Friday, August 25, 2006

Early responses, received August 23

E-mail from Ryan Canlas:

Just wanted to send along a response/comment on the statement you signed.... I myself have only recently seen the two "Bebot" videos. I have to admit, though, that when I first heard the song (my sister has the "Monkey Business" album), and then after that when I heard "Bebot" on the radio, I thought it was commendable that a) Ap did another song in Tagalog, and b) that the Black Eyed Peas would release it as a single and that the radio station here in San Diego would play it. But I didn't think much of the song. The lyrics aren't that deep, and, to be frank, I don't like the Black Eyed all.

But when I saw the videos, some of the inherent problems of the song (which the writers of the statement addressed), which weren't that apparent to me upon first and second listen, became clear, the biggest one being the invocation of some sort of Filipino American-ness qua the hot Pinay. Beauty, hotness, all thatˆˆI don't mind when it's empowering, since the invocation of beauty oftentimes among racial minorities is an index to and impetus for some mode of solidarity and even radical action. But when the voice and the image comes primarily from a man, and when the song itself does little in expressing the articulations between, for instance, beauty, feminity (or feminism?), and community building, a huge gap remains as to what kind of a community is being invoked, and who the putative community that is the object of the address actually is. What happens is that the gap in this logic is filled in an almost de facto fashion by the status quo, i.e. the male, heterosexual community and voice.

(And here I won't go into the problems I have with the Black Eyed Peas, which I think is symptomatic of not only the song, but the two videos. Let's just say I find them a little too willing to be marketable as a "multicultural group.")

I actually found the Generation One video a little more disturbing, and for the following reason: the dime dancers, as far as I could tell, were all Pinays. The celebration of the "bebot" figure and the representation of what is basically an elided moment of U.S. labor history are two thoroughly incompatible modalities, and so what happens is that what does get elided in this, for me, irresponsible depiction is the racial dynamics between the male Filipino laborers and the *white* female dime dancers, a dynamic that was responsible, among other things, for producing not only the stereotype of the predatory Filipino, but also for many of the lynchings that took place back in the thirties, the justification for which was precisely the form of racialization that the sexual dynamics of "migrant labor" (to use an anachronism... or maybe Stateless labor would be better as an all-inclusive term to include even today's proletarian topology) precipitated. This concrete and material history, as an object of thought and discussion, is what is foreclosed from the start by the Generation One video. So it's only "natural" that this elision of the history of the production of the Filipino male stereotype manifests itself in the Generation Two video's depiction of Pinay *and* Pinoy sexuality in the terms of the status quo.

Anyway, that's my two cents. I'm glad all of you sent the letter to the filmmakers and to Ap. Hopefully, they'll take it inot consideration next time.


E-mail from Marlon Esguerra:

Hi all,

I'd like to thank everyone who drafted this letter to Apl, Patricio Ginelsa of Kid Heroes, and Xylophone. I completely agree with the points made in the letter. I believe that the issues brought up strike at the heart of contradictions that have unfortunately embedded themselves in the FilAm identity.

I will keep this short and just say that dialogue (intergenerational, between those in the academy and not, between artists/practioners and not, and between FilAm communities in different regions, etc.) is imperative. In reading the letter (which no doubt was drafted to present complicated points as informally as possible), there exists a danger of two things: 1) skating the ultimate issue of the song and the videos as a form of patriarchal, hetereosexist, sexual violence and not indicting Apl, Partricio and Xyl fully and 2) skating the issue that it literally "took a village" to create those videos and thus many people consented to this abuse of power and control.

I believe that in this case, between indictment and consent is a unique opportunity to go to the source. Has there been any direct contact with Apl, Pat, folks in Xyl? Have comments been sought from anyone in the video? Kiwi? Bambu? Rhett? In regards to the song and the videos, we know in what direction the best intentions went. Again, I thank you for the letter, which is vigilant and true. What direct action and personal contact is being made to open up the possibility for change? What responsibilities are you charging the FilAm community with through this letter?


Marlon Unas Esguerra
Poet & Teacher
Chicago, IL



Comment from Chris Danguilan posted on The Wily Filipino:

Given the radical feminist critique of "Bebot", I am curious as to why the author of this open letter has not gained the imprimatur of Gabriela? I would very much like their comments and criticisms of the video.

Initially, I have to agree with the premise of the foundation of her/their argument. That being the historical international objectification of Filipinas into the sexualized roles of prostitute, stripper, mail order bride, etc. However, I fail to see how valid its application is to said video.

For example, who in version 2 was the whore and who was the virgin? I don't doubt these identities existed (in fact, I would argue that any fictionalized scenario wherein there were more than two female players you could find such comparisons) it just would have been nice if the author/s could have fleshed (no pun intended) that out a little more. I am afraid it is a little too simplistic and a little heavy handed to say that here the Filipina is sexualized, rather than identifying the dancer's as sexy Filipinas. In addition, I am slightly offended that the mother is considered asexualized by the author/s. It assumes that all full figured mothers over the age of 40 are sexless. I feel that is all too often the intrepretation of most people under the age of 30, and more the author/s' in this instance.

Unless, the authors/s have personally spoken with the actress how do they know that her accent was exaggerated rather than merely unfortunate overacting? I have any number of immediate family members with heavy accents and to suggest that this was feigned in the video for the purpose of amusing others at the character's expense makes a mockery of them.

Finally, the dance halls during this era in central California did exist, and make no mistake, these were church ice cream socials but were there for the pleasure of the manongs. Though historically, I doubt there were many Filipinas present as there were in the video since although immigration law at the time allowed Filipinos to enter the US, the same did not apply for Filipinas (even if they were the spouse or daughter). It could be argued that that intent of the manong's pleasure as a group was more spiritual or social than corporal (esp. considering the miscegination laws) however, I would be surprised if there was no sexual interest. I base this, in part, on past conversations with my now deceased Uncles Tony and Remy who were both Manongs. Granted, I could be wrong about the author/s intent with regard to this section of the letter as I have no idea what "unproblematized light" means. Such wording is best left to dissertations.

To close, I did not see any bleached blonde Pinay in Generation 2. I will go back and take a closer look, and try to make more sense of the open criticism presented here. I would agree that there are many inadvertant or unintentional conflicts in the content of the videos, but I would argure there is just as much in the open letter of criticism presented here.

I believe we should commend the Black Eyed Peas and in particular Apl de Ap for their groundbreaking attempt to introduce Filipino culture, community, and history into popular American culture. It would be patronizing to say that they expected more airplay by using "hoochie-mama dancers". Because you, me, and Apl de Ap know that sadly mainstream America still has shown little to no positive interest in songs sung in anything other than English no matter who any of us believe is being exploited.

Sincerely, Chris Danguilan


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