Tuesday, March 15, 2016

"When did you first see yourself represented in pop culture?"

I'll warn you up front. This will be tl;dr. Grab a drink and get comfortable. It starts with me be introduced to a yet another new wonderful thing...and that new thing opening a big ol' can of worms in my head that has taken me a week to dig through.

So, like so many people, I have become an avid, rabid fan of the musical Hamilton. I've listened to the cast recording countless times and been devastated by it every time. I've looked up the exorbitant show prices and watched the #Ham4Ham videos. I didn't get to watch the live feed of the performance at the White House yesterday so I just have to make do with the photos, tweets, and the little bit of freestyling Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton's creator and star) did with President Obama: https://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2016/03/14/bam4ham-hamilton-white-house

But that's not the new wonderful thing.  What was new-to-me was the awesome podcast series Another Round!  One day last week, romance author (and Twitter friend) Alyssa Cole tweeted that Another Round had a new podcast featuring LMM! http://www.buzzfeed.com/eleanorkagan/practical-tactical-brilliance#.peZw0n7K13

OMG! Another Round is AWESOME! If you don't use iTunes, you can also find this gem on Buzzfeed and Facebook, among other places, I'm sure. I'm still exploring Another Round, but what I've heard so far is wonderful!

So...cool! I find Another Round's LMM podcast, and I'm enjoying this fascinating and entertaining podcast as I clean my house. It starts out with an amusing discussion of current events before moving to the LMM interview, and then eventually one of the podcast hosts asks LMM, "When is the very first time you saw yourself represented in pop culture?"

Interesting question, right?

LMM even says it's a great question and admits some of the earliest representations were baaaad. And then, as I'm listening to his response, I.......

I literally stopped in my tracks......

as if my brain needed to marshal all my energy in order to dig deeper into my memory banks......

because...the realization hit me like a physical, visceral experience:

When did I first see MYSELF represented in pop culture?

As a Filipina-American female?

Had I ever?

I was a child of the 1970s/1980s. I knew of Lea Salonga, now the Broadway legend, long before she became famous in the US only because my parents knew of her from the Philippines and followed her career.  I knew of pianist Cecile Licad only because, well, her mother apparently babysat me when I was young. But I didn't see either of these young Filipina women in the public eye at the time.

So when I dig deep, the earliest recollections I have of any Asians, not even specifically Filipinos, on TV or in films in the 70s-80s are really difficult to find. And I don't remember going to see many movies as a kid. So the earliest memory of representation that I can identify is actually Pat Morita as Arnold in Happy Days!  And that led me back down memory lane to Rosie from Rosie's Bar in M*A*S*H*.  Peripheral characters with, now that I think about it, some key shared characteristics. Both yelled a lot? Both worked in food service? Both had accents?

And neither of them were the character viewers were "supposed to" associate with or connect with.

So I guess it wasn't until I saw comedienne Margaret Cho first doing stand-up and then doing her short-lived TV series All-American Girl that I saw a pop culture representation even came close to representing my experience and my perception. And that was in the 1990s.

I still don't know that I've seen much strong Filipino-American pop culture representation. There are glimpses of Filipino actors here and there, but if you listen carefully, Filipinos are likely to be the punchline of a throwaway joke (cf. The Simpsons, Family Guy, 30 Rock, etc., etc., etc.)

And take a look at some of the lists of actors/performers with Filipino heritage (As an aside: hey, Filipinos are hot!):

Many of those actors and performers pass for other ethnicities (and some are mixed so, sure, that makes perfect sense). It's wonderful to see that pop culture is so much more diverse now than it was when I was growing up. But it would also be great to see some Filipinos depicted as Filipino characters, not as some other Asian or as passing for white. There's been progress, but there's still a long way to go.

So...when did *you* first see yourself represented in pop culture?


  1. I have faced the same struggle with representations of disability in the media. Disabilities are often either the subject of a punch line or the subject of pity. We can be the funny sidekick on a TV show, but rarely do we get represented as whole, vibrant people who deserve to have a back story. Growing up with a disability, you already feel like the odd one out. Not being able to see myself in a starring role, I felt like I was the supporting character in my own life because I have these disabilities. For once, I would like to see a show with a main character who has a disability in which the show itself is not revolving around said disability.

    I really enjoyed this post. I hope we're moving towards a future in which everyone is represented.

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NECRWA 2017 Follow-up!

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