‘cause my parents weren’t like that. 

Now just through the traditions that I practice and the ways that I view the world. I understand, even though they’re not my birth parents, but both my birth parents and my adoptive parents are the most important things-that they, one my birth parents brought me into the world and then these people raised me. Now I appreciate them, and they have, and what I realize is that they have always loved and appreciated me. 

Pen Harshaw: All of the things that you do from the martial arts to the fishing, DJing, community building, if there were a way to succinctly tie them all together, how would you explain what the common thread is?

Adonis: I believe as an artist I have this very specific desire to live in a very specific way. And at first it was the thrill of traveling and then the thrill of creating art, and then the thrill of learning, and then the, uh, and just having this lust for experience.

I want other people to be able to experience life this way if they want to. I have allowed myself to do that, and I also believe that you should do that. And so, when we get together, what does that look like? Or, like, let’s talk about it, let’s sing about it, let’s write about it, let’s draw about it, let’s what, how do we feel alive? There’s something there that is, like, about living to me. 

[Music]

Pen Harshaw: It seems to be the thread of my life right now is that, you know, you have one life, but there are many lives to be lived within it and you are another example of that. And so, yeah, thank you. Thank you for that reminder.

Pen Harshaw:  Seriously, thank you.Thank you, thank you, thank you. Big shoutout to Adonis, I appreciate your wisdom and it’s extremely clear that your many experiences have shaped your ability to find and build community wherever you go.

For more info on queer nightlife in Oakland, Club ABLUNT’s instagram account is clubablunt510. That’s spelled like club A-B-L-U-N-T, and that’s 510 as in the area code.

Adonis can be found on Instagram at bodegavendetta It’s spelled B-O-D-E-G-A  V-E-N-D-E-T-T-A.

This episode was hosted by me, Pendarvis Harshaw. It was produced by Sheree Bishop and Marisol Medina-Cadena. Chris Hambrick is our editor. Brendan Willard is our engineer

The Rightnowish team is also supported by Jen Chien, Katie Sprenger, Cesar Saldaña, Ugur Dursun and Holly Kernan.

Rightnowish is a KQED production. Until next time, peace!

Rightnowish is an arts and culture podcast produced at KQED. Listen to it wherever you get your podcasts or click the play button at the top of this page and subscribe to the show on NPR One, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, TuneIn, Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts.

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