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Filipinos behind viral California tricycle: TNT Traysikel celebrates Pinoy immigrants despite 'Asian hate' crimes
Viral snapshot of the TNT Traysikel plying along Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California.
TNT Traysikel via Instagram

Filipinos behind viral California tricycle: TNT Traysikel celebrates Pinoy immigrants despite 'Asian hate' crimes

Kathleen A. Llemit (Philstar.com) - April 21, 2021 - 2:22pm

MANILA, Philippines — In early April, a photo of a colorful, motorized tricycle being driven along the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California went viral.

It's one Pinoy Pride moment as the humble tricycle, a popular mode of transportation in the Philippines, found its way on one of the most iconic landmarks in the United States.

"For most people, it will register as 'explosive' THE 'bomb!' But actually, TNT is a Tagalog acronym for 'tago ng tago' that translates to 'always hiding.' It is a codeword among Filipinx for an undocumented person. TNT Traysikel is an immigrant-object that embodies diversity and celebrates cultural differences," Mike Arcega said in an exclusive e-mail interview with Philstar.com.

Arcega, with his friend Paolo Asuncion, are behind the viral TNT Traysikel. They met at an art gallery in South of Market (SoMa) in California. They would later find out that their brothers are friends back in Manila.

They're both into motorbikes and thought it was a "natural direction" for them to come up with the idea of TNT Traysikel.

It is a social sculpture conceptualized by the two under the auspices of the San Francisco SoMa Pilipinas Cultural Heritage District. The viral tricycle's embellishments, including the inscription of popular Pinoy phrases like "Hoy" and "Basta Driver, Sweet Lover," were done by their friend, Meng Nguyen.  

It might be a foreign-looking object for most Americans, and relatively smaller than the sedans, pickups, and SUVs (sport utility vehicles) that pass through many of its streets, but TNT Traysikel has been used to support causes and movements that affect big communities.

"It's been all over San Francisco and nearby cities. We try to zip through SoMA everytime we're out. We've done deliveries for folks who are vulnerable to COVID-19 through a concerted effort by West Bay Pilipino Center, Bayanihan House and Bindlestiff Studios. We participated in a Black Lives Matter ride through San Francisco to support the Black Community. Lately, we've been popping up to Filipinx-centered events to get people to sing karaoke," Arcega shared.

Throughout all its traverses and travels, TNT Traysikel has generally received smiles. Arcega said that they get waves, thumbs-ups and curious stares every time they head out. Working class neighborhoods are "way more responsive" and make it a point to let them know that they've seen them. "Fancy" neighborhoods, he said, practically ignore them.

"A lady practically ran in front of us and started yelling, 'I don't know what that is, but I LOVE IT!!'," recalled Arcega about the craziest reaction they got so far when they drove TNT Traysikel in one of their trips.

Arcega hopes to have a fleet but he wanted more community participation in making this dream come true.

"This project embodies a lot of roles - it's very good at code-switching like many Filipinxs. This work aims to bring awareness to the Filipinx community in the United States, starting with the folks in SoMA. We're making work that foregrounds Pinoy-ness because there's a lack of Filipinx and Asian representation in American culture. Through interviews, karaoke and social engagement, we want to capture a more accurate depiction of the Filipinx diaspora. It’s presence in and of itself is a form of protest, as it is unmistakably and loudly Filipino and rails against the ‘keep your head down, just blend in’ model minority notion," Arcega shared.

He is aware of the rising spate of hate crimes or assault on Asians in the United States. He admitted it is horrible, but he shared that there's a heightened awareness among them. Like the Filipino bayanihan spirit, they look out for each other and their elders.

"TNT Traysikel is a source of good will and to be a marker of cultural presence in the United States, creating a sense of belonging for those who understand the symbols and an entry point for all others," Arcega ended.

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