2/28/2011
Am I proud to be one-sixteenth Filipino?

I haven't seen that video featuring Maria Aragon, the ten-year-old girl who did a cover of Lady Gaga's Born This Way. Well, to be precise, I haven't seen the whole thing. I've only seen a clip off the evening news, of her singing to the camera while playing her keyboard. I only know that Lady Gaga herself saw the video, linked to it on her Twitter account, and sent her fans in a tizzy. I also know that she managed to talk to the girl on the phone, in a radio interview, I think. Maybe there were a few other appearances after that. And I'm pretty sure Maria was given an invitation to perform in one of Lady Gaga's concerts.

And you do know Maria's Filipino, right?

Filipino-Canadian, to be exact. When that fact got out, as fast as the video did, a light bulb lit up across our collective consciousness. Another Filipino making waves abroad. I should be proud of her! Nothing wrong with that - there are many Filipinos who have made their names outside their homeland. We love the glittery world of show business, which is why we find the idea of Charice appearing on Glee, or apl.de.ap sampling Asin in a Black Eyed Peas song, really, really cool. (Then again, half the people I know hated the first idea.) So having this little kid attract the attention of one of pop music's most provocative figures would make the patriot in us swell, right? Nothing wrong with that.

And then the news got to our reporters, who promptly blew the story up on the evening news. "Batang Pinay, umani ng parangal mula kay... Lady! Ga! Ga!" They'd cite it as another example of why we rock as a nation, and gush over the fact that someone so awesome could have Filipino blood. There'd be an online campaign to get her on Ellen, and they'd spin the story and make it about us taking over the world. I can imagine the subtext. "Justin Bieber is old news! We want Maria Aragon!" (This is an actual headline.) That was enough to make me cynical. So suddenly we're all gushing over this girl, who probably spent her entire life in Canada, and doesn't have any idea who we are, nor give a damn about us?

Maybe it is just me, but I hate the way we try to make a big deal over the slightest Filipino connection. I'm not talking about Manny Pacquiao breaking records in the boxing ring. I'm not talking about Cristeta Comerford cooking for the (last I checked) most powerful man in the world. I'm talking about how we all made a big deal of Darren Criss being part-Filipino - not even half; I don't think he thought about it until we freaked out at the idea that there's more than one Filipino on Glee. I'm talking about how we all made a big deal of Hailee Steinfeld, who was earning praise for her performance in True Grit, having Filipino blood, when it's her mother who had a Filipino parent. I'm talking about how we all made a big deal of Harry Shum Jr. having a Filipina girlfriend. A half-Filipina girlfriend.

Yes, I'm sounding really cynical here. Heck, I probably sound envious. That's what my parents would always say. They'd say I should stop complaining about this sort of thing, that I should just shut up and accept the fact that they're famous and I'm not - and they'd go as far as saying that I will never prove anything unlike them. And sure, maybe there's a part of me that goes like that, but I never dreamed of being a big name in another part of the world; I perfectly know that it's beyond my capabilities.

I just hate the fact that we, as Filipinos, tend to latch on to certain people to define ourselves, that we look at the flimsiest of connections to claim someone as our own, and call it a success for our race. Nothing wrong with that? Sure, but it seems to be the only thing we're doing. Most Filipinos who have seen success outside the Philippines - or at least most of those who gain lots of attention in those pretentious newspaper sections - tend to just be a fraction of us. A sixteenth Filipino, a hodge-podge of ethnic lineages, and absolutely no idea what the Philippines is, and we claim him as our own. Is that all that we could do?

And before you start complaining about it, no, I'm not saying that Filipinos are losers. I'm not saying that the only Filipinos capable of success have to be half-something - I did mention Manny Pacquiao, after all. But admit it, we tend to look out rather than look in. A success story within the country gets some mileage, but not as much as "batang Pinay, umani ng parangal mula kay... Lady! Ga! Ga!" because it lacks the sparkle of being outside the country. Or it becomes a victim of the usual crab mentality. It's an easier victim.

For the longest time, we've been looking for the one thing that will spark patriotism within us. Tall order, yes - we've never been more split - but to start with, we've been looking at the wrong places. We can say that this person is awesome and all, but we can't claim him as our own, for despite the lineage he doesn't have an idea who we are and what we're going through. Political strife? I'd rather score MDMAs. You get the idea.

As for Maria Aragon, well, she's good, but I won't call her awesome. Your hyperbole is putting things out of perspective, and as much as you call out her blood, you'll get nothing.

And your responses...

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