Thursday, July 3, 2008

Keep the Crossover / What Color is a Filipino?

"Fucker was too fast." Manny KOs David Diaz

The Faux-Crossover: The Year of Pin@ys on TV
Manny Pacquiao- Unstoppable world boxing champion
Dale Tilde- Top six on Bravo's Top Chef
- America's Best Dance Crew champs
Ramiele Malubay- American Idol top ten winner
Team Millenia, Supreme Soul, Boogie Bots, SoReal Cru, Super Cr3w
, and at least one member in all the other crews in Season Two of America's Best Dance Crew
SickStep- So You Think You Can Dance
Michelle Camaya (Mochi)- Step It Up and Dance runner-up
DJ Neil Armstrong- DJ for Jay-Z's Heart of the City Tour
Any more?

DJ Neil Armstrong postin up with Jay

The folks mentioned above are not unique, really. Filipinos have been representing on TV and in sports for a long time. The difference with these cats is 1) that they make more of an effort to project the fact that they Filipino. And 2) there really hasn't been this many (unambiguous) Pin@ys on at once. Flip a channel, you get a flip. Wild!

With so many Filipinos making an appearance in the mainstream, are they going crossover? When I say crossover, I mean crossover in the Death of Rhythm and Blues by Nelson George sense. Yes, in the EPMD-sense:

"The rap era's outta control, brother's sellin their soul
To go gold, going, going, gone, another rapper sold"

(As a side note, peep this dope posting on defining moments of rap's crossover.)

So, are Filipinos crossing over? I would argue: No. First of all, Filipinos are not (yet?) trying to appeal to the (white) majority by sacrificing their aesthetics, politics, or identity in order to be more marketable. Pin@ys simply doing what they do (dancing, boxing, writing, singing, cooking). And secondly, it is difficult to pinpoint a distinct "Filipino aesthetic" in the first place. Whereas Black musical traditions are well-documented and distinguishable (you ever been to a Black church, or a White church whose choir awkwardly played Gospel? Check the hand claps yo), defining what "sounds" or "looks" Filipino is more challenging. So how would we know if our aesthetics are compromised?

But for sure, Pin@ys are getting more and more shine in the mainstream; in a sense we have "crossed" over. But more like a "faux-crossover" if you will: the attention, without the desperate catering.* (Of course, the faux-crossover is also a function of the "problem of invisibility" among our community.)

Even though it is hard to identify what is clearly Filipino, people can pretend they know what is Filipino. On top of becoming more dominant demographically, as Filipinos get more and more notoriety on TV and in sports (it ain't slowin down kid!), it is interesting to ask: what racial camp will they be lumped in? What accents will be used when Filipinos are portrayed on TV? What music will they be associated with? (For Latinos, the consensus seems to be Salsa. For Hawaiians, Don Ho). What color is a Filipino? Yellow? Brown? Neither?

I'm fascinated by the possibilities. It might be the lumping of diverse and even conflicting groups, like Latinos have been marketed as a homogenous whole (hey, Latinos can be Black, Brown, White, even Asian!), or a redefining of Filipinos in some "other" category (sort of like how "Arab" and "South Asian" gained popular traction post-911, when much of U.S. history has been predominantly a Black/White story). But the funny thing for Filipinos is their obvious colonial relationship with the U.S., so "othering" us like that of Arabs or South Asians would be awkward on both sides, like someone's boss bumping into a fired employee at the grocery store check out.

Krishtine de Leon, the winner of MTV's "I'm From Rolling Stone" reality TV show (2007), ran into some (some is an understatement) of these ironies and contradictions as a Filipina contestant on the show. Type-casting a Pin@y is kinda difficult, and viewers tried to register Krishtine's look, speech, and actions. Critical of being encompassed in the "Asian" or "Chinese" category, Krish made it clear: "I am PINAY. A Filipina woman. I am not an "Asian with a Latino Accent."

So as you watch them Pin@ys rock the stage on MTV and Pacquiao rise in boxing supremacy, let's wait and see how we are interpreted.

2008 is a historic year! The faux-crossover begins! And yes, it will be awkward...

*BIG NOTE: Unless, you count the watered-down nature of MTV and the need for talented Pin@y dance crews to be "crowd pleasers" rather than push aesthetic limits as dancers who happen to have brown faces.


Lino said...

It seems like the faux over has been going on for a couple of years now. Don't forget about Jasmine Trias, Vanessa Minillo, Vanessa Hudgens, and Cassie. I might've mispelled all those chicks' names just now. Representing the brothers has been Apl de Ap and Rik Cordero (although he might've really crossed over this year, he made something like 20 hip hop videos last year).

MV said...

I got you Lino.

I've been thinkin about it after the post, and yes, there are a whole host of Fil Ams out there who preceded the folks I listed above. But I think the difference here is that more and more folks are "coming out" and not shielding the fact that they are actually Pin@y. The folks you mentioned (except Rik and Apl) tend to be more "in the closet." Rik, actually, is a good addition to my list, cuz he's been makin serious moves this year.

As for the "faux-crossover", I've been agonizing over this term. I think the assonance works, but aside from that, I"m still thinking there might be holes in its usage.

For example, haven't people like Lea Salonga, Basco brothers, Lou Diamond Phillips been in the REAL "crossover" for a while (by playing non-filipinos)? In that logic, then has there already been a "real" crossover for Filipinos? Or does the "masking" of their Filipinoness negate the possibility of "losing" Filipinoness?

So if there already is a real crossover, can there even be a "faux" crossover?

For some reason, I keep thinking about the show "George Lopez," and how Fil Ams relate to it, or not.

Regardless if there has already been a "real" crossover, as of now, those who are projecting their Filipinoness are gonna be externally type-casted. I think the explosion of Filipinos on TV is reflective of the growth of the Fil Am community as a whole, as we surpass the Chinese community in population numbers. (I am convinced this has already happened, and the 2010 census will confirm that).

Can Filipinos be the face of the new "Asian"? Why or why not?

MV said...

how can i forget Arnel in Journey.

Anonymous said...

Lexa Doig, on one of my favorite new shows, Eureka. Or does she not count because she's half?