Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Colonial Funk! Pacquiao vs. Cotto: violent island intimacies

Pacquiao and Cotto painting on a jeepney, for HBO 24 7 show

"On the tube, I'm just watching Pacquiao box it up. How would I know HBO would get a shot of us? Sittin so close that we almost got snot on us."
-Jay Z, "
Thank You"

"You know I get em with the rap's Manny Pac hooks!"
-Son of Ran, "For the Wax"

"My people pump your fists like you're Manny Pacquiao. Man-child with the wild-style, right to be hostile."
-Blue Scholars, "Solstice: Reintroduction"

The colonies is hostile this Saturday! Manny Pacquiao (representing the Philippines) and Miguel Cotto (Puerto Rico) will bout it out for WBO Welterweight supremacy. Moving up from 140 to 147 pounds, Pacquiao will once again be tested as he gains bulk, which is always a liability in terms of speed and power.

This blog has dedicated a lot of material to posing questions about Filipinos' relationships to other people of color. So, it is not surprising that the Pacquiao-Cotto fight is overheating the Hip Hop Lives thinking-engine.

As former/current colonies of Spain and the United States acquired by Western powers at the same time, the Philippines and Puerto Rico occupy historical discourses in almost identical colonial, cultural, and military relevance.

It's important to note that both colonies have a strong love affair with boxing. And--as hip hop heads know--Filipinos and Puerto Ricans in the U.S. have had a strong love affair with hip hop culture (Pinoys on the West Coast, PRs on the East). Finally, as demonstrated by Cotto's father's 25 years in the U.S. Army and by Filipinos' migration through military service, both colonies have for over a century been firm ground for military boots.

But of course a few things disrupt the otherwise seemingly perfect accord:

-The Philippines is in the Pacific, and Puerto Rico is in the Caribbean, bringing in some geographical dissonance.

-Although both are mixed racially, the Philippines has a large "Asian" population especially pronounced with a noticeable Chinese middle class, and Puerto Rico is home to a dominant African diaspora. After all, Afrika Bambaataa considers Puerto Ricans as "black."

-Puerto Ricans speak a Spanish vernacular and were not forced American English by the U.S. colonial administration. Whereas Filipinos were not taught Spanish because of Spanish prejudice against indio inferiority, but were/are instructed and speak a variety of American English. However, in the HBO 24 7 episodes, both Pacquiao and Cotto speak American English (but Pac-Man gets the subtitles! Doh!)

Political cartoon from the early 1900s. Uncle Sam disciplining the bad Filipino, Hawaiian, Puerto Rican, and Cuban children

A few questions can be asked about the upcoming fight:

1. What does it mean to gaze upon two Filipino and Puerto Rican bodies in violent confrontation--especially with millions of dollars at stake?

2. How will the audience categorize Pacquiao and Cotto? Will Pacquiao be "Asian"? Will Cotto be "Hispanic"? Black?
And what does that mean for Filipino and Puerto Rican audience members (actually, all audience members) as they assess the other's body type?

3. In the HBO 24 7 biographical specials, the music and scenery (complete with food!) give vivid depictions of where these men are from. What kind of narratives can be written about the islands Pacquiao and Cotto represent? Will the shared histories of Spanish and U.S. colonization of both colonies be articulated, or are both effectively painted as completely incongruent?
(I mean, check "The Battle of East and West" narrative written on the Pacquiao-Hatton fight. I'm wondering the marketing strategy debates occurring with this current one. Rice and fish vs. rice and beans?)

4. What does it mean to have non-Americans, especially Pacquiao, figuring as a boxing icon for the U.S. boxing imagination? Will the Floyd Mayweather, who is from Michigan, rescue the all-American boxing iconography? (Remember, Oscar De La Hoya, from East LA, is called "Golden Boy" for a reason)

Like hip hop, this boxing thang unearths some interesting queries about ourselves as Filipinos and people of color! So before yall crack open the San Miguel and let loose, some crazy juice for your thinking-engine as we prepare for the big fight on Saturday!



Marvin Halelamien said...

Is there going to be a quiz on Saturday?

Our Voices Matter said...

I've been thinking about the performance of boxing as a form of nationalist expressions. Especially the commentator's comments about how Pacquiao and Cotto are fighting for their countries. Interesting how the imagination of colonies are being concentrated in the form of boxing, which is a performance of beating the body of an opponent. Is it possible that the hyped up ness of this box match is a fetish of the inter-brutalization of colonial subjects, such as the blood being shed between latino-black gang wars, and hutu/tutsi genocides, and other interethnic violence; continuations of divide and rule logic, in which colonial powers can sit back and watch their subjects kill themselves, for them?

MV said...

Yes! this has been the critical racial discourse bout boxing. Mexican, Filipino, Black, Puerto Rican pugilists beating the shit outta each other. Yes!

But also understand that boxing for Filipinos has been a valued space for community formation, networking, and ethnic identity-building, especially during the migrant worker era when the Filipino community was so itinerant. Boxing brought them together! weird huh