by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
Louie Alfajora, was born in Danao City, Cebu, Philippines. He moved to the U.S. in November 2001 where he was reunited with his mom, dad and oldest sister. Louie is known to few. His drag persona, Atasha Manila, however, is known to many.
As an entertainer, Atasha Manila is an audience's dream; funny, fierce, and beautiful, Atasha is everything drag performers are most known for and then some. She understands physical comedy, 'giving good face,' and when she hits her stride she can hold the attention and command the adoration of an audience like no other. But, just like it is for any entertainer or public figure, when the lights shut off and the audience shuffles home, the wig comes off and Louie Alfajora washes off Atasha.
While he is both a man and a female illusionist artist - his family called Louie, not Atasha, when they asked for his help. Without skipping a beat, Louie Alfajora donned Atasha Manila, to do what so many drag queens have done for so many years - raise money and awareness to help out those in need.
On November 30, enlisting the help of some of Seattle's best drag, burlesque, and live vocal entertainers, Atasha Manila and drag icon Aleksa Manila produced Coast to Coast, a benefit for the people of the Philippines affected by the deadly typhoon that ravaged the island weeks earlier.
For Atasha, the night was an emotional affair. After all, she is not only from the Philippines, but currently has friends and family living in an area of the islands that was hit by the record setting storm. Luckily, her family was evacuated to higher ground, where they remained safe and away from the massive waves that pounded the beaches near their homes by the water. However, their homes were already damaged by an earthquake that happened a mere two weeks prior to the typhoon hitting the islands.
The early morning hours of November 8, when the Typhoon Haiyan came barreling down on the Philippines, all Atasha could do was watch and wait for word of their safety or demise. Because when a typhoon that holds winds that set records - at least 3,976 people were killed and nearly 2 million displaced by the floods and winds up to nearly 200 mph - all you can do is hope, and pray, and try your damndest to survive.
'Knowing that I couldn't help them during the storm made me feel worthless,' Atasha Manila told Seattle Gay News in an interview prior to the Coast to Coast benefit. 'I couldn't do anything else but cry hysterically at work. I prayed with all of my heart for their safety.'
Atasha told SGN her relatives are known for being easy going, supportive and caring. 'Everybody always pitches in to help when someone is in need,' she said. 'Whether it's food, medicine or shelter, we feel that you cannot afford to let anyone go hungry or be sick and without shelter - no matter how big or little we have, we will help.'
'My family is everything to me,' said Atasha. 'They are my motivation and the reason why I work hard every day. Everything that I do is not just for me, but also for them. They give me hope and strength to fight through obstacles in life.'
Knowing that they have to struggle to find something to eat each day has kept Atasha grounded. She knew that what she had to do was turn her tears and sorrow into action - but she also knew she couldn't do it alone. That's when Aleksa Manila, Atasha's drag mother, stepped in and helped mold the successful fundraiser.
'When my drag daughter (Atasha) approached me about doing something about the typhoon relief efforts in the Philippines, my quick response was a resounding 'Yes!' I wasn't too particular of how we were going to do it, but just the fact that we were going to do something about it was enough to commit to it,' Aleksa Manila told Seattle Gay News in a story published December 6.
'In a matter of days, she was able to gather close to 20 performers who were so generous and eager to help the cause. I couldn't be happier,' she said.
Sometimes, when donations are received from charity events, people who are bigoted will literally turn away the patrons instead of accepting the gift and good sentiments. Atasha says that, thankfully, 'It doesn't really matter if someone is Gay or straight; when it comes to Filipino traits and traditions, family is priority.'
'Being Gay is a part of who I am. The person I have become is with the help of the people that I surround myself with; they've molded me,' she said. 'And even though I live in the U.S., I always hold near my heart, the people I left behind in the Philippines.'
Often, whenever people in Seattle talk about the Philippines, two things come up: 'That lady with all of those shoes' or Lumpia (Philippine eggrolls that might possibly be the best food ever!). Obviously, there's more to the people and culture than that. 'Your readers should know that Filipinos are resilient, hopeful, intelligent, talented people, even though we are always underestimated.'
'Filipinos love to feed everybody, even if they only have a little,' she continued. 'Filipinos are happy people. Though we struggle in life, we still try to live it happily every day.'
And as for, Imelda Marcos, the former first lady of dictator Ferdinand Marcos (the two were forced to leave the Philippines during a people's revolt in 1986), otherwise known as, 'that lady with all of those shoes,' Atasha says, 'her husband was replaced by the first female president of the Philippines.'
Ferdinand Marcos' rule was infamous; he died in exile in Hawaii in 1989. The widowed Imelda Marcos returned to the Philippines shortly thereafter. Her shoe collection however, is more widely known than his dictatorship. Her massive shoe collection, said to be in the region of 3,000 pairs, including top U.S. and European brands, astounded the world and became a symbol of excess in the Southeast Asian nation, where many still walked barefoot out of abject poverty.
Now, due to the typhoon, millions of people have been displaced and help is still very much needed.
'Those millions of people affected by the typhoon are still hopeful and waiting for more help to come,' Atasha said. 'Those people severely affected by the typhoon have lost everything. Now, many of them are forced to steal in order to provide food and shelter for their family. It is never too late to help.'
Coast to Coast raised nearly $3,000 and Atasha Manila donated the money directly to the people in need, instead of funneling it through a larger agency, who then would take a piece of the pie.
'I can't thank the donors enough for their kindness and generous hearts,' she said. 'The donations made me feel so hopeful and happy knowing that they are going to be used by the people that need it the most. I feel a heavy weight of guilt that was lifted off my back because of this.'
With the conversion of the U.S. dollar to the Filipino peso and the cost of living in the Philippines, the donation is enough to provide a meal for over 500 families on the islands.
'I know we can do more and I will do my best to help more,' she said.
On Sunday, December 15, from 4-6 p.m. at the Filipino Community Center (5740 Martin Luther King Jr. Way), Atasha will join producers Karl Reyes and Aleksa Manila for 'Hands On: One Note At A Time,' a benefit for the victims of Typhoon Haiyan. There is a $10 suggested donation at the door. You can purchase tickets directly at: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/519215.
'It's been over 12 years since I've been back home and I am planning to go back and visit with my mom September of next year,' said Atasha.
'I miss my brothers, sisters and their kids so much. But I am thankful they are all alive,' she said, noting that for many other Filipinos, the case might not be the same.
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