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Binitay (Bee-Nee-Tai) Cebuano dialect meaning “Hanged”. A story of an adopted young man who returns back to his birthplace in the Philippines to find his birth family 20 years later.
“The project is called “Binitay: Journey of a Filipino Adoptee” The name kind of foreshadows certain things” says James Beni Wilson, a now college student raised from the state of Michigan. “ I was adopted when I was 3 ½ years old. In my case study story, it says I was found in a plastic bag hanging at a banana tree, in the upland portion in the island of Cebu, Philippines. The lady who found me just happened to hear me crying and took me home”. James Beni Wilson, now 23 years old, leaves his home in the American heartland of Michigan to the islands of the Philippines in a journey to seek out his long lost relatives.
When did you first known that you were adopted? Have you always known about it?
I think I’ve always known about it, especially that my parents made it an effort that once they brought me home that they got you from the Philippines and that they adopted you. So it was kind of just understood.
Did you see them as your parents?
Yeah. I don’t think I had any other choice to. I saw them as my parents. It was normal for me.
What made you an advocate for Adopted Asians?
I think what made me an advocate was growing up and always feeling different, even among Asians, such as East Asians and what not, because I never met other Filipino’s until 17 and so when I finally met other Asians and other Filipinos and Adoptees, we had a lot of things in common, where it would be hard to people who would understand us, and so the other adopted Asians, we had a lot of friends who were basically; we could relate to each other like how other Asians could relate to each other.
Were you accepted by Filipino’s?
Yes. I was accepted as a Filipino, no matter what, you’re Filipino, but at the same time it’s like culturally you’re not Filipino, it’s similar to Asian Americans who grew up in America and the one who don’t really cling onto their culture or have a desire to learn about their heritage.
Tell me about your project to the Philippines? What gave you the idea to the Binitay documentary?
I’ve actually wanted to come back, since I was little, I was probably like 5 years old, so I guess I never really tell my parents or my friends too much recently for my desire of searching, but it kind of was understood between my adoptive parents and so I’ve trying to go back to the Philippines since I was 18, but a lot of events have prevented me, such as having the financial funds, having someone who knew the language or who would be there as a guide. My parents have been very protective of me, so they didn’t really want me to go just by myself. As for this documentary, a lot of people have told me while growing up I was adopted, so they would ask me “Oh do you know anything about Filipino culture? Do you know anything about history, the people, what it’s like there?” And then by my adolescent year, “No, I actually didn’t about that” and so I would find other things about my life story, such as I have never seen my adoption documents until I was 18 and so I would talk about this thing, because I had no one else to talk to it about, and so they were like “Oh wow, maybe you should write a book or write a documentary” and I was like ‘Yeah, I guess I might just do that”.
What were your expectations of the Philippines?
People say it’s overpopulated, people say it’s dirty, it’s polluted, there are a lot of people on the street, you have to watch your belongings. It was a culture shock, but it wasn’t too much of a culture shock, because I some sort of expectation and you sort of just have to prepare yourself for anything, I guess basically just be open minded as much as possible.
And then I got there, my friend’s friend who teaches at one of these universities picked me up and I got off the plane, get there, and I’m taking all these pictures and I see all these jeeps and the smog is really bad and I get to the hotel and people are already speaking Filipino to me and I’m just like “I just don’t know what to say to you anymore” I mean, I understand some of it, but “Ummm, yeah, I am U.S citizen, I don’t know how to speak it too much right now”. But I functioned a little bit with speaking Filipino, well, Filipino-English.
What was your purpose of the documentary?
The purpose of my documentary was the reunion with my foster family, because I lived with this foster family when I was born in the Philippines, and when I was adopted, we lost contact because they moved to another address and then we didn’t have that address. Then I had the PACCM (Philippine American Community Center of Michigan) help me come and search for then and found them in a few days.
And then it was also the search of my birth mother or any relatives.
This documentary is going to be about my reunion, the search and the importance of ethnic and cultural spaces and how news provide great outlets for Asian adoptee and how it can provide ethnic identities for them, especially if you’re growing in America. The cultural competence I believe is not very important as an adoptee, but however the historical competence is of very importance and the cultural competent is important only if you’re going to exist within those in those cultural spaces, or if you’re going to go back, let’s say if you are Asian adoptee and you were from Asia and going back to the Motherland and doing a message and trying to make that sense of where you came from.