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Arnold Clavio, the Azkals and the Filipino as kayumanggi

05:08 PM March 16, 2012

SAN FRANCISCO—The Azkals controversy took an unexpected turn when broadcaster Arnold Clavio was criticized for what some considered a racist rant against the football team’s foreign-born members.

He has apologized, but the controversy is still simmering. In a way, it offers an opportunity to drill down on the debate on who is — and who isn’t —Filipino.

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Clavio’s rant was directed at the Azkals, but it sure annoyed the heck out of many people — including my niece Patrice Impelido, who is 24 and who has spent the last seven years as a member of the Philippine women’s soccer team, known as the Malditas.

“I feel insulted,” she told me. “I work very hard. I sacrificed school and work to represent my country.  I would do it again in a heartbeat.  I have no regrets.”

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The brouhaha erupted when Clavio, in discussing the allegations of sexual harassment against some team members, was quoted as saying on GMA’s Unang Hirit, Hindi naman sila Pilipino e, nagkukunwari lang silang kayumanggi (They’re not really Filipinos, they are just pretending to be kayumanggi.)

“Kayumanggi,” for those who don’t know, means ‘brown-skinned.’

Now, it would probably surprise people like Clavio that many Filipinos who grew up in the U.S. and other countries — including some who’ve never set foot on the Philippines — also know what ‘kayumanggi’ means.

They not only understand the word, they use it, and even embrace it.

Kayumanggi is the name of a performing group composed of Filipino Americans at Stanford University.  There’s also a Lahing Kayumanggi dance company in London.

Then there’s Berkeley DJ and activist Clay Ordona who used to open his morning radio show in a husky voice, and a distinct FilAm accent, and a greeting that goes something like, ‘Welcome to KPFA. I’m Clay Ordona. Kayumanggi ako.’

I have no idea what prompted Clavio’s “kayumanggi” rant. Perhaps it was simply a reaction to the fact that many of the Azkals team members are half-white — or “tisoy.

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Perhaps it was in reaction to the rock star treatment some of these players have enjoyed. For, certainly, some of them are getting a pretty sweet deal. For one thing, they get to play on an international level.

It would be interesting to ask Angel Guirado, who grew up in Spain, and Lexton Moy, who is from New York, one question: Given a chance to play for the Philippines with the Azkals, or, in the case of Guirado, with the Spanish national team and the likes of David Villa, or, in the case of Moy, the U.S. team right next to Landon Donovan, which team would they choose?

I’m guessing they’d go with the team with the stronger chances of playing in the World Cup.

Still, the Philippines definitely has benefitted a great deal from the Azkals phenomenon. The team is on a roll. They’re winning. They’re blazing a trail for Philippine football.

Clavio’s rant was unfair. For as my cousin Lito Impelido, the North America scout for the Philippine women’s team and Patrice’s dad, pointed out to me, not all the players are living like rock stars. Not all are reaping endorsements and fancy perks.

“They’re sacrificing a lot — eskwela, trabaho nila,” he says.

And all the hard work has paid off not just because of the Azkals’ string of victories. For the team is also helping get young Filipinos excited about football, which hopefully would eventually lead to a bigger and growing pool of talent in the country.

And I’d bet that team members are proud to be representing the Philippines. Yes, even those who grew up in other countries.

Which was why my niece Patrice found herself fuming over Clavio’s diatribe.

“I was born in Australia and living in the US, and my parents are full Filipino,” she says. “I am no different than my other teammates.  I am proud to be a Filipina, and I embrace the culture.”

Azkals Goalie Neil Etheride also hit back at Clavio by tweeting, “So let me get this straight… Are people trying to say that my mums not Filipino? So I shouldn’t play? Thought WE were a proud country.”

And, the fact is, we are.

Which brings us back to Clavio’s ‘kayumanggi’ remark. As I’ve repeatedly argued in this column, it’s really time to broaden our definition of the Filipino.

Our overseas communities are growing and expanding. Some of the children of the hundreds of thousands of Filipinos who left the country to seek opportunities in other lands are returning to the homeland.

And, as Etheridge’s retort underscores, even Filipinos who grew up in other countries, have proven themselves capable of, and sincere about, wanting to serve and play a useful role in the Philippines.

I’m not just talking about football players or athletes or actors or performers.

I’m talking about people like the activists of FACES or the Filipino American Coalition for  Environmental Solidarity who have helped residents of Pandacan and those near the former US bases at Clark and Subic in their battles for environmental justice.

I’m talking about Greg Tangonan, who after a long, prestigious career in the U.S. technology industry, has spent the last few years sharing his vast knowledge and experience with Filipinos as director of the Ateneo Innovation Center.

A few aren’t even Filipinos — technically.

In the 1970s, a young Italian arrived in Manila to start a new life as a missionary. Father Peter Geremia ended up staying, embracing our culture and becoming part of our sometimes painful history. He is probably familiar to those who followed the October 2011 murder of Father Fausto “Pops” Tentorio in Cotabato.  He was Father Peter’s colleague.

I met Father Peter in Cotabato in the 1980s in what turned out to be the one of the oddest interviews in my journalism career. I was there to interview a group of Lumads. They didn’t speak Tagalog or English. I didn’t understand Cebuano. Father Peter served as our translator.

So I ended up relying on a white dude from Italy to communicate with my own people. In a way, that experience drains the pigment out of Clavio’s colored assumptions on who should be considered Filipino.

For that afternoon, in a corner of the archipelago, it was Father Peter, with his pale, even pinkish, complexion, not me, who was ‘kayumanggi.’

On Twitter @KuwentoPimentel. On Facebook at www.facebook.com/benjamin.pimentel

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TAGS: Arnold Clavio, Azkals, Culture, Filipino, football, Racism, Soccer, Sports
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