When you hear the words Pilipino American, what do you picture?
Depending on who you are, you might imagine nurses and immigrants, or maybe even college students adding their hip hop flair to the tinikling. Some might imagine their enormously loud and character-filled families. Some might not be able to imagine anything at all.
Now picture this- a bustling community of sprightly creatives, scratching the inescapable itch to catalyze change. There are artists, entrepreneurs, technicians, writers, and everything in between. They are innovators of all shapes, sizes and skin shades, illustrating diversity as vast as the Philippines itself.
That’s what I picture, and I am not alone.
A movement, a creative culture is happening, my friends. I’m talking tectonic plates. Like the shift from Pangaea, but much faster and technologically pumped. Like never before, Asian Americans are gaining momentum in mainstream media outlets. Since 2010, HBO has been showcasing “East of Main Street,” a documentary series featuring the real stories of Asian Americans, in honor of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. Just last month, NBC Asian American was launched, providing the community a major news platform specifically catered to our interests. “Fresh Off the Boat” will be premiering this Fall on ABC, making it the first sitcom about an Asian American family to be picked up in twenty years. People are finally starting to pay attention. They’re wisening up and realizing what kind of power the fastest growing ethnic group in America has, with 19 million people strong. And us Fil-Ams (the second largest Asian American group at 3.4 million), are riding the wave.
So why is this a big deal? Growing up, I rarely ever saw faces that looked like mine in TV shows, in movies, or in the news. What does that absence say? That the stories and perspectives of an entire race of people just don’t really matter. Or don’t even exist. I didn’t have champion role models that shared my same background, no beacons of light illuminating what someone like me could be capable of.
As Pilipino Americans, we have to make sure that we see our own faces in glittering stories of success. Our reputation of being the ‘model minority’ has left us neglected and our colonial mentality has had us hiding in the shadows. But no more! We are slowly but surely striding into the spotlight, obliterating stereotypes and showing the world who we really are through the power of our creativity.
The impulse to create and manifest ourselves into something tangible, something that can improve our world is universal. Fil-Ams are no exception to the rule. I’ve been lucky enough to meet and work with Pilipino American change agents through organizations like UniPro, NextDayBetter, and FilAm ARTS, and have been watching this extraordinary network of people who put passion first expand and evolve. Tons of restaurateurs are putting Pilipino fusion food on the map, entrepreneurs are forging cutting-edge startups meant to engage and help the global Pilipino community, and the surge of Pilipino-centered productions of music and theatre have led many to say that we are in the midst of a Pilipino arts renaissance. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
The Pilipino American creative community is a well of talent and ingenuity. We are just as artistic, innovative, and relentless as the rest of them, and the world needs to know that. If we could spotlight and cultivate this culture of visionaries into becoming the norm rather than the exception, imagine what we could build and accomplish. Then imagine the chain reaction.
Photo Credit: partyearth.com