Saturday, May 19, 2012


Yes, there is reason enough for celebration.

When Filipino-Mexican-American Jessica Sanchez was the first to be announced as the two remaining contenders to go head-on for the finale of one of the most successful talent/reality shows in prime television, not only did her North American fans scream in ultimate euphoria.  A substantial number populating the seven thousand islands halfway across the globe were also glued on the internet, watching the livestream of the proceedings of the show --- and ultimately celebrating the most critical round survived by their bet.  They were all shouting: Proud to be a Filipino!

After almost ninety million votes, Jessica Sanchez is now just a step away from being the next American Idol.

But wait.  There should be something to be understood here.  The title of the show is American Idol, right?  

The youngest contender --- sixteen year old Jessica --- is born of a Filipina mother (from Bataan) and a Mexican father.  For the record, she is a full-fledged American citizen.  She was born, raised and now honored in Chula Vista in San Diego, California.  Although she can sing Filipino songs (as attested by her array of YouTube videos), little Jessica does not speak any of the Filipinos' native languages --- nor has she ever visited Orani, Bataan where her maternal relatives reside.

Clarifications are indeed in order.

Some netizens are already reacting: is it really wrong for Filipinos to claim Jessica Sanchez as their own?  

Considering that we have this talented young woman competing at an early age on a stage opened for Americans for the world to see --- is it not presumptuous on the part of Filipinos to say that this little girl is theirs? Is it not out of order to evade the fact that she is not even a naturalized American citizen ... and that the Mexicans and other Latinos have equal rights in saying that she is theirs as well?

Out of all the excitement generated by her climb up to the Finale, Filipinos may have overstepped the presumption that she is ...well, exclusively Asian.  

We can forgive ourselves for that. We were just too happy for her and we wanted part of that happiness.  We wanted a slice of the cake called success.  We wanted to join her ride.

Maybe Filipinos have a tendency to go overboard by announcing to the world that Jessica is the pride of Filipinos.  

This is tantamount to saying that the Mexicans have no part of her --- and that we forget that her ancestry is as much Latino as it is Asian.  Upon seeing videos and pictures of Jessica's parents, we do agree that as much as her mother is Pinay na Pinay, her father is undoubtedly a Mexican. Add the fact that she was born in Southern California and holds a US Passport.

So maybe we should be a little sensitive about that. In a competition when you literally need all the votes you can get, we do not want to alienate that enormous Mexican market who should be as proud of Jessica as we are of her.  

But regardless of her exact place of birth or whatever government legally recognizes her as one of their citizenry, Jessica possesses both Filipino and Mexican blood. That much is quite evident and beyond debates.

That was where the magic was created: Jessica got the musical chops that seems to be genetically programmed for Filipinos.  At the same time, she also inherited the Latino passion that comes from the heart and soul of her father's race.

Why shouldn't Pinoys feel that they can make their claims on Jessica when we all know that --- my God! --- Filipinos sing at the slightest provocation. If only for her capacity to hit those high notes and render vocal gymnastics ... then there is the Orani blood in her. Jessica is a Filipina because she is obsessed with singing.

Even if there is no excuse or reason, we know that Filipinos sing and sing and sing.  The world is astounded not only by our resiliency and capacity for the ridiculous --- but also our inherent instinct to just open our mouths and sing till Kingdom Come. We sometimes give the impression that if and when the Apocalypse takes place, the event in the Philippines will be different. We will be found not panicking --- our end will come and we will still be singing.

(A sidebar: I was with a prominent singer who also had the opportunity of performing onstage for an international audience. She commented that the Americans were so awed by Jessica's renditions of two of the most difficult songs any singer would dare bring to a contest.  These were Whitney Houston's "And I Will Always Love You" and Jennifer Holliday's ultimate showstopper from the musical Dreamgirls, "And I am Telling You (I Am Not Going)".

To use Randy Jackson's term, Jessica "nailed" the songs with her panabog-baga, pangwawak-lalamunan and panglagot-litid performance. They were indeed showstoppers that seemed to scream, "Ok, top that, Philip!" 

But then ... if you are from the Philippines, think about just how many biriteras in our country actually perform those two songs every time there is a karaoke challenge or a singing competition at the makeshift stage on the basketball court of a plaza somewhere in the hearts of the boondocks? 

We are a nation of biriteras who do not merely sing in a competition. We KILL!)

Remember, the Filipinos hold the distinction of including song in every available opportunity.  

Every street corner in the metropolis --- also include the provinces --- down to the level of the sitios and baranggays --- must have a videoke/karaoke venue.  This has become the new social hall, where friends, relatives and even strangers gather together and sing songs hoping to duplicate the vocal skills of Martin Nievera, Gary Valenciano, Regine Velasquez and Sara Geronimo.  Also throw in Mariah Carey, Celine Dion and Whitney Houston.  Whether gulping bottles of Red Horse Extra Song Beer while munching on sitsarong bulaklak, adobong mani or fish crackers, the Pinoy can be found laughing and belting his lungs out singing his favorite songs.

Oh, we also sing in birthdays, weddings, funerals, baptismal parties, graduation parties, despedida parties, bienvenida parties --- including national rebellions and revolutions.   

That was how we charmed the world back in 1986: at the threat of death and being carpet bombed at EDSA, people were singing and dancing to the tune of Rico Mambo or clenching their fists in the air, teary-eyed rendering their very personal interpretations of Bayan Ko.  The world was awestruck: while tanks were rolling down the stretch of EDSA to squelch the rebels armed with rosaries and flowers, the Filipinos were --- uh --- singing.

Sonofagun! What kind of people are these? Answer: Pinoys.

Jessica apparently has lots of that blood. Just review her entire video history in YouTube when at the age of five she renders that trademark growl that has so impressed the AI audience. Look at how she tended to gravitate around fellow Filipino/American youngsters whose heart are also into music.  She is a good friend of last year's half-Filipino pambato, Thia Megia.  

Right now, together with Ana Maria Perez de Tagle (granddaughter of the legendary Sylvia La Torre), Jessica perhaps is one of the most famous Asian Americans who has succeeded in etching her name in mainstream American popular culture.  If only for that, we can claim her as our own. Or so we would love to do so.

This current obsession for Jessica Sanchez says so much more than the popularity of the reality show she joined.  Moreover, the involvement of Filipinos especially when one of their kababayans is in the spotlight also says so much more not only about the object of their adulation --- but about us --- as a people.  

Remember that recent history has proven that crime rate drops to nearly zero each time Manny Pacquiao has a fight, televised via satellite and aired all over the country.  Remember how Sundays literally freeze whenever the PacMan enters the ring to beat the living daylights out of his opponents while literally cloaked with the Philippine flag?  

The country enters a time warp in the minutes that Pacquiao's supremacy is put to the test.  As he proudly claims that the victory is not his alone but for his entire country, Filipinos do not only cheer.  They make him into a god.  They turn him into a living and breathing national hero --- forgiving him for his trespasses (because he has many) and applauds the lifestyle he has flaunted, complete with the hundreds of millions of US Dollars that he earns each time he gets an opponent all bloodied-up and beaten to a pulp.

Filipinos are so fixated on Manny Pacquiao's powers and as a national icon that they have even elected him into office. Now that says a lot.

It is this same fixation we have for national representatives that give more premium than necessary to beauty queens.  Oh, let us not be such party poopers for, as the saying goes, kung saan ka masaya --- eh, di lumigaya ka!  So even if in reality beauty queens do not and cannot change the fate of national economy nor provide political clout to solve important problems like the territorial claim of Scarborough Shoal, cheering for Venus Raj and Shamcey Supsup is still a good thing.

The success of any kababayan is the success of the people because we are in dire need of heroes who can define us as a race.

Think about it again.

Considering all that has transpired in our history and politics, we have completely lost the accessibility or availability of role models, images of heroes of various degrees --- who can be mirrors of personas we want to become.  Filipinos are starved for that as we cannot find our saviors not in politicos (who end up as major disappointments because of their predilection for the usual graft and corruption) and movie stars (who are the object of rumors, scandals and perversions).

Filipinos will cling onto anything to boost their sense of pride --- because we need this as part of our cultural ritual to give us a sense of community. 

And that is what Jessica Sanchez is doing right now.  She in the midst of a big fight --- a classic scenario: tiny and fragile Asian American with a big voice versus a matinee idol cutie who seems to be the personification of Middle America down to the t-shirt and plaid shirt over jeans and the scruffy look that goes so well with a guitar.  The more vicious the battle, the more that we will root because Filipinos see Jessica as the underdog --- and as a race, we love being underdogs.

We venerate our sense of victory because we fight against the odds.  This is what Jessica is doing.  This was what Pacquiao did before --- and now he is a living legend. This is what Ninoy Aquino achieved when he won the elections because of the power of mythology that the Filipinos created about his family.

We, as a people, are obsessed with the belief that there will always be a happy ending.  We may know how to get there ... but we will get there somehow, someday.

So even if Jessica Sanchez is not a hundred percent Pinay, we still claim her because for the Filipinos --- her battle to reach the top is the journey of the nation in its hopes to find reward after centuries of obstacles and struggles.  That way, Jessica's songs becomes ours.

Come to think of it, how will we define Jessica Sanchez?

Is she an American or a Mexican or a Filipina?  In this day and age, can somebody still provide the ultimate definition of what is American? Or Filipino for that matter?

Although the title of the show is American Idol ... the competition is about singing. It is about music.  

Music knows no nationalities.  And talent goes beyond the boundaries of legalities and territories of nations.  That is the promise of Jessica and that is why Filipinos love her.