Filipina in America


How verbal and visual performative tools formulate identities and enforce racism within Filipinx communities

The United States and the Philippines are two different countries in which their disparities are displayed in seemingly all aspects. Despite the aforementioned, Filipino's have managed to maintain a consistent identity regardless of their locale. Whether it be in everyday life or a production meant for the observance of others, gesticulations and speech are used to define what it means to be a filipino. However, that word designed to encapsulate an entire ethnicity has various meanings when demonstrated through performance. Depending on what you aim to demonstrate visually and verbally, what seems to be elicited are two separate realms of the Filipinx identity. One results from deep rooted effects of colonization and the other is a fierce reservation of what once was before the Spanish had stepped foot onto Philippine land. Although these differences were initiated by politics, they're continually reinforced through performance. For example, The former mentioned is displayed in the Philippines through the media merely casting half-white, half-filipino actors and actresses for advertisements, movies, and televisions. Since it's promoted that as a Filipino, having fair skin and European features are the sole determiners of beauty and status. Regardless of what gestures they do and their speech, so long as they have visibly white qualities they're held in the highest regard. Seemingly as if to erase and other the Filipinos who bare no likeness to them. Conversely, as if to commemorate the Philippine identity, those who immigrate to the US celebrate the culture untainted by Spanish influence. To clarify, the two can overlap. Mestizo's and Mestiza's can be proud of their Filipino roots and show their pride through performance, but Filipinos whose looks aren't recognized in esteem cannot be televised in praise like those of the aforementioned. Thus, emphasizing the racism which permeates in the Filipino community across international borders and demonstrated through performance. The method I will use to bring my research to fruition will be done by interviewing members of Filipino culture programs and clubs on campus.

The Fierce preservation and promotion of Filipino culture through the Tinikling

The Tinikling was first recorded to be performed during the Spanish colonization of the Philippines. It's origin is said to have resulted from punishment ordained by the King of Spain where subjects were to stand between two bamboo sticks. The dance, can be inferred as a satirization or a taunt against Colonial rule. Seemingly since its purpose is for celebratory or ceremonial means and is performed on Filipino Independence Day.

The photo on the left was taken by US Air Force/Senior Airman Nestor Cruz which demonstrates Members from the Philippine Cultural Dancers group performing Tinikling during the Asian Pacific Heritage Month celebration May 26 at the Kadena Air Base, Japan, exchange parking lot.

In most Tinikling performances, like the video displayed above, dancers wear either a product of Spanish rule in formal wear or native garb. The performers are then introduced to the stage with an effervescent and graceful quality to mimic the bird that the dance is heavily influenced by. The bamboo sticks are slammed on the floor and together which move in sync with the music produced by the stringed instruments in the background. When the bamboo is on the floor, the dancers who always have a partner opposite from them hop on one foot in and out of the space created by the two visual tools. While their feet move in this rhythm, the performers are doing other gestures such as holding hands or twirling the female counterpart.

Bright colors are always used in these performances to resemble the emote of happiness

"One of the better known Philippine folk dances. They have to remove their feet from between the poles before the poles are struck against each other." © Ramon2002 / Flickr

The amount of people performing Tinikling does not have a symbolic significance, but at least 3 people are necessary to fulfill its purpose.

May 25, 2016: The Filipino Cultural Association of The University of Maryland (College Park) perform. Fort Meade celebrated Asian Pacific Heritage Month. Photo by: Daniel Kucin Jr. Baltimore Sun

The more dancers there are, the more visually appealing Tinikling can be.

Males and females dancing the Tinikling © Louis Tan / Flickr

The arrangement of the poles are meant to indicate the difficulty of the dance as they can sometimes be crossed with others

Dancing the Tinikling | © Shubert Ciencia / Flickr


Littered across the United States are immigrants who all share a story of what they did to get to America and how they survive. However, these stories differ in what activity or item they use to preserve the culture of the country they left. Some use the cuisine produced by cooking the food known from their origin while others use the method of rituals to maintain their cultural identity.

The Philippines in particular, however, presents two conflicting ideals that immigrants can take away with them. When remembering the Philippines and invoking it’s lifestyle in a different place, a divisive method is imposed. After the era of Spanish and American colonization, eurocentric supremacy continued its presence within the Philippine media. Most specifically within movies, TV shows, and commercials which is realized through the predominant use of half white/half filipino actors and actresses. This consistent promotion of fair skinned Filipinos with european features others those who bare little resemblance to them. When watching Filipino movies in the United States, there’s a sense of disconnect between the screen and its viewers. Essentially since the audience it’s meant to sympathize with look nothing like the people presented to them.

The example to the left, is a Philippine drama meant to take place in a pre-colonial, mythological world. After stills of the show was released, the nature of its casting came into question. Only to emphasize "why a bunch of ancient Filipinos would be half white" and why they would be played by "mestizo actors covered in Bronzer" (Macasero).

The cast of Bagani. Photo from ABS-CBN News

According to EJR David, author of Brown Skin, White Minds, Bagani is “problematic because there is an abundance of talented and naturally brown-skinned actors in the Philippines” (David). Therefore, “it simply reinforces the light-skin bias in society and does nothing to empower and lift up brown-skinned actors” and thus “brown-skinned Filipinos more generally” (David).

Growing up in the United States with American media, I always wanted someone on the TV screen or the movies who looked like me. Since there was little Filipino representation, I was desperate for anyone who looked like me. This person was Brenda Song who played London Tipton on “The Suite Life of Zack and Cody”. Back then, I didn’t realize how powerful a tool the media could be. The only Asian actress I could relate to portrayed an unintelligent and ditsy character. Even though this was perceived only for entertainment and comedic purposes, the timing of the show makes it inappropriate for young minds to absorb-especially young girls. Seemingly, since she was the only Asian American character that was female in all of Disney Channel during the early 2000’s. Growing up, even under the age of 10, I understood how harmful it was to have the only Asian representation presented to the youth as solely the source of comic relief.

The photo to the left is a promotional photo for Season 3 of the Suite Life of Zack and Cody ©Disney

Still from the film, "Sixteen Candles" (1984)

The aforementioned, however, isn’t a recent development. My father, who also grew up in America, also faced this similar dilemma. After going back home for a weekend earlier this month, I asked him who his role models were as an adolescent. He told me, he always wanted to be “the cool guy” who’d “drive a BMW or a nice car, just like Jake Ryan” (Cusi). Jake Ryan was a male character in the 1984 movie, “Sixteen Candles”. He was handsome, aloof, cool, drove a porsche, and most importantly was caucasian. His Asian co-star was anything but.

Deprived of representation in both American and Philippine media, Filipino immigrants turn to their native roots. A method most popular in the preservation of Philippine culture is performing Tinikling. This is most prevalent in culture clubs across the United States in Universities and High Schools.

According to Heather Yabut, a student at UC Berkeley and a member of the Filipino pre-health club, Tinikling is a significant aspect in the Philippine identity. According to her, “performing Tinikling at our school campus is an important way to connect or even reconnect with our culture” (Yabut). She emphasizes the setting in which it is performed since “college is a place for finding your identity and who you are” (Yabut). Given the specific performance in focus, “when we perform Tinikling it reaffirms our pride in our heritage as well as teaches us about our history” which current Philippine Media has avoided taken the responsibility for.

In a textbook distributed in Cebu, children are explicitly taught that whiteness is more beautiful | Photo by Tommy Osmena taken from Facebook

The aforementioned is attributed to the light vs. dark skin tone bias that explicitly permeates in the Philippines. According to EJR David, “Media-film and television and magazines-have a huge role in perpetuating the idea that lighter skin is more desirable than dark skin,” (David). There are even colloquial terms used to define the two: “Kutis Pinay” and “Kutis Artista” (Macasero). The former meaner Filipina Skin (Filipina is a term used for a Female Filipino) which indicates a darker complexion while the latter suggests Celebrity Skin for a lighter one.

Eddie Mesa, was a mestizo singer and actor who owes his claim to fame by looking similar to Elvis Presley

This was perpetuated mostly by American colonization since Philippine Filmmakers originally “looked to Hollywood not only in developing their technical skills, but also their concept of beauty” (Macasero). Thus replicating America’s inherent racism in their own media. According to Gary Devilles, “The United States fed this fascination with whiteness” while “using Hollywood and films to perpetuate this whiteness-it brought white love” (Macasero).

As a result, those who are forced to stay in the shadows because of having a darker complexion turn to their native roots to stay in touch with their culture. Growing up in America, children of Filipino immigrants tend to forget where their culture lies as the Philippine media would rather demonstrate their devotion to european standards. Thus, they’re devoid of traces of our native roots before European contamination. As a result, many join Philippine culture clubs in high school and college to get a touch of where their heritage lies. Especially since the Philippine media is an active proponent of the erasure of dark skinned Filipinos and native experience. Throughout my educational experience, the Tinikling is always performed by Filipino clubs at least once a year. According to Heather Yabut, “performing a culture dance in a space like a college institution that is not intended for our culture also gives us the opportunity to be seen and heard” (Yabut). Seemingly since, the media of our culture does the exact opposite.

Process reflection


Castro, Alex. “10 Classic Filipino Film Actors and Their Hollywood Lookalikes.” SPOT.PH, 27 Aug. 2017, www.spot.ph/entertainment/entertainment-peopleparties/71169/10-filipino-film-actors-and-their-hollywood-lookalikes-a1806-20170827-lfrm2.

Cusi, Ysabelli, and Leslie Cusi. “Casual Conversation with Leslie Cusi.” Nov. 2019.

Cusi, Ysabelli, and Heather Yabut. “The Importance of Tinikling.” 2 Nov. 2019.

Hughes, John, director. Sixteen Candles. Universal Pictures, 1984.

Kelly-Tuason, David. "UC Berkeley PCN 2007--Tinikling". Online video clip. Youtube. May 10, 2007.

Taylor, Julie. The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, Disney Channel, 18 Mar. 2005.

Macasero, Ryan. “The Color of Money: In Philippine TV and Film, White Still Equals Green.” Coconuts, 5 Sept. 2018, coconuts.co/manila/features/philippine-tv-film-white-still-equals-green/.