Saturday, December 22, 2007

In Those Genes?


Charice Pempengco: Asian Face Don't Match?

At the risk of sounding essentialist, "it's in the genes!"

Of course, I'm being sarcastic, but how many times do we hear this statement? It's even in the comments section of the above clip. Anyways, I would really like to know: What's the deal with Filipino talent? We all probably heard of the stereotype of Asians not having rhythm, soul, voice, etc. because of some stoic, passive, serene cultural attribute. But for some reason that never really made sense to me. In fact, I remember at a New Years Party/poker game with mostly Filipino/as, when people started groovin to the music, a homey who was white said he didn't know how to dance because he "wasn't Asian." I'm very confused.

What is more confusing to people is seeing Asian faces that don't "match" the performance. I am convinced that Filipinos are out there to baffle Joe Averageman. Sadly, I think that the legacy and tradition of Filipino dance/song/music performance has been very underappreciated, especially in the U.S.; it is underappreciated on both sides: from those who just dismiss Filipinos as a curious aberration that don't really contribute to the development of creative culture (how many times have we gotten "oh you're just another Pinoy breakdancer/DJ?") AND from Filipinos themselves who might blow some pipes or bust dope moves but don't realize they are part of a greater history and community of Filipino performance tradition. For the former, I think the notion of Filipino "invisibility" and "misrecognition" as Elizabeth Pisares writes about has much to do with the downplay of Filipino creativity; we simply don't fit nicely into a racial/ethnic category for people to easily understand or consume. And for the latter, I think Filipinos should dig deeper in their creative roots and understand the historical and community context in which their talent emerges. "We're very talented people" shouldn't be a saying that we giggle about; we need to take it seriously and not downplay a very proud tradition.

And to touch on the "genes" theory, I have a hunch Miss Charice Pempengco is Chinese-Filipina (peep her accent when she talks to Ellen? And "engco" on Filipinos' last names are "Filipinized" Chinese names, right? I need your thoughts). If that's the case, then we can be sure that creativity and skills (and rhythm) are reproduced through culture (as I have been emphasizing throughout this blog) and not through blood (I mean, not to say that those who are Chinese don't have the above attributes, as I know that's definitely not true!). Even though Filipino culture has strong precolonial performance roots, as we know, the Philippines, as a U.S. colony, has been going through a thorough "Americanization" which includes a "African Americanization" for more than a century (hence the dope yet little known soul, jazz, and funk bands in the Philippines and States in the 70s, Filipino American R&B and hip hop today, and Filipino hip hop(ish) dance troupes worldwide). So the colonized speaks! And "speaks so well"...

Keep on keepin' on, good people. Keep it loud and keep it hot!



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4 comments:

Brian R. said...

that girl got some pipes and the show-womanship to match! but yeah, her accent was weird. but i think her singing whitney houston and adding all those very african-american style nuances to her performance (e.g. the mic throw, the snide smile, the "haha"--all very arrogant and cocky, almost the exact opposite of her conversation with ellen which seemed humble and anxious) is just demonstrative of how good the colonized have gotten at performing what the colonizers like. the girl got skills but is she a contemporary mr bojangles? look at the white people applaud!

Leo said...

deng Brian! I was actually thinking about that during the performance: filipinos can be setup quite conveniently in co-opting black music to the masses (black eyed peas) and anecdotedly, I'm sure our performers around the world have played into these power systems (ie filipino singers in japan)

I know the last post touched upon ourselves as working class people particularly providing the labor in the health and military industries, now I want to make the connection that our cultural performance is another industry that is reinforced through our filipino communities. It is also a form of ownership that lots of us young and old folk cherish deeply.

We got serious social capital in this area. I know we all got an auntie who knows every line dance out there, an uncle who can sing like Frank Sinatra on karaoke, a cousin who plays the piano, a group of friends who tried to start a filipino R&B acappella group, the list goes on..

But why? filipino folks didnt just materialize these styles. I think we all learn them collectively---Charice said her mom taught her voice lessons at 4yrs old, our line dances take traditional Spanish couple-dances and make them communal (Cha cha cha), shoot we even made booty dancing a line dance! (Ocho Ocho). Also, a lot of our traditional dances are rooted in Islam that were our spiritual, cultural practices.

Here's a short slice of how Rock music was a medium to explore national identity (reclaiming it with Tagalog turn Taglish, as well as using it to protest during the 80s: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Music_of_the_Philippines#Philippine_Popular_Music

Now that we know we have a RICH history of cultural performance, its connections to race/colonization, the next question is how do we use this knowledge as conscious Fil-Ams and social-justice principled people in the US?

Leo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Leo said...

FYI--background info of Filipinos in the singing/dance industry in Japan:

1) quick story on a renowned Filipino singer based in Japan, Charito,
http://www.japantoday.com/jp/newsmaker/144

2) The effect of Japan's anti-trafficking policy on Filipino Entertainers coming to Japan, 90% drop! Japan cracked down on Filipino entertainers with the suspicion people are fronting the status to participate in the trafficking industry

http://www.hurights.or.jp/news/0702/b01_e.html