Jessica Sanchez and the Browning of America

/ 03:08 PM May 25, 2012

SAN FRANCISCO—Those who feel down that Jessica Sanchez did not win on American Idol should remember one name: Jennifer Hudson.

She also didn’t win, but Hudson is probably the most well-known of the Idol alums, and the only one to win an Oscar. Bottom line: Sanchez, who is only 16, certainly has an incredible future ahead of her.


Of course, demographics were a factor.

As a known American Idol expert Richard Rushfield told ABC News, “You have this alliance between young girls and grandmas and they see it, not necessarily as a contest to create a pop star competing on the contemporary radio, but as…who’s the nicest guy in a popularity contest. And that has led to this dynasty of four, and possibly now five, consecutive, affable, very nice, good-looking white boys.”


So the highly-visible Filipino campaign for Sanchez, especially on the Web, simply wasn’t enough. Now, I imagine many older Filipinos, including those in the U.S., saying: “A, ‘yong Amerikano ang nanalo. The American won.”

White has long been our default description for and image of American. That’s how we’ve been conditioned to think.

But that eventually may change. The change was highlighted as the last Idol season was reaching its climactic finale.

I heard the expression the “browning of America” in the early 1990s when the demographic changes in California was becoming evident. It referred to steady growth of minority communities – Asians, Latinos, African Americans and Filipinos.

The 1990 Census showed Filipinos becoming the largest Asian community in California. The community slipped back to No. 2 after the Chinese in the next two decades. Nationally, Filipinos are also second to the Chinese as the biggest Asian community.

California is already a state in which communities of color are the majority. That’s expected to be the case as well for the entire United States in a few decades.

Two weeks ago the U.S. Census Bureau reported a key milestone in the browning of the U.S.A.


For the first time in American history, minorities, including those of mixed race, made up more than half – or 50.4 percent – of all births. (The count covered a 12-month period that ended in July last year.)

“This is an important tipping point,” William H. Frey of Brookings Institution told the New York, Times. He called the change a “transformation from a mostly white baby boomer culture to the more globalized multiethnic country that we are becoming.”

Lillian Galedo, a veteran of many civil rights campaigns and battles for Filipino Americans and other minority communities, looks forward to the big changes in the American profile

“What’s been embedded in our perspective is that we are leaders not only of the Filipino community, but we have the bases to be the leaders of our whole community,” Lillian told me. “That we at some point can stop looking at ourselves as a minority in a marginalized way that we have before.”

Filipinos were perhaps hoping to feel that sense of empowerment in the American Idol contest.

Lillian, whose parents are from Bohol, wasn’t really a big American Idol fan. Well, at least, not before Jessica Sanchez became a phenomenon.

“I voted for the first time,” she said. “I thought for sure she would win because she was more talented. … It seems almost as if people were assuming that the general public would vote for her without our campaigning on her raw talent. So I was disappointed that she didn’t win.”

But maybe someday, with the “browning” of the U.S.A. race and ethnicity won’t be such big factors in American Idol-style contest.

And it won’t be just about Filipinos, she said. “The country as a whole will be much more colorful.”

We’re already getting a glimpse of that more colorful future on American Idol.

Remember that Jessica Sanchez is Filipino-Mexican.  Filipinos weren’t the only ones cheering for her. So were the Mexicans. And then there were Jessica’s fellow Mexipinos — like my friend Sylvia at Cal State East Bay.

She also felt bad Jessica didn’t win. “I was soooo hoping!” she said in an e-mail.

On Twitter @KuwentoPimentel. On Facebook at

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TAGS: American Idol, Jennifer Hudson, Jessica Sanchez, Migration, Music, United States, US
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