Friday, February 25, 2011

The world watched, then forgot: Reflections on People Power

This week marked the anniversary of the 1986 People Power Revolution in the Philippines. The mass demonstrations, which included people from all strata of society (the middle class was central) and the Catholic institution, flooded EDSA Blvd. in Metro Manila and eventually forced out the dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Marcos, who declared Martial Law (which meant suspension of the democratic process) in 1973 was supported by the United States militarily and financially.

People Power provided a model of peaceful protest for other nations (especially in Eastern Europe) to follow. Today, in North Africa and the Middle East, it seems that People Power has not translated as the appropriate analog. Why?

The question as to why People Power has not popped up on the lips of CNN, MSNBC, Huffpost, etc. pundits is a mystery considering that its parallels to current unrest are obvious: dictator (U.S.-supported in the case of Egypt, Western-supported in the casse of Libya), cross-class peaceful urban protest, and demands for a democratic process.

Enter Al Jazeera.

Al Jazeera seems to be the only news network that has taken time to analyze the People Power model's relevancy to the mass uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East.

Instead of dwelling on the shaky comparisons of today's revolts to the Tiananmen Square massacre (this was a loss for the protestors) and the Iranian Revolution (this was largely religious-based) so favored by the major U.S. news outlets, the clip above directly engages the Philippines to the what is occurring today.

As you've seen in the video, one interviewee gets the urgency spot on:

"What these people in Tunisia and Egypt have to watch out for, the same thing that happened to us. If they don't write it into their textbooks and educate the next generation of children that what happened was a bleak and black people in their history then they will see Mubarak's descendants and Ben Ali's descendants come back in ten or twenty years."

Clearly, the revolution in the Philippines was a limited one
. It was actually more a reform than a complete overthrow of the system (i.e. it had a middle-class dominated agenda). Many things still need to be done, as you know. After the celebrations (Tunisia and Egypt especially, we have yet to see what will happen in Libya, Bahrain, etc.), the sobering reality of neoliberal trappings in the post-revolution era will have to be examined by the opposition.

(Valerie Francisco provides a rich narrative of the People Power moment, the lack of people's governance, and the infrastructural/developmental urban facade in post-Marcos Philippines).

Kiwi has it right in "Imagine." Let us imagine how a peaceful and just world can be. Then, let us act:

"Imagine if we got people to start thinkin.
Got people to stop talkin
And start doin
And come together to start
This next movement.

What if we stood up and fought for peace?
Took the cities and blocked the streets?
With a voice that would rock the beast?
Imagine what this world would be like."

The Philippines teaches us that the revolution is never complete: the "revolution" is an ongoing process. In Tunisia and Egypt, the people imagined what their world could be like. Then they took the cities and blocked the streets. Now, it is up to them to make sure the revolution does not end.


Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Filipino Flash X Deep Foundation knock out!

Manny Pacquiao is not the only Filipino boxer taking over the world. Nonito Donaire, the 3rd ranked pound-for-pound best boxer in the world, walked out to Deep Foundation's "Children of the Sun" in his bout with Fernando Montiel (from Mexico) on Saturday. The 28-year old from General Santos (he went to the same school as Pacman) knocked out his opponent in the second round with a powerful left hook.

Perhaps the three weight division champion will soon get the global attention of Pacman caliber. Until then, we love how the "Filipino Flash" reps hard for hip hop and for Fil Ams with his DF tribute!

That's not Photoshopped people! That knockout punch is real- live in HD. Montiel's face looked warped like a scene from The Ring, then he commenced to what seemed like a seizure on the mat.

The "Filipino Flash" celebrates, showing love for the lovely and fashionable Pin@ys in the crowd.


Sunday, February 6, 2011

Sunday Cipher: Big Game Peas flashback

Fallin up with old school Black Eyed Peas

When the East is in the house, oh my god. The Peas journey West.

The Grammy-award winning pop group The Black Eyed Peas delivered an epic Tron-inspired Super Bowl halftime show. This group--having humble roots in the early 1990's Los Angeles Filipino American clubbing scene where they were known as the Atblan Klan--has blasted off into unimaginable global celebrity.

In this song below from their first album as The Black Eyed Peas (1998), "Fallin Up" fittingly depicts the groups "westward expansion" in this pioneer-themed video. Indeed, they have expanded into the mainstream exponentially, especially after adding Fergie.


Friday, February 4, 2011

Throwback Thursday: Celebrating Black History Month: Filipino American X blackness

Fictional depiction of Filipino "insurrectos" fighting U.S. colonizers. This screen shot is from found footage featured in the film Bontoc Eulogy. The Filipinos are played by African American actors.

In this edition of Throwback Thursday we celebrate Black History Month, which was founded by Carter G. Woodson whose connection to the Philippines as supervisor of schools during the early days of U.S. colonization makes the linkages of this blog to Black history so significant.

In my entry from April 2008, I discuss Filipino American participation in hip hop and the community's relationship to Black people and blackness. I've since refined my approach (for example, I've abandoned the term "mestizaje"), but my attempt to center Black history and positionality within a Filipino racial discourse is stronger than ever. Anyways, thanks for all the support and enjoy:


I just got done presenting a very short synopsis of some of my research questions at this year's Association of Asian American Studies Conference in Chicago.

I showed "Hip Hop Mestizaje" and did an 8 minute discussion on what the hell its supposed to be about. Thanks to everyone who liked the film and appreciated my research on the intersections of Filipinoness and Blackness. For those folks exploring similar topics, keep on keepin on, it's an emerging topic (I hope!). Can't wait for the Filipino Soul conference that is in discussion.

Here is the paper I shared at the conference:

"Right now I want to thank god for being me
My soul won't rest until the colony is free
1896 Revolution incomplete
Silence is defeat, my solution is to speak
Resurrect the legacy of martyrs I beseech
Time to choose a side: It's the mighty verse the meek
My big brother Free brought the word from the East
We're the bullet in the middle of the belly of the beast."

These are the lyrics of Geologic, the Pinoy emcee of the Seattle hip hop duo Blue Scholars. When decoding the meaning behind the lyrics, such as “I want to thank god for being me,” we can see that his references of Filipino nationalism are curiously reinforced by Five Percenter Nation of Islam rhetoric, which is a pedagogical and spiritual discipline rooted in sects of African American Muslim tradition. In this verse, “god” refers to Geologic himself. For those who are not familiar, in the Five Percenter tradition, “god” refers the original Black man, or the god on Earth. So the question we ask is, “why is a Filipino emcee uttering a clearly Afro-centric phrase?” In my thesis, I interrogate the uses of Blackness by Filipino American hip hop practitioners. I contend that for many Filipino Americans, Blackness is both a resource and referent in their process of racial identification, and complements an existing racialized and hybridized Filipino subjectivity. Hip hop serves as an appropriate case study to demonstrate the emergence of Blackness among Filipino Americans’ racialized expressions. The recent JabbaWockeez triumph are a prime example of Filipinos’ dedication and loyalty to hip hop cultural production.

By evoking the often-neglected role of the Afro-Americanization of Filipinos, it is my intention to bring into focus the formation of race-consciousness among young Pinoys and Pinays—an effort that is built from the interventions made by scholars who have documented the process of deracialization among Fil Ams involved in hip hop. While we may be well-aware of young Pinoy and Pinays’ efforts to deracialize themselves (i.e. becoming the real “invisible” in the Invisbl Skratch Piklz), what is happening when they attempt to bring race consciousness unabashed? What does a post-1980s, hip hop generation, race-conscious Filipino American identification look like?

As seen from the video, Filipino Americans have been immersed in certain realms of hip hop forms since the late 1970s, but their participation in the broader forms of Black performance traditions dates back to contact made by Black Buffalo Soldiers who arrived in the islands during the Philippine-American War. The Americanization of the islands through music, education, and culture certainly contributed to Filipino familiarity with their White colonizers, but with the Americanization of Filipinos was the simultaneous Afro-Americanization of Filipinos. Therefore, the identification with Blackness among Filipinos has precedence, a precedence that is essentially rooted in U.S. Empire and the concomitant resistance partnered by Black Buffalo Soldier and Filipino insurgents during the war. At the turn of the 20th century when the Jim Crow South was solidified and U.S. Empire reached the Philippines, Blacks and Filipinos were rapping to a different beat, one underpinned by colonial domination and racist ideology.

Filipino Americans’ hybridity (or the “mestizaje” that I use) mediates their identification with Blackness in both its aesthetics and cultural origins. Elizabeth Pisares writes of Filipino American artists’ “invisibility” and lack of racial discourse, which allows for a flexible identity formation, moving in-between Asian-ness, Latinidad, Whiteness and Blackness. Many young Pinoy/Pinay brothers and sisters have been making visible a constructed notion of their Filipinoness through hip hop. The Pilipino Culture Nights, whose organizers were once skeptical of the “modern” hip hop sections of the theatrical shows (as Filipino hip hoppers were accused of “acting Black”), are now almost incomplete without them; hip hop has become staple for many PCN troupes. In another example, at a recent “Filipino Hip Hop Renaissance” showcase organized by the Kababayan Pilipino and “The Dark Boys” Pinoy brotherhood at University of California, Irvine, a graffiti-style artwork displayed on one panel the Philippine star rising above the Manila skyline and the word “Lost,” and on the opposite panel were displayed blaring boombox speakers along with the word “Found” (artwork by Pia Banez and Rommel Dimacali). As if evoking the Five Percenter “Lost-Found” lesson, young Filipinos continue to process racial and ethnic identification in the context of Filipino cultural recuperation. Here, hip hop is the recuperator.

Hip hop’s rise in popularity in the 80s among a generation of youth of all colors gave its resonance mass appeal, and for young Pinoys and Pinays, this resonance interwove with their existing racialized story here in the States and a broader story informed by Spanish and U.S. Empire. Commenting on hip hop’s appearance in the lives of young Filipinos in the early 80s, Geologic said in an interview “we had to respond to [hip hop] in some way. We had to either be a part of it or resist it. And why would we resist it? It’s something that we can kind of relate to.”

Even though Latinidad and Asian-ness can be powerful sources of racial affiliation among Filipinos (with Whiteness as the neocolonial racial default), my interest is the Blackness that is left unregistered, unrecognized, and even denigrated. As Geologic puts it, “I think a lot of ways when people down talk hip hop in the Filipino community, I think they do it with a tinge of racism to it. Because like a Filipino hip hop artist isn’t as legitimate as Filipino musical playwright. You know. Or a Filipino novelist. When in fact those three—first of all if they are all writing in English, then they’re writing in a language that’s not theirs. You know, so then who’s to say what is Filipino and what’s not?”

Filipino hybridity not only provides rich analysis for comparative race studies, even more, it presents the intersectionality of racialized groups and deconstructs the built borders surrounding ethnic studies disciplines. While addressing the fictiveness of essentialized Filipino identity, investigations of Filipino American performance of Blackness demonstrates the possibilities and promises of unpacking interracial subjectivities—indeed putting Blackness at the center of analysis—while never abandoning the critique of Whiteness as forming the broader structure of power relationships.

So it is worth asking, “what does a post-1980s, hip hop generation, race-conscious Filipino American identification look like?” It can look like many things, and rocking the dance floor to funk breaks and dominating the DJ scene illustrates an un-ignorable cultural dimension, like a bright colored graff piece written on a painted and repainted road sign.

In closing, it is important to acknowledge that Filipino American performance of Blackness is not free of deserved criticism. As Joel Tan writes in “Homothugdragsterism,” “it didn’t bother me that Filipino Americans we re affecting and talking Black. What vexed me was the ways this adopted Blackness went unquestioned…” Uncritical Blackness as drag should be scrutinized, especially when affiliation with Blackness does not necessarily mean a respect for Black people. In addition, Blackness in its constructed hypermasculine dimensions and its gendered role imbedded in racial significance should be taken into consideration. So in an attempt to re-imagine greater dimensions of Filipino racial discourse, a gesture towards the Afro-Americanization of Filipinoness is worth generous attention, especially for a people whose prism of difference is molded from every direction. Geologic best summarizes this re-envisioning:

“Rewriting what it is to what it ought to be.
I be the emcee in the place not to be.
Under constant revision is the poem that I be.”