Philippine cinema today is a city of bleached-brown faces and light-skinned faces that magically don’t tan in the tropical sun. Manilawood is a city that privileges mestizo actors by placing them at the center of local narratives, actors with names that by Filipino standards are foreign. If not for the brown Filipinos in the background, a viewer of Filipino movies would think that the movie is in fact set in Mexico or in some part of latin america where the mestizaje is historically alive and well.
We immigrants mark our historical presence in America by the names of heroes who gave us a voice, an anodyne to invisibility in a country where documented history keeps some and discards others. It took me a long time to fully grasp Filipino-American history.
There will always be the unflinching devotion of a son to his mother, and history has shown many a similar story, and mine is similar too, except that I’m gay. A gay person’s life journey can have be made difficult by being rendered… “different.” You see, I never came out to our family. I never had to rehearse for weeks what to say, sit relatives down in a circle and make that traumatizing first confession — “I’m gay” — and leave the rest to the unforgiving hands of fate.
Converting immigrant communities into literary markets can be very challenging and complicated. Literature is introduced to most Filipinos in an academic setting as a top-down imposition more akin to catholic penance than scholarship. We certainly don’t equate reading literature with our hedonistic attachment to dancing, singing, and eating pork. And if Filipinos do read a book, their colonial dictates will have them picking up a non-Filipino author. Ah, heartbreaking truths!