by Matthew Ledesma
This post originally appeared on WireTap.
I grew up in Turlock, CA. Born in Manila, Philippines, but I spent childhood and adolescence in a small suburban/rural city in the California Central Valley. During elementary and high school, I was able to count all the other Filipinos on one hand.
College and post-college life was split between San Diego and the Bay Area; both areas are demographically far different from what I experienced growing up. These two cities are political opposites, but have, among others, one thing in common: a critical mass of Filipino-Americans. Having lived in areas where faces were similar to mine, I was able to be comfortable in my own skin. There was no need to explain where the Philippines and who a Filipino is.
How does this all connect back to Manny “Pacman” Pacqiuao, who recently presented Hatton with a post-colonial knockout? Along with others, he has facilitated the process of making Filipinos a common face in the mainstream. He’s had two of HBO’s award winning series 24/7 feature him, and he’s been the topic of conversation on Sports Center numerous times. It’s cool to see Mickey Rourke and Mark Wahlberg be enthusiasts, but it’s even fresher to know that Diddy and Jay-Z threw after parties for him. With the cries of boxing’s decline, considering the current “post-De La Hoya” period, Pacquiao’s left hook resonates to boxing fans and casual observers and prevents the “____ is dead” discussions from inflating.
With all the success, he has been able to stay grounded and humble, fighting not for self-glorious reasons but for the people of the Philippines, the bayan. For a turbulent country that has had little in the ways of optimism, he offers the people hope. One just needs to be reminded of the mythical, yet true, anecdote that crime and gunfire stops in the Philippines during a Pacquiao fight. While he lacks what I wish he possessed, a consciousness of Ali, who spoke against racism and for social justice, Pacquiao sees the inspiration that he instills in the people of the Philippines and the Filipinos who have since been part of the diaspora.
For the Filipino American, the past couple years have allowed us to move away from the margins. A lot of work still needs to be done in terms of institutional change, but for the youth growing up today, the change has been seen within whom they are able to identify on television. Jabbawockeez and almost every other crew on MTV’s America’s Best Dance Crew has provided semblance of similarity. Cherice Pempengco, Arnel Pineda, and more recently, Rin on the Rox made names for themselves via YouTube, gained national attention, and appeared on various television programs. Additional names have also been making waves in other sectors of pop culture.
Growing up in Turlock, all I had was Rufio and Ernie Reyes, Jr. I remember having to argue with classmates that they were Filipino and not Chinese. But what is different today, is that today’s Filipino youth have individuals who are not forced to hide their identity to appeal to a broader audience. Rather, many of the Filipinos currently in the mainstream proudly wear their culture on their chest. We see flags being waved on MTV and t-shirts emblazoned with the eight-rayed sun.
Filipino youth living in pockets with a large Filipino community have been able to identify with people that look like them on a daily basis. For the youth living in the Central Valley or the Midwest and whose parents do not have The Filipino Channel, it is a more alienating experience. The alienation lessens when you see folks that could be your kuya, ate, pinsan, tito, or tita on your television set, offering themselves as a role model who wants you to be proud of your heritage and the country from which your parents had been pushed.
Currently, it would appear that it’s fly to be Filipino. Though, many Filipinos would say that we have always been fly. Whether or not this is a “Filipino renaissance” will remain to be seen, but it’s important to take notice that the margins are not a place where Filipinos plan to stay.
Matthew blogs about race and hip-hop under the pseudonym “Ninoy Brown” at FOBBDeep.