Tooting My Own Horn.

Pinoy Capital

Pinoy Capital
The Filipino Nation in Daly City
Benito M. Vergara, Jr.

Home to 33,000 Filipino American residents, Daly City, California, located just outside of San Francisco, has been dubbed “the Pinoy Capital of the United States.” In this fascinating ethnographic study of the lives of Daly City residents, Benito Vergara shows how Daly City has become a magnet for the growing Filipino American community.

Vergara challenges rooted notions of colonialism here, addressing the immigrants’ identities, connections and loyalties. Using the lens of transnationalism, he looks at the “double lives” of both recent and established Filipino Americans. Vergara explores how first-generation Pinoys experience homesickness precisely because Daly City is filled with reminders of their homeland’s culture, like newspapers, shops and festivals. Vergara probes into the complicated, ambivalent feelings these immigrants have—toward the Philippines and the United States—and the conflicting obligations they have presented by belonging to a thriving community and yet possessing nostalgia for the homeland and people they left behind.


Pinoy Capital is a colorful and nuanced ethnographic foray into the social institutions and quotidian lives of Filipino Americans living in Daly City. Vergara is a gifted writer and his work delves closely on the affective and reciprocal relationships and practices of Filipino Americans as immigrants. This is a welcome and important study, and Vergara puts forward important and innovative assertions and arguments that will have repercussions on debates about Filipinos in the United States.”
—Martin Manalansan, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, and editor of Cultural Compass: Ethnographic Explorations of Asian America

Pinoy Capital is a landmark text—an exciting, refreshing, and critical ethnography that continues, but revitalizes, ongoing conversations regarding Filipino immigrant/transnational life in the United States. There have been very few ethnographies of this group, and I think this one not only offers a much-needed and provocative study, it complicates arguments and discussions about the specificities of Filipino immigration to the U.S. Vergara provides solid and rigorous engagement with his objects of study, and he is especially attuned to the clarities and complexities of everyday life in a particular site that is touted as a quintessential one for Filipino American settlement.”
—Rick Bonus, Associate Professor, Department of American Ethnic Studies, University of Washington

About the Author

Benito M. Vergara, Jr. is the author of Displaying Filipinos: Photography and Colonialism in Early 20th-Century Philippines. He lives and works in the San Francisco Bay Area.

232 pp
3 tables 2 map(s)

paper: $25.95, Jan 09
EAN: 978-1-59213-665-0
ISBN: 1-59213-665-6

cloth: $74.50, Jan 09
EAN: 978-1-59213-664-3
ISBN: 1-59213-664-8



We learn to trust maps for their indexical, authoritative quality, for their capacity to be the arbiters of truth. Out comes the map from the glove compartment when we are lost. We put our faith in the soothing robotic voice of the GPS computer to tell us where to go. Maps ground us; they give us direction; they help us find our way. It is a lot to ask from a sheet of paper.

The artist Lordy Rodriguez makes maps, and it was a map of his that stopped me in my tracks, the first time I came across his work at the San Francisco Asian Art Museum, when it was still in Golden Gate Park, back in 1998. The piece was called State of Quezon, near-obsessive in its hand-drawn detail, looking very much like a Rand McNally-style highway map, with different-colored freeways, airports, parks, and a legend in the upper-left corner.

This was, however, no “real” map of Quezon: the outlines resembled the Philippine province, but on it, San Francisco was the capital, a few cities southeast of Iloilo City. Across Laguna Lake, one could find Missouri City, Houston, and Brooklyn, the latter further north from Tacloban City and Davao City. Up Highway 15, past Rizal State Park in Zambales County, Baton Rouge and Dipolog City formed the gateway to the Basilan Sound.

Rodriguez’s maps, I thought, were perfect visual representations of how Filipinos, in their dispersal throughout the American continent, brought something of themselves from their homelands. Baggage in tow, Pinoys were reconfiguring their relationships to places, and were simultaneously remaking their destinations, in the same ways that many migrants live their lives across borders. A metaphorical defiance, perhaps, of the map’s authority, with migrants dissolving frontiers in their wake.

His next series of maps — pastel renderings of every state in the union, and a few more besides — also illustrated the symbolic aspect of place, how memory shapes personal geographies. There’s no reason, you might say, why Quezon City and Palo Alto shouldn?t be located a few freeway exits away from each other, in Texas. But this series is more deeply haunted by history, with additional states like Disney, Internet, and Territory, the latter rudely forcing together Samoa, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines. But instead of the utopian feel at play in his late ’90s maps, spilling over with the freedom of creating his own private Idaho, Rodriguez’s newer maps seem more like dislocations, throwbacks to pre-Industrial Revolution mapping technologies.

His new series, currently on exhibit at the Hosfelt Gallery in San Francisco, plays with our notions of what maps ought to look like. Dispensing with words altogether, Rodriguez has drawn not maps, exactly, but abstractions of maps — two hundred and one, to be exact — turning the gallery into something looking more like a colonial surveyor’s office. The map grids are still there, but his cartographer’s eye has settled instead upon peacock tails, gray axons of barbed wire, cores of onion skin, Doppler patterns, cobblestones, and the Great Lakes looking like beached whales. Meandering rivers flow next to salmon-colored blobs. Electrified shards of olive green border tessellated peninsulas. Crumbling suburbias share space with seaweed poking out from an ocean bed.

The effect is both beautiful and jarring: they can be rivers seen from above, or they can be cells seen under a microscope. The maps foreground the interplay of landscapes and interiors being mapped, muddling our sense of recognition. What is most interesting about these maps are their precisely somatic quality, leading viewers to think not just of the land as a body, but of our insides being relentlessly explored by science as well. It?s a twenty-first century take on the old-fashioned method of cartography: re-imagining everything familiar as terra incognita, and finding dragons everywhere.


The Sky Is Falling!

Last week Beting Dolor officially but quietly announced his taking over of the editorship of Philippine News. His Aug. 29 – Sept. 4 2007 column making the announcement was not online as of this writing; in its stead was a snarky, Dolor-written column (not too subtly entitled “He Asked For It”) gloating over Joma Sison’s arrest by Dutch authorities.*

This was after a two-month, seemingly rudderless though smooth period when the top of the editorial masthead remained empty after the quiet dismissal of Lito Gutierrez, the former editor in chief. Quiet, because Philippine News was characteristically silent about the transition. Gutierrez’s column, “The Inverted Pyramid”, simply vanished from its usual position to the right of the readers’ letters, and that was that.


Open Letter on Bebot.

To, Patricio Ginelsa/KidHeroes, and Xylophone Films:

We, the undersigned, would like to register our deep disappointment at the portrayal of Filipinas and other women in the new music videos for the Black Eyed Peas song, “Bebot.” We want to make it clear that we appreciate your efforts to bring Filipina/o Americans into the mainstream and applaud your support of the Little Manila of Stockton. However, as Filipina/o and Filipina/o American artists, academics, and community activists, we are utterly dismayed by the portrayal of hypersexualized Filipina “hoochie-mama” dancers, specifically in the Generation 2 version, the type of representation of women so unfortunately prevalent in today’s hip-hop and rap music videos. The depiction of the 1930s “dime dancers” was also cast in an unproblematized light, as these women seem to exist solely for the sexual pleasure of the manongs.

In general, we value’s willingness to be so openly and richly Filipino, especially when there are other Filipina/o Americans in positions of visibility who do not do the same, and we appreciate the work that he has done with the folks at Xylophone Films; we like their previous video for “The Apl Song,” and we even like the fact that the Generation 1 version of Bebot attempts to provide a “history lesson” about some Filipino men in the 1930s. However, the Generation 2 version truly misses the mark on accurate Filipina/o representation, for the following reasons:

1. The video uses three very limited stereotypes of Filipina women: the virgin, the whore, and the shrill mother. We find a double standard in the depiction of the virgin and whore figures, both of which are highly sexualized. Amidst the crowd of midriff-baring, skinny, light-skinned, peroxided Pinays — some practically falling out of their halter tops — there is the little sister played by Jasmine Trias, from whom big brother Apl is constantly fending off Pinoy “playas.” The overprotectiveness is strange considering his idealization of the bebot or “hot chick.” The mother character was also particularly troublesome, but for very different reasons. She seems to play a dehumanized figure, the perpetual foreigner with her exaggerated accent, but on top of that, she is robbed of her femininity in her embarrassingly indelicate treatment of her son and his friends. She is not like a tough or strong mother, but almost like a coarse asexual mother, and it is telling that she is the only female character in the video with a full figure.

2. We feel that these problematic female representations might have to do with the use of the word “Bebot.” We are of course not advocating that Apl change the title of his song, yet we are confused about why a song that has to do with pride in his ethnic/national identity would be titled “Bebot,” a word that suggests male ownership of the sexualized woman — the “hot chick.” What does Filipino pride have to do with bebots? The song seems to be about immigrant experience yet the chorus says “ikaw ang aking bebot” (you are my hot chick). It is actually very disturbing that ones ethnic/national identity is determined by ones ownership of women. This system not only turns women into mere symbols but it also excludes women from feeling the same kind of ethnic/national identity. It does not bring down just Filipinas; it brings down all women.

3. Given the unfortunate connection made in this video between Filipino pride and the sexualized female body both lyrically and visually, we cant help but conclude that the video was created strictly for a heterosexual mans pleasure. This straight, masculinist perspective is the link that we find between the Generation 1 and Generation 2 videos. The fact that the Pinoy men are surrounded by “hot chicks” both then and now makes this link plain. Yet such a portrayal not only obscures the “real” message about the Little Manila Foundation; it also reduces Pinoy mens hopes, dreams, and motivations to a single-minded pursuit of sex.

We do understand that Filipino America faces a persistent problem of invisibility in this country. Moreover, as the song is all in Tagalog (a fact that we love, by the way), you face an uphill battle in getting the song and music video(s) into mainstream circulation. However, remedying the invisibility of Filipina/os inthe United States should not come at the cost of the dignity and self-respect of at least half the population of Filipino America. Before deciding to write this letter, we felt an incredible amount of ambivalence about speaking out on this issue because, on the one hand, we recognized that this song and video are a milestone for Filipina/os in mainstream media and American pop culture, but on the other hand, we were deeply disturbed by the images of women the video propagates.

In the end we decided that we could not remain silent while seeing image after image of Pinays portrayed as hypersexual beings or as shrill, dehumanized, asexual mother-figures who embarrass their children with their overblown accents and coarseness. The Filipino American community is made up of women with Filipino pride as well, yet there is little room in these videos for us to share this voice and this commitment; instead, the message we get is that we are expected to stand aside and allow ourselves to be exploited for our sexuality while the men go about making their nationalist statements.

While this may sound quite harsh, we believe it is necessary to point out that such depictions make it seem as if you are selling out Filipina women for the sake of gaining mainstream popularity within the United States. Given the already horrific representations of Filipinas all over the world as willing prostitutes, exotic dancers, or domestic servants who are available for sex with their employers, the representation of Pinays in these particular videos can only feed into such stereotypes. We also find it puzzling, given your apparent commitment to preserving the history and dignity of Filipina/os in the United States, because we assume that you also consider such stereotypes offensive toFilipino men as well as women.

Again, we want to reiterate our appreciation for the positive aspects of these videos — the history lesson of the 1936 version, the commitment to community, and the effort to foster a larger awareness of Filipino America in the mainstream — but we ask for your honest attempt to offer more full-spectrum representations of both Filipino men and Filipina women, now and in the future. We would not be writing this letter to you if we did not believe you could make it happen.


Lucy Burns
Assistant Professor
Asian American Studies / World Arts and Cultures, UCLA

Fritzie De Mata
Independent scholar

Diana Halog
UC Berkeley

Luisa A. Igloria
Associate Professor
Creative Writing Program & Department of English
Old Dominion University

Veronica Montes

Aimee Nezhukumatathil
Assistant Professor, English
State University of New York–Fredonia

Gladys Nubla
Doctoral student
English, UC Berkeley

Barbara Jane Reyes
Poet and author

Joanne L. Rondilla
Doctoral candidate
Ethnic Studies, UC Berkeley

Rolando B. Tolentino
Visiting Fellow, National University of Singapore
Associate Professor, University of the Philippines Film Institute

Benito Vergara
Assistant Professor
Asian American Studies / Anthropology
San Francisco State University


Jeannie Barroga's Banyan.

Jeannie Barroga‘s new play Banyan begins, quite promisingly, with the sight of Ona’s (aka Dorothy, played with a kind of wide-eyed scariness by Victoria Mejia) red Converse shoes, her iPod, and, perhaps most important for the opening scene, the sound of shredding paper over the fading notes of “Somewhere over the Rainbow.”

The ambient sound — along with, at times, the distracting chirps of birds — is important, because in a sense it’s all background noise. There is hardly a moment of stillness in the entire play; the actors spend their time on stage drowning each other out, as if the constant, logorrheal flow of language (and there are indeed bodily fluids aplenty, including one long, ill-advised, piss) could smooth over the growing noise around them. Or, better yet, as if their constant chatter — the first scene, for instance, revels in what I can only call Wall Street staccato — could somehow ward off the evil spirits that lie in wait. It doesn’t work. The aswang gets you anyway, and will suck out your life essence until you’re — oh, I can’t resist a Munchkin reference here — morally, ethically, spiritually, physically, positively, absolutely, undeniably, and reliably… dead.

Playwright Jeannie Barroga explains that Banyan is a response to 9/11, by way of a Pinay Wizard of Oz. In this respect, Banyan, like the tree that gives the play its title, is something of a sprawling mess. This is not meant to be negative, though it does point to something of a problem with the narrative.

With all these balls being juggled, it would inevitably be difficult to keep them all in the air, and this is where the play becomes hard to follow, both tonally and thematically. Francis Tanglao-Aguas’ able direction keeps the cast’s feet firmly planted on the ground, but Barroga’s writing teeters quite close to farce at many points (which seems to contradict almost everyone’s high-minded seriousness in the program notes). Add to this stew a couple of indecisive corporate execs, a trio of quarrelling soldiers, and yes, a blood-sucking, hump-hungry, succubus-like creature — with almost all the actors playing double, if not triple roles — and you get, as written above, a sometimes confusing tangle of tree roots. (Vicki Zabarte, as the aswang, actually does triple duty as the Wicked Boss Witch and, in a scene-stealing performance, a shrill Philippine Airlines flight attendant.) Towards the end, the “dream” bleeds more and more into “reality,” making the sense of disorientation — also felt at least by this member of the audience — even more acute.

[Special mention must also be made here of Jose Saenz, who, I swear to god, must be the hardest-working Filipino American in show business, at least in these parts. (I think I see him on campus almost every week, and, it seems, in just about every other theater production in San Francisco.) His unctuous CIA agent / mysterious black-clad assistant strikes just the right note; to watch him unexpectedly channel the Cowardly Lion (at least that was how I interpreted it) is one of the play’s better touches.

The set design, by Michael Mehler, is exemplary in its relative economy: the exposed office piping standing in for roots and branches, the shredded paper strewn everywhere as both corporate debris and oppressive rainforest moss. There are no windows in this New York office for its imprisoned employees; the walls are perversely covered by glossy Philippine tourism posters of beaches and blue skies. The banyan tree trunk itself looks like a transparent cloth canopy that could be both Enterprise Transporter or butterfly cage; either way, it works really well.]

But there’s a good reason for what I described above as “a sprawling mess” (and again, it’s not necessarily meant to be a negative): the fragmentary nature of Banyan‘s scenes, as well as the palpable feeling that things are about to go out of control (notably Michael Dorado, who plays his custodian / soldier role in perfectly calibrated, but slightly unhinged mode), are clearly in keeping with the setting, i.e., the dizzying experience of a company going down the tubes, the dislocation of an impenetrable Philippine jungle, and the breakneck use of language in a last-ditch attempt to anchor one’s self. (One of the more amusing subplots in the play is how Barroga employs the cliche of the Filipino American “going back home” to the Philippines to “rediscover” her roots — and ends up getting kidnapped by, in essence, the lion, the scarecrow and the tin (wo)man.)

“Maybe some of us need myths,” Ona says at some point. This play is, perhaps, Jeannie Barroga’s ambitious and fascinating attempt to make some overarching sense of the chaos of the last five years, a way of re-articulating the war on terrorism and the Philippines and the fiscal malfeasance of Enron into a grander and more spiritually resonant narrative. Banyan, then, could be seen as a shotgun marriage of Hollywood mythos and Filipino alamat — perhaps echoing that originary, violent moment of the American incursion into the Philippines, at the barrel of a gun. Barroga’s play gestures to something bigger than Oz; as Dorothy insists at the end of the 1939 film, it wasn’t a dream — a dream jungle, if you will — but a place. (And you, and you, and you, and you, were there.) Ona’s whirlwind journey may be in her head, but real corruption, and a very real war, is still happening in a real, truly live place.

Banyan, presented by the Asian American Theater Company, is playing from November 3-20 — Wednesdays to Saturdays at 8, and on Sundays at 7 — at New Langton Arts on 1246 Folsom Street (and 8th) in San Francisco. (Tickets, for only $15, can be purchased here.)