The Meaning of Manny Pacquiao to this Filipino-American

Posted on December 8, 2012 by

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This is one of the few times per year that the media and celebrities will care about a bunch of short, “ugly”, humble brown guys.

A Manny Pacquiao fight.

This is the type of attention I’d never seen growing up.

And by attention, it’s not that I’m in dire need for it.

I just like to be acknowledged once in a while, which I think most folk want.

I grew thinking that I was kind of an invisible person.  I wasn’t tall, I didn’t talk a lot. It was just sort of in sync with what my school and my parents wanted.  Don’t talk back, respect your elders, don’t make too much of a scene of yourself.

Being Filipino to me meant being this invisible nothing.  “Invisible” in the sense that I always felt ignored, due to some extent to being of my color and my ethnic background.  Upon entering high school, I idolized everything about what I thought being a white person was:  living in the suburbs, listening to KROQ 106.7.

Outside of school and church and whereever my parents took us, it was like Filipinos didn’t really exist.  Very scarce mention of us in the local or national news.  From Kindergarten through 12th grade there was very scarce mention in social studies books, save for a bit about the 1898 Spanish American War, where the Philippines became a colony.  I don’t remember ever studying them;  it would always be me, bored, looking at the book’s index for “Philippines” or Filipino and then jumping and reading the lil paragraph dedicated to us getting conquered.

It’s not that I wanted people to like me for being Filipino, or people to like my culture or people to recite their favorite Philippine dishes.

It was just that I wanted some acknowledgement as someone equal, as someone of equal intelligence and ability, as someone of equal desirability.  In social situations from high school on, it seemed that me being a person of color, a Filipino, initially was a barrier to getting that acknowledgment.

When you’re a person of color, at times you tend to feel like you’re “renting” a space, rather than “owning” it.  My grade school classmates knew that my elite high school (which is actually somewhat diverse and quite liberal in its teachings) was the domain of white folk from the more affluent parts of LA County.  In high school, Filipinos did OK academically, we seemed to be “cool” with everyone, but we weren’t the acknowledged star athletes, academicians, or school leaders.  As much as you could blame us kids for “self-segregating”, it’s not like there are a ton of people trying to integrate with or emulate us either.

Today’s media, social and traditional, Filipinos are slowly getting up on stage (though I wonder how people of even leaner ethnic and national origins look up to).  There’s that American idol runner-up Jessica Sanchez, there was America’s Best Dance Crew, there’s Erik Spoelstra, and all the other “half-Filipino” dudes.

It’s getting better, now I’d like to see folks with the same backgrounds winning Nobel Prizes and influencing politics, minds, and shit.  Hopefully, in time.  Perhaps, subtly inspired yet again by this man this moment, to create their own “in-roads” into the influential public and social spheres.

At the moment we are in, there isn’t anything that quite draws popular international attention upon the Filipino diaspora quite like a Manny fight.

I always revel in the fact that people who appear to be somewhat influential (i.e. celebrities) appear to like this man (at least publicly) that looks like he could be my motherfraggin’ uncle.  From athletes to rich white girls.

I love that the NBA.com page is showing videos of him with NBA legends that I loved to hate growing up.

I love that he gets a full page story in the New York Times.

I’ve written about how Manny is a role model.

But I don’t think I’ve fully explained, or explained clearly what it means for me and my everyday living.

Every time there’s a Manny fight, it’s like a validation for the existence of my racial-ethnic category that had been otherwise invisible for much of my “formative” years.  It is the one time where people on a large stage acknowledge that were more than just timid, laughing, people that you see as only nurses, postal workers, or security guards.  It is the one time where people seem to want to have what we have.