Casey Mecija shares the sonic potential in Filipinx diaspora

Sounds are all around us, from conversation to music to the noises of everyday life. Critically thinking about sounds and going beyond our conventional perceptions could help us better understand experiences different from our own and spark healing and creativity within and between communities.

One such community is the Filipinx diaspora, whom the media, academia and public often portray in racialized stereotypes and tropes. But Casey Mecija, assistant professor of communication and media studies at York University, thinks sound has the potential to destabilize these social constructs and enliven understanding about the Filipinx diasporic experience in Canada.

Mecija details this in her upcoming talk at UBC’s Green College on Jan. 25, “Sounds that Mark Our Words: Sonic Agencies and Intimacies in Filipinx Diaspora.”

“If we consider sound a total sensory experience that leaves lasting impressions on our memories and sense of self and others, it can change how we listen to and understand each other and maybe open up possibilities for social justice,” says Mecija.

Sounds that mark our words

Before entering academia, Mecija was a professional musician in her band, Ohbijou, for over a decade. Those musical performing experiences and working intimately with sound have informed her current research.

“I was always moved by how my voice while singing would go to unexpected places,” she says. “The space of performance prompted vocal improvisations and dreamlike feelings; academia has allowed me to theorize those experiences and think critically about their causes and effects,” she says.

But beyond her musical experiences with Ohbijou, Mecija is now part of an increasing number of scholars studying the socially disruptive potential of sound.

“[T]here is a growing swell of scholars concerned with how sound also leverages social relations and dynamics of power informed by race and racism,” Mecija says.“[It’s] a way to learn about experiences of migration and the forced movement of people that resist racialized ascriptions borne from racism, colonialism, and their gendered dimensions,” she explains.

The queer valences of sound

Casey Mecija | Photo by May Truong.

Mecija’s research argues that when sound goes beyond historical parameters or conventions, it can be considered ‘queer’. In academic queer theory, queerness goes beyond the realm of sexuality and gender and talks about a disruption of the social norms and conventions that define our world.

By bringing queer theory to Mecija’s study of sound, it opens up possibilities to reimagine the Filipinx emotional and psychological experience in Canada beyond stereotypical and conventional portrayals.

“Prevalent conversations within Canadian media, academic, and politicized public contexts have represented Filipinx people living in Canada within the tropes of the victimized nanny, the selfless nurse, the performer who is innately good at singing,” Mecija explains.

For example, Mecija shares in her talk a YouTube video of a Filipinx child singing Taylor Swift’s Blank Space to their mother, presumably working abroad. Mecija argues that when we take a closer look, or listen, videos like these can be as endearing as they are meaningful when it comes to broadening our perceptions and understanding.

“Her performance creates intimacy across distance and upends assumptions that ‘healthy’ childhood development requires maternal presence,” she explains. “Her vocal performance expresses care for herself and her mother, and the context of the sounds she makes point to more extensive geopolitical histories that have necessitated their separation.”

By examining this archive of Filipinx sounds, Mecija hopes to reveal how sound can transform the racialized and abject Filipinx figure into one with dignity and agency.

“Sound possesses the potential to touch people and provoke feelings in powerful ways,” Mecija says. “I hope people come away from my talk encouraged to listen differently to the sounds they might take for granted or otherwise ignore.”

For more information on Mecija’s in-person and virtual talk, visit: