Alben meng manyaman, boy!

April 6, 2009

Pinoy X-Men and Street Fighter characters, anyone?

By Jason Paul Laxamana
Urban Kamaru
Central Luzon Daily

There have actually been a lot of popular fiction titles—in TV, movies, video, and PC games—that offer racially diverse worlds. In these titles, the main characters are not just White Americans, albeit the setting could most of the time be in the United States.

Take for example the diverse universe of X-Men, where characters are not just from different countries—they are also from different times, from different dimensions, from different planets, galaxies, and even different universes. Let’s focus on planet Earth though. We have popular delegates from Canada, the most popular being Wolverine. Russia is highlighted by Colossus and the Soviet’s prime weapon Omega Red. Storm is Egypt’s proud mutant. We also have Gambit from France, Nightcrawler from Germany, the Jewish Magneto, and many more.


Then we have Street Fighter, which you probably had your first glimpse of with the movie ‘The Legend of Chun-Li.’ I, on the other hand, have known Street Fighter ever since I played Street Fighter 2 back in my Elementary days.

Being a world geek (in Elementary, I was able to literally memorize the capitals of all the countries in the world in whatever continent; Antananarivo, Ulaanbaatar, and Tegucigalpa were my favorite place names), I found the video game Street Fighter amusing, with each playable character representing a certain country, and at times, representing the martial arts and traditional fashion of that country. You can even choose a country to serve as your game’s location.

Ryu and Honda represented Japan; Ken, Balrog, and Guile represented USA. Dhalsim, a personal favorite, represented India while his skills revolve around the discipline of Yoga; Saggath, Adon, and Bison (albeit biologically Irish) of Thailand; Blanka of Brazil; Chun Li of China; Fei Long of Hong Kong; Dee Jay of Jamaica; Zangief of Russia, with Sambo-inspired brute skills, a popular sport in Moscow; Cammy of England; T. Hawk of Mexico; and Vega of Spain, among others.

Kiddie cartoons also have their share of diverse worlds, such as ‘Codename: Kids Next Door.’ Numbah 1, the leader, is a British boy. Numbah 2 is a blonde Australian kid. Numbah 3 is a happy and seemingly slow-minded girl from Japan. Numbah 4 is a techie stout kid from the United States. Last but not the least is Numbah 5, a black French girl. Together, they are known as the Kids Next Door.


Filipino, wer k?!

Having been concerned with the status of Kapampangan in the national setting, and of the Philippines in the global setting, I once included in a Kapampangan short story a boy who was wondering why there was no Filipino character in Street Fighter 2. Then, he began imagining how the Filipino fighter would look like and what his skills would be if ever Capcom decided to included Philippines in its roster of fighters and locations.

Now that you have read the first part of my article, it would be easy for you to tell that I am speaking through that kid, albeit I never thought of that as a kid.

But I still wonder: why is the Philippines often neglected in these fictional worlds of diversity. Is it our being a poor country? Is it our unpopular local culture, unlike those of Japan, Egypt, and China? Is it our cultural diversity, rendering other countries unable to figure out a single icon—or even a single audio-visual stereotype—that would represent a Filipino character?

Minute Moments of Glory

Filipinos have taken small parts in the world of fiction abroad.

Take for example the demon-possessed Filipina in the opening sequence of the religious fantasy Constantine, starring Keanu Reeves, where she even spoke a Tagalog line ("Papatayin natin siya"), albeit unnatural.

The original Starship Troopers storyline from the book had Juan Rico, the main protagonist, as a Filipino, accompanied by a multiracial training group.

Dante’s Peak spoke of the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in its lines.

Ashton Kutcher’s MTV Punk’d once used as accomplice a red carpet correspondent who spoke Tagalog to celebrities passing by.

A Tagalog-speaking ventriloquist can also be found in the Hollywood movie ‘Big Fish,’ starring Ewan McGregor, when his character was parachuting onto the Korean stage.

Sinawali, a fighting style credited to the Kapampangan warriors of Macabebe, is included in the Kali Silat martial arts DVD available in the United States.

We have also expressed our protest in several so-called "racial slurs," from the ‘Desperate Housewives’ to BBC’s ‘Harry and Paul’ show. The latest of course would be that "nation of servants" label from a Hong Kong columnist.

Filipinos also giggle in mirth upon seeing the name of their country included in global listings and popular world cultural products, such as Philippine English being recognized as a significant dialect of English, the Philippines being one of the most SMS-crazy country, our country being mentioned in one of Britney Spears’ songs ("Piece of Me"), and a lot more.

We are not alone

Of course, we are not the only country neglected in diversity-driven titles. We’ve never seen characters from Trinidad & Tobago, Bosnia & Herzegovinia, Vanuatu, Lesotho, Belarus, Luxembourg, Seychelles, Djibouti, Sao Tome & Principe, Malawi, and Azerbaijan except probably in Miss Universe pageants.

Despite having history with contemporary and former world superpowers such as USA, Spain, and Japan, we still don’t appear in their imaginations, in the shows and games they produce. And whenever we do, it’s either a pitiful bit or a derogatory portrayal.

We don’t even have to think global to notice our ethereal identity. Whenever the world speaks of Asia, or Asian culture, they are most probably referring to the Chinese, Japanese, and Korean, and to a great extent as well, the South Asians (Indians). Thailand, Indonesia, and Malaysia will come to mind on the other hand when we begin to talk about South East Asia.

A pity, isn’t it? Don’t get me wrong though. I wrote this article because I believe we have to know our place, our status, in the world before we can pinpoint how to work about things. Because for all we know, a lot of Filipinos are already complacent, living in the delusion that the Philippines is a very popular country in the world, with all the Manny Pacquiao victories, American Idol participations, foreign film festival engagements, and the Charice Pempengco citations. "Feeling sikat," as we often say.

It’s an effective source of pride for a lot of Filipinos whose world knowledge is limited to what free television can share; I just hope we can make Pinoy pride injected into the global consciousness, not just local.

Please email your reactions to sisig_man@yahoo.com.ph

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