Part of the “Legaci” of Biebermania. Ummm… yay for… Filipinos? (fist up?)

Chris Abad, Delfin Lazaro, Dominic Manuel, Micah Tolentino of Legaci (order of names does not correspond to picture)

Hyphen Magazine (which everyone, not just Asian Americans, should be reading on a regular basis) recently put out a story on how Filipino American singing group, (or should they have been a group of white guys, what I would refer to as a boy-band) Legaci, is putting in work as the on-stage back-up singers for none other than the incomparable (snicker) Justin Bieber. Naku… there are a number of mixed feelings swirling around in my head about this one. (I had to slow my brain down 800% in order to get this all ordered in my dome.) First of all, to be clear, I am NOT hating on Legaci. I’ve seen them (at least an earlier formation of them being that Micah Tolentino is the only remaining original member) perform at an infinite number of Filipino American events (many events, I might add, that have been organized and promoted by organizations that I proudly was a member of) and despite their lack of originality they have always been technically solid both musically and theatrically. This group could definitely hold their own with ANYTHING that P. Diddy could contort and pre-fabricate. My issue with this is that ONCE AGAIN FILIPINO AMERICANS ARE GETTING THE SLOPPY SECONDS OF AN ESTABLISHED (white) POP STAR and Hyphen is uncritically saying this is a… good… thing?

“Hey, they’re all Asian!” a tween pointed out behind me, and though the comment made me chuckle (she said it in an incredulous tone rather than a derisive one), it also made me think.

I just want to point out how easily the Asian American media will grab the rusty cup of American (post-)racial equality and proclaim that is it HALF FULL. I’m not exactly sure how the author of this article makes the inference that the aforementioned remark is not in the pejorative and to be fair I wasn’t present at the concert (THANK GOODNESS I WASN’T THERE) to hear the remark in order to distinguish between “incredulous” and “derisive,” but I have a hard time thinking that when a non-person of color is articulating a racial distinction that said white person is not somehow “othering” or “exotifying” a person of color. Call me cynical, but as a Filipino I’ve experienced my fair share of sideways glances and curious murmurs when I was present in a space not regularly frequented by brown skinned people and have every right to be suspicious of remarks of that kind. Anyway, here’s more:

Normalizing an Asian American presence in the mainstream music scene — and especially with an artist as widely received as Bieber — is a large step forward for Asian Americans in the entertainment industry. Even with acts like Jin Tha MC of BET fame and the ill-fated William Hung of American Idol popularity, Asian Americans still haven’t been wholeheartedly embraced by radio’s Top 40.

This is a “step in the right direction”? Okay, once again I can’t help but gasp as I watch the positive juice of my racial equality cup leak onto the blood stained pavement of American white-supremacy. If anything, the lowest common denominator of this situation of Legaci as back-up singers for Justin Bieber formulates like this in my head: white singer in the forefront who is a caricature of R&B sprinkled pop music leading Filipino (or Asian or Latino or ethnically ambiguous depending on how non-ignorant the white people who point them out are) singers who are relegated to the background. The Filipinos in this picture are still the afterthought. Furthermore I must dutifully inquire: Are not the Filipino back-up singers included as part of the package of this pop-culture caricature rather than simply as clever additions to the formula? Yes, CARICATURES. The addition of Legaci to the Bieber pop phenomenon does not necessarily combat stereotypes of Asian Americans in entertainment, but in my opinion will most likely create a NEW stereotype. Legaci are most certainly NOT the Harajuku Girls, but how can I expect the typical ignorant white person to know the difference?

Christine Balance, a professor of Asian American Studies at the University of California, Irvine, pointed out in a New York Times article earlier this year that “African Americans are foundational to US popular culture, and for Latinos there’s the adjective ‘Latin’ music that’s used to describe a variety of musical forms. But Asians are still seen as foreign or alien to mainstream America.”

Dr. Balance, who probably knows a little bit about mainstream pop music culture as she earned a Doctorate in Performance studies from NYU, is hitting on the point that I’m trying to get out. The social structure of white-supremacy in the United States marginalizes Asian Americans to the point where we cannot be accepted as mainstream, regardless of being foreign or American born. I will extrapolate that Asian Americans are NEVER going to be accepted as part of this society so long as the political-economic structure of capitalism supports the superstructural formation of white-supremacy. With all due respect to Legci, as talented as they are (once again, they are g-DOUBLE-O-D, GOOD.) they could possibly replace William Hung as the new mold which by white-supremacy forges another narrow-representation of Asian Americans. It’s going to take sharper action than just the politically passive activity of achieving more mainstream face time in order for Filipinos or any other Asian American population to assert cultural legitimacy in this white man’s country.

To leave things on a positive note, I’m gonna give some props to ANY Filipino musical artists out there who are trying to get theirs. I may be critical of the social implications of situations such as Legaci’s inclusion in the burgeoning Justin Bierber lore (the VH1 Behind the Music special when they interview Legaci about Bieber’s underage alcoholism, cocaine habit, and womanizing is gonna be shweet), but agency goes a long, long way in inspiring others to assert self-determination. I’m not going to tout any liberal political lines of Asian American Studies by misguidedly proclaiming that simply MORE mainstream representation (even if we as Asian Americans perceive it to be positive) will somehow significantly melt the icy block of white-supremacy, but it’s not a bad thing to know that a Filipino group is actually going to get a payday for all the work they’ve put in over the years (they’ve been around since I was in high school. Yeah, more than a fucking decade.). I bet they’re at least thrilled that they’re playing to a new audience (even if they’re white tweenagers) who aren’t the same faces they’ve been seeing at P/Filipino Cultural Nights for the umpteenth time or having to grace a stage at a Filipino community festival being sandwiched in between the Filipino dance troupe performing a half-hearted Tinikling and a uniformed white police officer singing Engelbert Humperdinck and Journey covers (I shit you not I have seen this.) Uh… Mabuhay.

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One Response to “Part of the “Legaci” of Biebermania. Ummm… yay for… Filipinos? (fist up?)”

  1. […] Part of the “Legaci” of Biebermania. Ummm… yay for… Filipinos? (fist up?) « The 50 Megaton … "The social structure of white-supremacy in the United States marginalizes Asian Americans to the point where we cannot be accepted as mainstream, regardless of being foreign or American born. I will extrapolate that Asian Americans are NEVER going to be accepted as part of this society so long as the political-economic structure of capitalism supports the superstructural formation of white-supremacy. With all due respect to Legci, as talented as they are (once again, they are g-DOUBLE-O-D, GOOD.) they could possibly replace William Hung as the new mold which by white-supremacy forges another narrow-representation of Asian Americans. It’s going to take sharper action than just the politically passive activity of achieving more mainstream face time in order for Filipinos or any other Asian American population to assert cultural legitimacy in this white man’s country." (tags: blog northamerica art media race capitalism) from → BookMarx ← Posts on My Trip to the Philippines Coming Soon No comments yet Click here to cancel reply. […]

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