by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
Receiving any kind of award or recognition for the work you have done is an honor. But receiving recognition from the community of folks you belong to, and whom you promote, is an even bigger honor. Filipino American, Arnaldo Inocentes, creator of Seattle's iconic cabaret superstar Arnaldo! Drag Chanteuse, received such an award November 5, at the Filipino Community Center, when he was given the FCS Lifetime Achievement Award for promoting culture and arts.
Inocentes received the award in front of many supporters at the center, including family and his longtime partner Steve McFarlane.
Aside from being a talented female illusionist and cabaret singer, Inocentes is a tremendously talented public speaker who weaves the heartfelt with the nuts and bolts of an issue or topic effortlessly. At the November 5 awards ceremony, Inocentes did not disappoint.
After thanking the Board of the Filipino Community of Seattle and members of the Filipino American community of Seattle for recognizing and appreciating his work, he admitted that, 'When I found out about this award, I had to stop and ask ... sigurado ba kayo? (Are you sure?)'
'I also want to thank my family and loved ones both here and in the Philippines and also thank you to my chosen family and friends for believing and supporting me,' Inocentes continued. 'Here tonight are my mom, Auntie Glory, my cousin Bengie, my sister Valli and my partner Steve.'
'In 1987, my three brothers and I migrated to Seattle to join mom and dad to live in Kirkland,' he said. 'When my friends in Manila found out that I was moving to the US, some of them said that I will never be successful because I will always be looked at as a second class citizen because I am not white and I am Gay.'
'Well, I guess they're wrong,' Inocentes said, which was met with cheers and applause. 'Times have also changed and thank goodness for that - although we as a civilized society still have a lot of work to do.'
'In 1989, I joined the Seattle Men's Chorus upon the suggestion of my cousin Bengie Santos - my mentor and role model - and I was also encouraged by my aunt, Gloria Santos, to join,' he recalled. 'I remember Auntie Glory when I told her I got accepted in the chorus, she said 'Sige, sumali ka - akong bahala at kausapin ko si mommy mo.' (Go ahead and join. I will talk to your mom.)'
'At that time, I just got my first full time job in Seattle and as a new immigrant, mom was concerned I will get distracted and not be focused on my new job,' Inocentes explained.
'I share this story because often, it takes just one - or in this case - two people to believe in you so you can find the courage to move forward and grab opportunities as they come along,' he said. 'Needless to say the Seattle Men's Chorus changed my life and is a big reason why I am here today in front of you as it literally helped me find my voice musically and socio-politically.'
'When I decided to perform in cabarets and do drag as a solo artist in 1995, I knew that it was a major challenge - it was like swimming upstream because at that time, homophobia was much more commonplace and drag was not as mainstream as it is today,' Inocentes said, reminding people that the freedoms and acceptance we enjoy today, was not the same yesterday. 'One of the best advice I received was from then artistic director of the Seattle Men's Chorus, Dennis Coleman: He said 'Arnaldo, people will say what they want to say. You don't have control over that.' That advice set me free.'
Inocentes told the audience that he worked hard, took voice lessons, attended workshops, acted in plays, joined a dance class, and more.
'I continued to speak my truth through song and studied the music of Rodgers and Hart, Sondheim, Gershwin, Ella, Rosemary, Eartha, Judy and other materials of great singers and composers of the American Songbook, jazz and musical theatre,' he said. 'I also performed Filipino songs in my shows making my repertoire truly global - singing in French, Spanish and sometimes Portuguese, Turkish and Japanese as well.'
'Many ask why I do this,' he said. 'Certainly not for fame and fortune, because I obviously have neither. I do it because I love to sing and to perform. I do it because, in my own small way, I want to leave a world where diversity is truly celebrated and embraced. I do it for my nephews and nieces and for the next generation who may grow up to be 'different.'
'And I do it,' borrowing from his Arnaldo! Drag Chanteuse motto, Inocentes explained, 'to open hearts and minds through music one cabaret at a time.'
'Everywhere I perform, I stand in front of my audience as a proud Gay Filipino-American from Seattle,' he said. 'Whether I am onstage at Benaroya Hall, a small jazz venue in Paris, a museum in Tulsa, a chic club in San Francisco, the Village in New York, a posh theatre in Manila, an out-of-the-way club in Renton or in beautiful Puerto Vallarta, if just one person in my audience will start to open his or her mind after one of my performances and rethink their biases, then I know I did my job.'
After thanking the FCS community and board again for the honor, he said, 'Let's continue as a community to build bridges and not walls.'
Inocentes has received several other accolades including 2005 Fellow, International Cabaret Conference at Yale University; 2008 New York Cabaret Bistro Award Winner; 2010 Top 10 Cabaret Acts in the Bay Area, Jazz and Cocktails, (SF Bay Times); and the 2014 GAWD MUSIKA award for 'Most Innovative Concert Artist' in Manila, Philippines.
Inocentes has exemplified community service in both the LGBTQ and cabaret communities. From June 2012 to present, Inocentes has served as the Pride ASIA co-executive director with founder Aleksa Manila. Additionally, in 2006 Inocentes became the founder and artistic director of the Pacific Northwest Cabaret Association.
Seattle Gay News would like to join the chorus of voices expressing congratulations to a jewel of our community, Arnaldo Inocentes, for receiving this well-earned honor.
For more information about Arnaldo Inocentes' drag and cabaret character (including booking and show schedule information) visit Arnaldo! Drag Chanteuse at www.dragchanteuse.com.
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