Thursday, September 30, 2010

A homeland tribute

Talking about hip-hop as a global commodity – wherever it lands, local artists make it their own – reminded me of the Black Eyed Peas 2003 “the APL Song,” sung by Apl, the band’s half-Filipino, half-African-American singer. Although the Black Eyed Peas are better known for their catchy, often top-charting hip-hop dance songs, the type that easily get stuck in your head (“My Humps” anyone?), almost every album the band creates has a lesser-known track almost entirely in Tagalog.

Apl uses his star power in the mainstream market to create an alternative space for Asian American artists, especially his fellow Filipinos. “The APL Song” has several layers – in its music video, lyrics, and melody that speak to different Asian-American generations about the experience of leaving/returning back to one’s roots. The music video depicts a lolo (grandfather) in a nursing home, reminiscing about his family and longing to see his grandchildren again, who come in and out of the video as translucent imagined figures. At the end of the video, the lolo puts on his WWII Veteran hat, and marches in a protest fighting for full equity for Filipino WWII veterans. The video is a tribute to Filipino soldiers who served in American wars, but I believe it also raises awareness to many of those absent grandchildren who do not know about their grandparents’ cultural influences and history. The video also gives a starring role to Filipino actors, Dante Basco, Chad Hugo, and Abe Pagtama, who usually play supporting or background roles in American theater and film.

The lyrics describe Apl’s story of growing up in the Philippines in a barrio, immigrating to the States, trying to find work and the frustration of not having money to send back to his mother, and eventually returning to his birthplace. Apl raps “every place has got a ghetto, this is my version.” Where Kun’s article suggests that ghetto=urban, Apl twists it to a rural, provincial setting where you “have to build a hut to live in/catch your meal/and pump water out of the ground.” Apl often romanticizes his hardship and describes how “everyone be helpin’ each other whenever they can/that’s how we be surviving back in my homeland.” Whenever he returns, no matter how many years, “it feels like a day/ to be next to my mom with her home-cooked meals.” His lyrics speak to the common experience of many Filipinos who leave the RP, usually to work abroad as nannies, nurses, call-center associates, and construction workers, send money home to help their family and come back every few years. Even when I went to the Philippines last summer, although I was born in the U.S., my family would say, “Oh, you’re going back home.”

The melody of the Apl Song is based on “Balita” (news) by a popular 1970s Filipino folk rock group Asin. Apl was a big fan of this group, and the content of “Balita” which pays homage to Asin’s hometown in Mindano corresponds to Apl’s provincial homeland. The chorus of the “Apl Song” is actually the same as the opening verse of “Balita.” Sung in Tagalog, the chorus translates as “come closer my friends and everyone listen/ I brought news from my homeland/I'll tell you how we live and what goes on/ from my beloved homeland.” Asin was one of the few Filipino folk rock groups to make it into mainstream u.s. culture, and Apl speaks to the generations before him who might have listened to Asin, and draws a melodic continuation of history in his music.

In our reading of Kun, we talked about reflective musical nostalgia – where we use the past to structure the present. Kun also talked about how music can temporalize space – creating a congealed history – one of many layers represented in a single song. Apl uses the sepia-toned imagery in the music video, his lyrics that reminisce and idealize his homeland, and his melodic tribute to his favorite 70s Asian rock band, as ways to reflect on his underground musical and ethnic roots within the space of his mainstream pop music.

Slip of the Tongue

What's your "ethnic make-up"?

A couple days ago I was sitting in the Multicultural Community Center working on some homework when another student sat in the couch across from me. He began to talk to me about his upcoming midterms which he was stressing about. The small talk led to him asking me about my ethnic/racial background. He asked, "what's your ethnic make-up?"

Immediately, this video came to mind. As our worlds become more and more globalized, different communities across the globe are coming into contact in new and interesting ways. These constant moments of "clash of cultures," as some would say, involve very significant processes of identification and "othering." How we perceive and treat difference tends to say a lot more about "us," than about "them."

I have always found it very interesting the ways that we, in a sense, decode people as human texts; the ways we read for race, ethnicity, sexuality, gender, and identity in general. We look for aesthetic markers, such as jeans that may be too "masculine" or shorts that may be too tight or short for a "man," as a way to decipher bodies and render them knowable through sight. I remember one student from a class I took abroad, who said that she had the ability to read Latin@ bodies and determine what country they were from by simply looking at facial features; she is/was an anthropology major.

I find it very problematic to reduce the identities and experiences of people to the garments they have on or the way they look or behave. This is not to say, of course, that we do not perform our identities. Judith Butler has very eloquently demonstrated that we are actively performing who we are, whether it be via gender, sexuality, and/or race. However, it can also be very dangerous to limit and constrain the lives of others according to our own individual, and often anecdotal, preconceptions of what different people are supposed to look like and be.

If someone were to ask you, "what's your ethnic make-up?" what would you reply?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Offensive Text Message

This is a text message I received from a friend who is Mexican. She received it from her friend who is Mexican as well. When she sent it to me she was laughing about it. It may offend some people but I wanted to know what people think about it. I think it relates to the article on subversive signifiers.

“MEXICAN WORDS!! The teacher told Pepito to make sentences with his spelling words:

1. Cheese
Maria likes me but cheese ugly.
2. Mushroom
Wen all my family gets in the care, there isn’t mushroom
3. Shoulder
My friend didn’t no how to make tacos so I shoulder
4. Texas
My friend always texas me fwds
5. Herpes
Me and my friend shared a pizza, I got my piece and she got herpes
6. July
Ju told me ju were goin to the store and july to me!! Julyer!!
7. Rectum
I had two cars but my wife rectum
8. Chicken
I was going to the store with my wife but chicken go by herself
9. Wheelchair
We only have one soda but its ok wheelchair
10. Chicken wing
My mom plays the lottery so chicken wing
11. Liver
A bully was messing wit my sister and I told him to liver alone
12. Body wash
I wanted to go to the bar but no body wash my kids
13. Budweiser
That woman over there has a nice body, Budweiser face so ugly?

Send to everyone who needs a laugh!!

That is the entire text message as it was sent to me. I think it is a really offensive text message to the Latino/a culture. The fact that some guy named Dave came up with this on his own and said to send to everyone who would need to laugh is representative I think of the attitude some people in this society have towards the Latino culture. Also, I thought it was interesting as well that he took the time to intentionally misspell words such as ‘goin’, ‘ju’, ‘wit’ etc… Also, I thought it was interesting that the beginning of the text says Pepito was making sentences with his spelling words, implying, that it would be a young child but then the fact that most of the sentences have to do with Pepito’s wife, imply that he is actually older but that this guy Dave doesn’t think that Latinos/as have a very high educational background and that they level of a grown adult would only be at that of a young child. I think this is absurd and very offensive. It plays into stereotypes way too much. What are your thoughts?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Acts of Resistance

This is a spoken word performance that was shown to me in my Poetry For the People class last semester.  The power expressed in Yosimar Reyes' words is remarkable.  I find it amazing how he compares his sexuality as an act of resistance.  He is not only resisting a homophobic society but also resisting the mold of a macho Latino man.  His piece ends with several lines describing what the "brown man" should do.  "Brown boys are not supposed to love like this, we are not supposed to f--k like this. We are supposed to break into women's bodies and leave them homeless..."  The word choice of this small excerpt resonates in all his listeners.  It touches so many issues of masculinity and heterosexuality in today's culture.  Men are not supposed be with men, but only women.  Reyes's, however, refuses to be oppressed by society's mold for Latino men.  He knows his identity and has no censorship about who he is. It is almost a form of political action through poetry and art.  Reyes will not be silenced.
This piece reminds me of the article we read on Chabela Vargas. She, too, did not censor her identity, her sexuality, her individuality.  She was also a power house in acts of resistance.  It was taboo in Latino society to be a homosexual, a singer, and a female all in one; however, Chabela resisted.  Her music, her songs, her voice, her style were all acts of resistance against what society wanted in a female songstress.
I find both these artists powerful and inspiring.

-Sweety Ghuman

Stephen Colbert as a migrant worker

On this episode of the Colbert Report, Stephen Colbert tries to see if he has what it takes to be a migrant farm worker. He has to pack corn and pick beans with all of the brown folks who seem to have no problem doing the job. Colbert is supposed to be representing the typical white, maybe urban, American who has probably never been in a field, or thought about where the food they eat comes from. He asks too many questions, complains about the conditions, and tries to find ways to make his job easier. At the end of it they tell him that he isn't cut out to be a migrant farm worker and he responds by celebrating.

There have been so many videos like this made by comedians and talk show host like Stephen Colbert and John Stewart. This video assumes that the average American is not cut out for farm work and is probably not interested in doing such work. The videos are created to highlight the hypocrisy in the constant argument, that (im)migrants are draining the economy and taking jobs from hard working Americans. These videos, which are seen on TV and all over the internet, do give a different spotlight to Latin@ (im)migrants, which is helpful in this political climate. However, these videos do have the tendency to reproduce and reinforce stereotypes, even if those stereotypes include the "hardworking, Mexican farm worker," they still have the potential to work against the Latin@ community by creating this idea that because Mexicans are good at farm work, they should continue to work those jobs. Its similar to the idea of glorifying “women’s work” in the home in order to keep women from feeling the need to work outside of the home.

I value Stephen Colbert’s efforts and videos a little more because he actually used his privilege as a white man, and as a public figure, to speak in front of congress about migrant workers. He leaves the comedy out of his testimony and speaks from his experience in a very real way. I think he appeals to people because he doesn't sound very threatening although what he's saying is a very big critique of "Americans." Its just interesting to think about how different voices create different responses, even though they are attempting to speak on similar terms.

To Autotune or To Not Autotune

I have always enjoyed T Pain’s music. If you’re not familiar with him, he is featured on a lot of artists’ songs as a hook or part of the chorus such as Kanye West’s “Good Life” and Chris Brown’s “Kiss Kiss.” T Pain’s use of the autotune device is not anything new, that is pretty much what he is known for.

According to, autotune is a software package that automatically manipulates a recording of a vocal track until it is in tune regardless of whether or not the original performance was in tune. This definition actually surprised me because it can infer that anyone who uses autotune..may not initially sing in tune with a melody. Nonetheless, T Pain’s music has been well-received. There is even an iPhone app that makes your voice sound autotuned like T Pain’s!

Kanye West’s 2008 album 808s & Heartbreak featured his new use of the autotune. Personally, I did not enjoy it because I felt it did not compliment his voice. I understand in the music industry, there is a pressure to keep reinventing yourself to keep up with what society wants. I figured that he would try the autotune with a few tracks and shift back to his style, which was always seemed to work for him. 808s & Heartbreak did become another #1 album for Kanye but shown numbers nowhere near Graduation its first week of release.

Upon researching others’ opinions of 808s & Heartbreak, I came to an online petition whose objective was to ask Kanye West to stop using the autotune device. This online petition caught my eye because obviously, I was not the only one who didn’t like the “new sound.” The petition’s main premise was “Mr. West your voice holds so much power in your music, and we feel the auto tune is eating away at that power. The auto tune is something everyone is doing right now and since when have we known Kanye West for conforming to the normality’s of anything.” ( This petition showed me that although the autotune device may prove successful for artists who have become synonymous with the device such as T Pain; when artists who emerge as creative and original turn to a device, it seems to look like as if they are following a trend. Don’t get me wrong, autotuned music is still enjoyable and catchy music.

This long introduction brings me to Enrique Iglesias’ new single “I Like It,” featuring Pit Bull, from his new album Euphoria. His new album has been well-received by the public too because of the x factor in this album, it is bilingual. Reading a critique on the album, it was surprising to the author that this is the first time that he has released a bilingual album.

This critique continues to say, “Not only is Enrique Iglesias at it again, but this time he's mixing it up with the oh-so-popular Auto-Tune. If you live on the planet Earth and listen to popular radio, you've heard "I Like It." It hit #4 on the Billboard Top 100 chart and also made it to #1 on the Billboard Hot/Dance Club Play chart.” (

From this quote, I took away that Enrique has given into the trend that sells. T Pain did it, Kanye did it, why shouldn’t Enrique try it either? I can recall Enrique’s first English hit “Bailamos,” and remember how great it was that he intertwined English and Spanish into an upbeat song. “I Like It” has been his best performing since “Hero” in 2001. Obviously, the autotune device has proved well for Enrique with this track. Giving into the trend may have been difficult for him, it may have not. Enrique has also made a version featuring the MTV’s new hit reality show Jersey Shore, in which they are showed in one of the music videos for the song. Also, this being his first bilingual album, it is obvious that Enrique stepped out of his comfort zone with this album. Either way, Enrique is career-focused right now and he has seen what works in the music industry and is using it for his advantage.

*Thought I’d share the many uses of auto tune.

T Pain – I’m Sprung – 2005

Kanye West – “Love Lockdown” – 2008

Enrique Iglesias ft. Pitbull “I Like It” (Jersey Shore Version) - 2010–


Monday, September 27, 2010

Our Family Wedding

Watching Our Family Wedding brought a few interesting points about gender and race intersections. First the obvious difference of race between the bride and groom, but more to that is the reactions of both families when meeting each other. In the trailer it is shown how the grandma is excited to meet her future new grandson and once she sees he is African American she faints. This is a representation of the limited acceptance there is for interracial marriage in these societies. In her family marriage is seen as a very sacred commitment, when in contrast the groom's dad is a "player" and does not believe in marriage. Both families clash due to the difference in culture and values.
Genders cross when the groom's father's lawyer becomes involved with him and takes part in helping plan the wedding. For her, she believes in marriage and how it should be a special bound between to people and helps plan out based on that, however the groom's fathers disagrees because he has different values than her. Overall, the movie symbolizes marriage as its meaning in two different cultures and how each culture deals with interracial marriages.

Sunday, September 26, 2010


So I live on 8th and Minna St in San Francisco....only a few blocks away from the Folsom Street Fair, which if you don't know is a celebrated as "the grand daddy of all leather events" and really popular among the queer community. Basically if you were to walk out of my front door right now you would be met with a lot of leather, assless chaps, and dominatrix gear. BUT what I noticed today while walking around was, that on three different occasions coming from three different cars, I heard Shakira blasting on the speakers.

So now, I am kind of a bit curious. Why do you think this is? I know she has a large queer fan base but does anyone know particularly why? The only thing I could really come up with (while risking like I am stereotyping the gay community, which I hope I am not) was that her music still has that really electro-club beat you hear blasting out of gay clubs and at events like PRIDE and/or that she has that very empowered diva quality about her. But I don't really know much about queer culture which is why I decided to post here. I tried looking it up online but strangely couldn't find much.

But just for your viewing pleasure, which now that I think about it also has a bit of a dominatrix type of feel to it, I found this amazingly well done parody of a Shakira song that has apparently become internet famous:

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Project Runway - Guatemala is the new tacky.

I was watching the new episode of Project Runway yesterday and noticed a few comments during the judging that seemed very off to me.

For those unfamiliar with the show, in each episode, the designers/contestants must create dresses to fit a given theme, and at the end of the episode, the dresses are critiqued by a panel of judges. In this episode (with the theme being high fashion), judge Nina Garcia critiqued designer Valerie Mayen’s dress, stating, “Wow, I think this looks like a beauty pageant dress. I mean, she looks like Miss Guatemala.” The tone with which Garcia expresses this statement clearly conveys that this was not meant as a compliment, but just in case we weren’t sure, she makes sure to add, “the fit of this dress is shabby,” and that she “really [questions Valerie’s] taste with this [dress]; there’s nothing modern about it.” To sum it up, the dress lacks modernity, is poorly constructed, is tasteless and tacky, and overall, looks like something Miss Guatemala would wear.

The comments that Garcia makes about the dress in relation to Miss Guatemala take up only about 20 seconds of a 60 minute show, but they say a whole lot. If her true intentions were in fact to criticize the dress as looking too pageant, she easily could have related the dress to Miss USA, but in specifically mentioning Guatemala, her comments extend beyond just the realm of beauty pageants. Garcia’s critique about the dress’s pre-modernity and tastelessness and tackiness extend to representing the entire country of Guatemala - she brings into play the idea of anything below the south of the US border being antiquated and outdated, which is very much in keeping with the stereotypes of “Hispanics’ [supposed] fervent love of tradition,” as Davila states, and as we have discussed in class. This is all the more true given the theme of the episode – “high fashion” is supposed to involve hyper-modern, innovative design and creation. In criticizing the dress as failing to be representative of high fashion and in further linking this failure to Guatemala, Garcia establishes a binary between the supposedly fashion-forward and ultra-modern West, versus the few-steps-behind Guatemala.

To make matters worse, after Garcia’s “Miss Guatemala” comment, Valerie, the designer under fire, states, “That’s where my family’s from, actually.” Awkward? Not as much as Nina Garcia laughing off the comment, stating “No offense to you!” Her pseudo-apology sounded far more like she was sorry she had picked Guatemala over some other country to represent the outdatedness of the dress rather than an apology for the actual implications of her previous statements.

You can watch Nina Garcia’s comments on the latest episode of Project Runway here at 46:40.

Pictured above is the designer Valerie Mayen (left), with the dress (right) that sparked the comment.