The Uncultured: On Filipino Cuisine, Racism, and Bloggers Who Buy Longganisa from 7/11May 8, 2019
- Lars RoxasWords
Last week, the local blogging community was all up in a tizzy over one foreigner’s account of the, according to her, true trashy state of Filipino food. Apparently, all those pretty pictures of Kare-Kare, Lechon, and Adobo floating around the web were all nothing but a sham. We’ve been hiding the horror that we actually eat, presumably behind the hordes of obese school children she also said she regularly observed here.
Predictably, this did not go over well with many of our countrymen. Every Juan, Jose, and Maria with a computer or smart phone decided to soothe their anger by populating her entry’s comments section with a virtual deluge of messages calling her stupid, racist, and ill informed. There were also one or two death threats, a few promises of grievous bodily harm to be visited upon her entire family, and, because this is the Internet, a couple of idiots declaring her to be hot and that they would “totally hit that.”
A couple of days later, another foreigner wrote a reaction piece to the original post that started this debacle. His, in contrast to the girl’s, is filled with nothing but praise and kind words for our local cuisine. Also, his blog had much much better photos. Filipinos had a more positive opinion for what he wrote. His comments section was filled with cheery messages from many an appreciative local, though unfortunately none that adjudged him as attractive enough to be worthy of being “totally hit.”
Why did we all get our knickers in a bunch over something so minor?
He also accused the other blogger of writing her anti-Filipino cuisine piece totally on purpose, in an attempt to garner as many hits (hate-filled or not) as possible. It was a statement that was immediately thrown back in his face by a few apologists of the original writer, pointing out that he’s doing pretty much the same thing, only in a less dick-ish way. While the truth of either scenario is debatable, we’re pretty easy to manipulate emotionally after all, I think there’s another, more important, issue that we’re all glossing over. To put it plainly, why did we all (collectively, as an Internet-savvy nation) get our knickers in a bunch over something so minor?
It’s almost funny, if it wasn’t so sad, how the world now sees us online. Just visit any YouTube video where a local singer does a version of a foreign artist’s song. It doesn’t matter if it’s Regine Velasquez or Sarah Geronimo, the moment an innocent white guy wanders by to say they like Idina Menzel’s original recording of Let It Go more, a veritable army of people with too many “h’s” in their usernames will proceed to jump down his throat. That reaction’s nothing new, though. We’ve been doing it for decades. Remember when, and I’m showing my age here, Claire Danes once said in an interview that she had a horrible time shooting a movie in Manila because of all the trash and limb-less (yes, really) natives everywhere? We got so angry, people were writing petitions to either ban her from the country permanently or arrest her the moment she sets foot here again.
Personally, while I too was initially ticked off at that first blogger, all my rage and fury evaporated the moment I saw she tried to buy authentic longganisa from a 7/11. I couldn’t help but burst out laughing. She’s a child, obviously. An actual adult would never go to a convenience store for high-quality meals, Ministop’s fried chicken notwithstanding. It’s a ludicrous notion. Hell, the twenty-five dollars a day she said she was forced to subsist on because she was on a tight budget is enough to feast like a queen if she just knew where to look.
I would think an internationally respected celebrity chef would be more influential than a pithy little blog that’s just half a step above a 90’s geocities site.
Some people have pointed out that her ignorance could negatively impact tourism in the county. Nope. It really won’t. No self-respecting traveller would lend any credence to what she says. Whether or not she had an agenda, the credibility of her stories and opinions shatter into ten million sparkly pieces the moment anyone actually takes the time to read and understand her blog. She’s not an authority. You know who is, though? Anthony Bourdain. And the dude loved our food. I would think an internationally respected celebrity chef would be more influential than a pithy little blog that’s just half a step above a 90’s geocities site.
Filipinos have always been ultra protective of our national “image.” What other people say about our country/countrymen is always treated as being of great import. I mean, how many headlines did Bruno Mars saying he was proud of being Filipino really need? Whatever that number is, our local media must’ve at least tripled it. We ooh and aah over freaking Rob Schneider’s ancestry and swear bloody jihad on those who dare say anything but the most complimentary things about Manny Pacquiao. It seems, for many of us, the only possible reason for a Filipino thing or person to be criticized by a non-Filipino is, obviously, racism.
It’s a position I honestly find quite odd. Setting aside the amount of complaining we do about how much things suck here, Filipinos are also some the most racist people I know. Barring our occasional national fervor for random American Idol contestants and pseudo-celebrities with even a thimble full of Filipino blood (which is itself a different can of worms, what’s Filipino anyway? Malay ancestry? Chinese? Malay-raped-by-a-Spanish-priest-400-years-ago?), racism is so deeply embedded here that I’m pretty sure people don’t even think it’s wrong when they do it. Import basketball players are regularly called unggoy in live basketball games, and the only times we get offended is if the dude being insulted plays for our team. Every Indian guy is called a five-six and we all automatically assume that every Chinese person we see has an eight-digit savings account.
To be fair, I’ve personally experienced my fair share of racist rubbish care of foreigners still stuck in the year 1952. For every pleasant Konnichiwa I’ve received, from well-meaning but clueless white folk who think Asian means Japanese, I’ve also been pushed out of moving buses by French ladies, albeit slow moving buses, and spit on by Swiss grandmas. I’ve even been the “victim” of unintended “racism” when, at a bar in Denmark, I realized that I had to tiptoe just to reach the urinals. The porcelain lip was practically level with my belly button, it was incredibly emasculating. However, the only time I ever felt real anger was the one time it came from another Filipino.
I was in Madrid then, in the middle of backpacking through Western Europe with a friend. By that point in our trip, I’d been living out of a single suitcase for a few weeks. I, admittedly, looked a bit ragged.
“Pilipino kayo?” asked the most stereotypically Imeldific-looking woman I’d ever seen outside of the society pages. She had the jewels, the branded clothes, the pompadour, and everything else.
“Opo,” I answered. We were in a small grocery, stocking up on canned goods to eat at our hostel because we couldn’t afford to eat out more than once or twice a week.
“OFW?” she asked, while giving my ratty high school PE shirt, unkempt hair, and decade-old never been washed chucks the evil eye.
My friend and I shook our heads no. The rich old lady chose to end our conversation there. Gathering up her collar, she walked away with one eyebrow raised while muttering “TNT” under her breath just loud enough so we could hear it.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have to fight the urge to throw one of my tuna cans at her head then. I wasn’t mad that she’d judged me for my poor dressing, but it made me furious the way she implied that being an overseas Filipino worker was somehow a negative. As a kid whose parents were at one point OFWs themselves, in fact it paid for the construction of the house I grew up in, I was deeply offended. What if we really were OFWs? What’s so shameful about that?
There’s this deep-seated racist self-loathing that we take in stride with nothing but a smile and a shrug.
Even on the local front, this self-hate for being a normal Filipino is evident. I’m not just talking about that one friend we all have who, after spending five days in LA, suddenly can’t pronounce paruparo or panyo. Nope, I’m talking about the deep-seated racist self-loathing that we take in stride with nothing but a smile and a shrug. It’s present in our jokes, our conversations, our stories, and even in the television programs we watch on the small screen.
There’s a cooking show on AFC that always threatens to give me an aneurysm, mostly from all the rage I have to choke down whenever I accidentally catch it. It’s either called The Boss or Cultural Insensitivity, I forget which exactly. It’s hosted by this bald chef who’s ostensibly Filipino but is obviously as American as California Maki. Homeboy can’t even hold an extended conversation in Filipino, and yet has the sheer gall to call his sous chef, his underling, obviously a native Filipino, obviously much much darker than him, monkey instead of the person’s actual name. Let me repeat that, this American dude is on television dehumanizing a Filipino by solely and repeatedly calling him a monkey, and he even pays the poor guy to never say anything in response other than “yes, boss.” And, worst of all, no one seems to care. No one thinks this is a bad idea.
My left eye is involuntarily twitching just from having to type out that bit of insanity.
Considering the cultural baggage behind that slur, as applied to Filipinos, dating all the way back to the American occupation and World War II, I find its continued use on-air ignorant and insensitive at best to racist and hateful at worst. I don’t care if the sous chef was up for it or if he was well paid, little kids can easily watch and see this happening. That’s not a lesson I want them to learn.
Maybe, the Philippines isn’t perfect and neither are her people.
Maybe the reason so many of us jump to murder whenever a real foreigner criticizes us and our own, is that far from feeling indignation, we’re all actually a little guilty. We act like the criticism, even if it’s unfounded, is a dirty secret we don’t want to get out. We’re all cheating spouses who, once questioned why our boxers or panties have pink lipstick stains on them, defend ourselves by calling the other partner a cheater. It’s as if, in our deepest heart of hearts, we have something to hide. That maybe, the Philippines isn’t perfect and neither are her people. The truth is, though, everyone already knows that. It’s futile to keep up the act, we’re really not fooling anyone. Come on, we’re the country of which two out of its last three presidents have been arrested and whose youth are fleeing the nation in droves for better opportunities elsewhere.
On the risk of sounding like a Disney movie, I really believe our priority as a people should be learning to love ourselves first. Stop accepting all the messed up stuff about our nation, from falling buses to comicbook-level evil politicians, as being the status quo and start making an effort to change them. We really need to be hopeful, to be optimistic again. Then, maybe, in the future, whenever some sad little girl proudly declares she’d rather die of starvation than have to suffer through the grotesque horror that is Filipino cuisine, we can all just smile, laugh, and move on. If nothing else, it will do wonders for the collective blood pressure of our entire nation.