Manny “Pac-Man” Pacquiao, the Transnational Fist, and the Southern California Ringside Community

la-sp-manny-pacquiao-20150310

For Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, ToM is featuring two excerpts from the new anthology, Asian American Sporting Cultures from New York University Press. Here in a chapter excerpt, Constancio Arnoldo Jr. examines Filipino ideas about masculinity and identity through boxer Manny Pacquiao. See also our recent post on the intersection between boxing, Los Angeles, and the Philippines: “From Villa to Pacquiao: Filipino Boxing in L.A. and the Power of the Transnational Punch”

One night in December 2009, after taking a five-hour flight from Illinois to California, I had just walked into my brother and sister-in-law’s house in Long Beach. My then two-year-old nephew, all thirty-six inches of him, enthusiastically ran up to me and started to twist his torso and swing his arms side to side. He was clearly emulating a boxer’s movements. He then started to chant, “Pacquiao, Pacquiao, Pacquiao!” Not surprisingly, his energetic twisting and swinging elicited laughter from my family and me. This was an interesting encounter with my nephew, for he equated and replaced the verb “boxing” with the noun “Pacquiao.” I asked my brother how he learned to chant Pacquiao’s name and what spurred him to swing his torso while simultaneously flailing his arms. My brother replied that when they watch Manny “Pac-Man” Pacquiao fight, he tells his son that “that’s Pacquiao” and that he wants him to recognize who he is. Since then, any time my nephew sees an image of Pacquiao, these movements soon follow.(1)

Literature on immigrant communities in the U.S. has often foreground a particular assimilationist narrative. This narrative emphasizes that, throughout time, immigrant groups gradually lose their ethnic characteristics, which ultimately results in their full incorporation into the fabric of American society. This narrative, however, has emphasized early European immigrants’ experiences, often privileging the eventual assimilation of a homogenized white, middle-class group. However, even racialized white European immigration was never easy, continuous, or complete (Roediger 1991; Guglielmo 2005; Wray 2009). A far more appropriate approach to understanding immigrant experiences examines the differential experiences and outcomes for the aforementioned immigrants coming from Asia, in particular the Philippines. According to Claire Jean Kim’s theoretical framework of racial triangulation, Asian Americans in general, and Filipina/o Americans in particular, manage race and assimilate into racial belonging in between whiteness and blackness (see also Bow 2010). Through what is termed “racial power,” Asian Americans manage racializing ideas about African Americans and Latinos that inevitably place these groups in subordinate status. Asian Americans are thus “racially triangulated between Blacks and Whites” (Kim 2000: 16), maintaining an inferior position to whites while occupying a superior position to blacks. Asian Americans, in addition, continue to be held by the forever-foreigner status, unable to achieve full assimilation.However, the vignette above tells us something far more is happening.

Rather than identifying with African American or white sporting bodies, this third-generation Filipino American simultaneously connects to a sense of place and constructs a Filipino American ethnic identity through the figure of a Filipino boxer. Thus, rather than situating the immigrant experience only within U.S. national borders and within the black-and-white dichotomous terrain of racial citizenship, we see how global connections and transnational cultural productions contribute to a complicated understanding of belonging that does not solely take place within the United States. As critical sports studies scholars Toni Bruce and Belinda Wheaton put it, “The global sporting arena is a central site in which the ‘struggle over nationhood, citizenship and the meaning, basis and authenticity of national identity’ takes place” (Jackson 2004: 138). I argue that understanding the kind of resonance that Pacquiao has with the diasporic Filipina/o community must take into account globalization, transnational processes, and the postcolonial moment. My nephew and my brother, a third-generation Filipino American and a second-generation Filipino American, simultaneously embody and connect to this Philippine national icon in a way that expands practices of “cultural citizenship” (Maira 2009) in the U.S. while attaching meaning to a symbol of Filipino nationalism.

One of Manny Pacquiao’s most notable precursors, Flyweight Champion Francisco “Pancho Villa” Guilledo; [Fly weight boxing champion of the world, Pancho Villa, on the left, boxing with Flores, Philippine Islands], circa 1890-1923, Frank and Frances Carpenter Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

One of Manny Pacquiao’s most notable precursors, Flyweight Champion Francisco “Pancho Villa” Guilledo; [Fly weight boxing champion of the world, Pancho Villa, on the left, boxing with Flores, Philippine Islands], circa 1890-1923, Frank and Frances Carpenter Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Manny “Pac-Man” Pacquiao: The Filipino Pugilist

Manny “Pac-Man” Pacquiao is an eight-time world boxing champion from the Philippines and is considered one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world.(2) As the Philippines’ national hero, part of Pacquiao’s lore stems from the fact that he has emerged out of the depths of poverty to achieve boxing success. Indeed, his life story reflects a kind of “rags-to-riches” narrative that boxing in particular, and sports in general, celebrates (see Carrington 2010). For example, Oliver Wang, in this volume, demonstrates how the “underdog” story embodied by NBA player Jeremy Lin becomes taken for granted with Asian and Asian American athletes, which also dovetails with the Horatio Alger storyline (see also Wang and Leonard herein). Pacquiao’s life story is thus part of a larger immigrant narrative of achieving the American Dream. A narrative of this sort plays a key role in foregrounding him as a national and global hero who is celebrated by Filipinas/os throughout the diaspora.

Filipino insurgents fought American occupation; Officers of the Insurgent Army, prisoners in Postigo Prison, Manila, Philippine Islands] circa 1901, Stenograph Card Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Filipino insurgents fought American occupation; Officers of the Insurgent Army, prisoners in Postigo Prison, Manila, Philippine Islands] circa 1901, Stenograph Card Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Pacquiao embodies the contemporary manifestations of race and masculinity in the postcolonial sporting moment. Much like his Filipino brethren, Pacquiao’s consumption and domination of space neutralizes discourses of the threatening Yellow Peril. Whereas the Yellow Peril was feared, Pacquiao’s brown masculinity is an “acceptable” one that literally and figuratively moves between transnational borders. And within the boxing ring, his presence is celebrated for consuming and dominating other bodies. He does not threaten U.S. national borders and, in the U.S. imaginary, embodies a “childlike glow,” reminiscent of the “little brown brother,”(10) reflecting residual U.S. colonial ideologies rooted in racializing and infantilizing discourses about Filipinos.Moreover, Pacquiao’s global popularity has transcended his performances in the ring. In fact, Pacquiao’s promoter, Bob Arum, founder and CEO of Top Rank boxing promotions has on a number of occasions compared Pacquiao to Muhammad Ali (Davies 2010).

While Pacquiao’s Christian faith is part of the construction of a respectable boxing figure, the comparison to Ali invokes global iconicity while inserting his brown body within a Muslim blackness. In this way, Pacquiao’s boxing exploits only partially explain his transformative power. While the mainstream media has focused on how Pacquiao has resonated with Filipinas/os in the Philippines, very little attention has been paid to how he resonates with Filipinas/os in the United States. By drawing upon Pacquiao’s iconicity to generate meanings of nationalism, affirmations of ethnic identity, masculinity, and “oblique critiques” (Gonzalves 2010) of Filipina/o American (in)visibility, we can produce complex and contradictory meanings about Asian American lives. For many Filipinas/ os in the Southern California diaspora, Pacquiao is a “transnational role model” (Barron 2013) because he enables them to craft meanings within and outside the boxing world while simultaneously moving across national borders.

"Construction of the liberty ship "Booker T. Washington." Jack Dover, Filipino welder assigned to work on the "Booker T. Washington," first liberty ship named for a Negro, is one of the workers of many racial groups who rushed to complete the vessel which bears the name of the noted Negro educator"; Photograph by Alfred E. Palmer, September 1942, Farm Security Administration, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

“Construction of the liberty ship “Booker T. Washington.” Jack Dover, Filipino welder assigned to work on the “Booker T. Washington,” first liberty ship named for a Negro, is one of the workers of many racial groups who rushed to complete the vessel which bears the name of the noted Negro educator”; Photograph by Alfred E. Palmer, September 1942, Farm Security Administration, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

One of the recurring themes attached to Pacquiao’s image is his respectability, evidenced by his strong Catholic/Christian faith and the bodily rituals he performs before, during, and after his fights.(3) Before his fights, he kneels at the corner of the boxing ring and prays. In between rounds, and right before he meets his opponent at the start of each new round, he performs the sign of the cross. And throughout his interviews, he repeatedly thanks God. Informants, too, referenced his faith in God. Cynthia, a second-generation Filipina American from Los Angeles County, for example, shares, “In the last [24/7](4) documentary he shut down things that weren’t more God centered, [he was] more into his religion and sharing the Bible.” This quote demonstrates how Pacquiao’s respectability is renewed by publicly sharing and disassociating himself from what is considered unvirtuous behavior.
His fans acknowledge Pacquiao’s recommitment to God and his Christians ways. Thus, through Catholic practices, Pacquiao is seen as a redemptive figure: Pacquiao himself publicly acknowledges his sins. As long as he is repentant and working toward correcting these sins, then Pacquiao’s respectability is redeemed.

Indeed, such religious symbolism invites consumers to identify with its overtly religious meanings. Nike, for example, capitalizes on Pacquiao’s muscular Christianity by selling him as a savior who sacrifices for the nation. In one T-shirt design, “Give Us This Day,” Pacquiao is kneeling in the corner of a boxing ring, his back turned to the viewer with his arms extending outward and his head bowed. He is wearing Nike boxing shorts, shoes, and gloves.(5) The image shows him in a position similar to Jesus Christ on the cross, with a spotlight emphasizing his posture. These kinds of religious imagery are even more significant when placed in the context of the sociopolitical climate of the “war on terror” in which Arab, Muslim, and Sikh communities have been subjected to increased state surveillance in the aftermath of 9/11 (Rana 2011; Thangaraj 2012).

Whereas Pacquiao’s Christian respectability is celebrated, these communities are far more frequently disciplined by the state and are discouraged from displaying their spiritual practices. Constructing Pacquiao as a respectable figure works in tandem with the neoliberal moment and aligns with the celebration of sport as a system of meritocracy. Thus, as a “postracial” subject, Pacquiao’s individual work ethic is celebrated—he has pulled himself out of poverty and “made it” despite the structural barriers that have shaped Filipina/o diasporic experiences as well as those of others from the global south. Pacquiao also works as a model minority figure, particularly in terms of how he is positioned in relation to African American and Latino boxers. This however, masks structural inequalities that are rooted in white privilege (Yep 2012).

Pacquiao’s global appeal and popularity has led to endorsements from global corporations such as Nike, Hewlett-Packard, and Hennessy, as well as Philippine-based companies like San Miguel Brewery. His very Christianity is based on a tough masculinity that can sell alcohol in a way that is domesticated through both boxing and religion. Beyond Pacquiao’s success in the ring, he represents Sarangani province in the Philippine House of Representatives and is celebrated for his philanthropic efforts on behalf of his country’s people. He is represented in a positive light in the Philippine national media and within global media discourses as a respectable, just, muscular Christian hero.

Pacquiao has had a number of masculine-inflected boxing nicknames that incorporate but also stand in contradiction to his respectable, heterosexual, Christian masculinity. These nicknames include the racially charged “Mexecutioner,” bestowed upon him when he was taking on and defeating Mexican fighters such as Marco Antonio Barrera,and Erik Morales;(6) “The Destroyer”; and, more recently, “Pac-Man,”(7) which stems from the video arcade game of that name produced by the Japanese company Namco. The game features a yellow ball that navigates a maze and eats dots and ghosts. The goal of the Pac-Man game is to dominate—to consume everything and anything and eventually be the sole occupier of the game space. Perhaps this is why—particularly between 2008 and 2010(8)—when Pacquiao was metaphorically and literally defeating boxers who stood in his way that he earned the “Pac-Man” moniker. Although Asians’ and Asian Americans’ eating behaviors are often configured as nonnormative, this type of physical domination metaphorically parlayed through eating up one’s opponent is celebrated among sporting audiences. While the metaphor of Pacquiao as Pac-Man involves a gamelike feature, there is also a way in which the Yellow Peril trope is displaced through the nickname.

 

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the Yellow Peril referred to perceptions of Chinese and Japanese bodies spilling over the U.S. borders, evoking anxiety, fear, and xenophobia, which in turn led to anti-Asian immigration laws (Chen 1991; Tchen and Yeats 2014). Filipinos were exempt from the Yellow Peril trope primarily because of the Philippines’ colonial relationship to the United States. Whereas Yellow Peril fears were mapped onto Chinese and Japanese bodies, Filipinos were cast as “little brown brothers,” an infantilizing term meant to subordinate Filipinos’ status brought on by colonialism (Ignacio et. al 2004). For a brief period, Filipinos’ brown masculinity was seen as less threatening than their Asian counterparts’ yellow masculinity.(9) The Philippine-U.S. colonial relationship framed the status of Filipinos as U.S. nationals; they could move freely between U.S. borders and were not subject to deportation. However, they were still prohibited from owning land, and were also targets of antimiscegenation laws.

Filipino athletics under colonial rule; [Track team, Manila, Philippine Islands], circa 1900-1923, Frank and Frances Carpenter Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Filipino athletics under colonial rule; [Track team, Manila, Philippine Islands], circa 1900-1923, Frank and Frances Carpenter Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Configuring Masculine Nationalist Sentiments

Sports are one of the primary institutions through which national affiliation, loyalty, and a shared identity emerges (Archetti 1999). Given the globality of mass media sport (Appadurai 1996; Joo 2012) and the fact that Pacquiao’s identity carries the burden of representation for the Philippine nation, it comes as no surprise that nationalist sentiments are inscribed onto his body. Part of what makes nationalism appealing for Filipina/o American Pacquiao fans are the “myths” and stories that mobilize and sustain his narratives, which in turn, are interpreted and internalized by the diasporic community. In his seminal work, Imagined Communities, Benedict Anderson argues that nationalism is constructed, indeed, “imagined” because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion (1991: 6).

Thus, while, Filipinas/os in the diaspora will never truly know each other, their connection to an emblem of the Philippines vis-à-vis Pacquiao’s body offers tangible proof of a national body, however imagined. Taken further, Pacquiao’s Filipinoness—broadly understood as identifying with his brown body—is reiterated through familiar cultural practices (e.g., his Catholic religion, eating Filipino food, speaking Tagalog, and speaking English with a Filipino accent). Angelica, a second-generation Filipina American shared, “And then he embodies a lot of Filipino characteristics. He’s always praying. I like that he has this thick accent, he sings karaoke on Jimmy Kimmel, it’s fabulous!” Here, Angelica emphasizes how Pacquiao’s performances of Filipinoness enable Angelica to identify with, and develop an affinity with the Filipino boxer. At the same time, because Pacquiao hails from the Philippines, one sees how space and place link Filipina/o Americans to the Philippines through Pacquiao’s body (Gupta and Ferguson 1997). Yet the very same accent also plays a part in creating distance from Filipinoness and first-generation immigrants by which to emphasize Filipina/o American–ness. The contradictory registers of affinity through “Filipino characteristics” create distance through a “thick accent” and simultaneously perpetuate understandings of him as an unassimilable figure who cannot quite achieve full Americanness.To make sense of how nationalism is worked out through Pacquiao’s body, we must also contextualize how sentiments are linked to ideas of race and masculinity in the postcolonial moment. Indeed, boxing is a site where men of color excel and where they are pitted against each other. And sports in general are seen as systems of meritocracy and avenues for upward mobility. As a “manly art” (Gorn 2010), boxing requires masculine attributes of toughness, aggressiveness, and physicality not usually afforded to Asian or Asian American males (Burdsey 2007).

These ideas of masculine characteristics, coupled with nationalism, enable Filipina/o Americans to draw upon conventional attributes of masculinity to counter unresolved issues of Philippine loss brought on by multiple legacies of colonialism. Thus, while attempting to rewrite narratives of Philippine nationalism through a masculine body, they also privilege men as the protectors of the feminized nation (Enloe 1990; Stoler 1991; Tengan 2008).
It is in this context where Pacquiao’s material and symbolic global presence becomes a bearer of meanings for the diasporic Filipina/o American community and a pivot upon which expressions of Filipino nationalism and identity emerge. Pacquiao’s success in the ring enables Filipina/o American nationalism and a sense of esteem and status not granted in other arenas of their everyday lives. For some, Pacquiao’s larger-than-life persona serves as a critique of Filipina/o American invisibility. Carlos, a 1.5-generation Filipino American from Orange County echoes these sentiments: “It’s really big for a Filipino American to be so successful in sports ’cause there’s no other Filipino Americans that are successful in sports except Manny.”

Although Pacquiao is a Philippine citizen, Carlos’s reflections demonstrate a perceived absence of successful Filipino sporting bodies in U.S. mainstream sporting cultures.
Taken further, Pacquiao’s success in the mainstream reflects what many diasporic Filipinas/os yearn for: a lifestyle of wealth, power, visibility, and achievement. Critiques of mainstream visibility notwithstanding, Pacquiao as a mass-mediated representation is also read in much more complicated ways. These readings and interpretations simultaneously implicate issues of nationalism, race, and masculinity that traverse beyond the Filipina/o American community. In a contribution from Salon, a politically progressive news website, Thea Lim reflects on how Pacquiao’s staying power resonates beyond the Filipina/o community and into the psyches of other people of color. One of Lim’s informants, Kai, a black male, shared that while he is not Filipino, “Pacquiao’s being nonwhite definitely was appealing for me. Not just that but being from a third-world country and the fact that he came from struggle. So I kind of supported him in solidarity” (Lim 2011).

Here, Pacquiao provides a sense of cross-racial unity among people of color who understand the kinds of oppression other third world countries and racialized minority communities have experienced. Additionally, Ryan, another of Lim’s informants, described Pacquiao’s 2009 win over Ricky “The Hitman” Hatton as symbolically a duel between the colonizer and the colonized despite the fact that Spain and the United States, rather than England—Hatton’s birthplace—had colonized the Philippines. It is clear that Hatton’s white masculinity symbolically embodied the symbolic boundaries of the colonizer and Pacquiao’s brown body, the colonized.
The fight itself was promoted as “The Battle of East and West,” an obvious title given the racial and nationalist undertones embodied by Hatton, as representative of the West, and Pacquiao, as representative of the East.

One can also see how national markers of the Philippines and England were respectively worn by Pacquiao and Hatton on their boxing shorts—for Pacquiao, his Nike branded “MP” logo uses the Philippine sun emerging from the letters, while the Union Jack was featured prominently on the rear of Hatton’s trunks. The “Battle of the East and West” theme indicates the link between nations and bodies.More than simply a boxing match between two men, these fights are global contests of nations and their particular histories. Great Britain, along with the U.S., continues to confront its own legacies of racism, particularly in the realm of English football and cricket (Burdsey 2007, 2011). In this context, Pacquiao’s body allows Filipinas/os to rewrite narratives of loss by positioning the Philippines as a challenger to colonial histories and colonialism’s residual legacies.

For my informants, this fight was consumed with a particular racial perspective, using nationalist vocabularies as proxies to think about race and racial subjectivity within the context of U.S. white supremacy. While Hatton embodies a nationalist English body, his white colonial body can also be read as a racialized whiteness that becomes visible as a result of its defeat at the hands of the formerly colonized, brown body. Indeed, a common theme among my informants was about the Pacquiao/Hatton fight and the dominance with which Pacquiao won. This is similar to the findings of España-Maram’s (2006) study of Filipino boxers and the Filipino laborers who rooted for their countrymen in the early twentieth century, when the most popular fights were between white and Filipino boxers. Many of my informants indexed Pacquiao’s victory over Hatton as one of Pacquiao’s most memorable, indeed, remarkable fights:

Carlos: I just mainly remember the knockout he gave to Ricky Hatton.

Cynthia: I think [the] Hatton [fight]. Just the way he knocked him and won and he wasn’t expecting it.

Evelina: When he knocked out that guy. [Hatton] was frozen stiff for five minutes? That one.

Filipina/o Americans symbolically insert Pacquiao’s brown body as a dominant figure over a white, colonizing body. In this way, consumption of racial pugilism moves beyond the black/white racial paradigm and the fight between Pacquiao and Hatton thus symbolizes a duel between whiteness and brown masculinity.

American occupation of the Philippines and elsewhere was not marked by equality as demonstrated in this 1899 political cartoon; Louis Dairymple, "School begins / Dalrymple", 1899, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

American occupation of the Philippines and elsewhere was not marked by equality as demonstrated in this 1899 political cartoon; Louis Dairymple, “School begins / Dalrymple”, 1899, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Rewriting Dominant Narratives of Loss

Beyond reinscribing Pacquiao’s national body as masculine, his remarkable success also pivots upon renarrating dominant narratives of Philippine loss, which are rooted in the material realities of Spanish and U.S. imperialisms and Japanese occupation. Yet it is important to note that Pacquiao’s nationalist body is a collection of images and representations aimed at selling the heroic masculine body. Perhaps no other company conveys these messages more pervasively than Nike. I now turn to a Nike-sponsored Pacquiao video (drealkulit 2007) to analyze how the Philippine nation is mapped onto, and made meaningful to, Pacquiao’s body.

I came across the video by conducting a YouTube search for Manny Pacquiao Nike commercials and videos. Uploaded on September 27, 2007, by the user drealkulit, when I first encountered it in 2008, the video had been viewed 126,340 times from people throughout the world, though viewership is heavily concentrated in the Philippines and, to a lesser extent, the United States. I spoke to a second-generation Filipino American who grew up in Los Angeles County but now works for Nike in the company’s Oregon headquarters. He shared that the video was created and disseminated by Nike Philippines. According to YouTube viewership numbers, the video is popular with a largely male audience in the age range of thirty-five to fifty-four. Online comments appear in English, Spanish, and Tagalog; many involve statements of national pride and debates about whether Mexicans or Filipinos produce superior boxers, as well as sexist, racist, and homophobic slurs targeting African American pugilist Floyd Mayweather, Jr., Pacquiao’s biggest rival. One particular comment by user bra1ndead piqued my interest in part because it questions the logic by which members of the Filipino diaspora uphold Pacquiao’s status as the “national hero” of the Philippines. According to bra1ndead,

pac is not our national hero. heroes know to stand by the people, and clearly pac is standing with pgma [President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo]. He says he fights for the country, but it’s really all about the money (mansions, cock derbys, etc.) what the hell happened to his Emmanuel Pacquiao Foundation? He used to be the people’s champion, now he’s the corporate champ—with the commercials and all. Although, I greatly admire him for his boxing skill, do not—please—do not say that he is our hero.(11)

While admitting to respecting Pacquiao’s boxing skills, bra1ndead forces the viewers to critique dominant assumptions of heroism because of the fighter’s alignment with Gloria Magcapal Arroyo’s politics, her neoliberal corporate policies, and his own corporate sponsorship by Nike. Thus, while the video aims to sell commodity images of Philippine nationalism, it is clear that not all members of the diasporic Filipino community agree on how to interpret it.(12)

The video looks to be a compilation of Pacquiao’s two fights against Mexican fighters Marco Antonio Barerra and Erik Morales. It has a grainy look to it, appearing in vintage-style black and white, highlighting only the color red. Red appears on the headband of Freddie Roach, Pacquao’s head trainer. It is also highlighted on Pacquiao’s boxing gloves and shorts, and the boxing ring’s top rope. The video opens with a close-up shot of Pacquiao’s face. He is looking up, his body language speaking of exhaustion as if he is contemplating inevitable defeat. The clip then moves toward Pacquiao on the defensive, absorbing devastating right hooks to the head. Eventually Pacquiao gets knocked down, falling flat on his back. The next shot is similar to the first—Pacquiao is sitting on a stool in the corner, his right eye now bloodied. His trainer is placing a cotton swab inside the cut to prevent blood from dripping. Again, Pacquiao appears exhausted. He is looking down, signaling that his opponent has broken his will to fight. Then comes the final scene and the apex of the video. This time, it is Pacquiao throwing the punches despite his bloody eye. He throws and lands a right jab, followed by a left hook.
More punches ensue and his opponent falls to the canvas. The final shot from the boxing ring is of Pacquiao kissing his right glove, looking up, and raising both arms in triumph. He then looks down and back up, as if relieved that he won the fight. A concluding image shows the Manny Pacquiao logo in red followed by the patented Nike swoosh.In the beginning, and throughout the video, we hear the voice of what I assume to be a child. It sounds as if he or she is singing a melodic hymn. The pitch wavers between high and low notes and the song fades in and out throughout the video until the very end, when Pacquiao raises his arms in triumph.

The voice then utters the words, “Ang ma-matay nang dahil sa ‘yo,” which translates “to die for you.” The phrase is taken from the final lines of “Lupang Hinirang,” the Philippine national anthem. As Christianity pivots upon Jesus Christ’s life and death on behalf of humanity, and his resurrection, Pacquiao’s victory parallels Christ’s resurrection.The video communicates a reversed narrative of sorts—it highlights themes of trials and tribulations, and of the struggle to continue in the face of overwhelming adversity. We are led to believe that Pacquiao is going to lose the fight, indicated by his mannerisms, the melodic tone of the music, and the clips of Pacquiao on the defensive. However, as the video unfolds, we see a counternarrative, one in which Pacquiao, for all of the adversity he previously encountered, is about to come back and claim victory not only for himself but, more importantly, for the Filipino nation.
This video narrative thus attempts to reinsert Philippine nationalism through the use of Pacquiao’s symbolic imagery—a narrative in which the Philippines, despite histories of colonialism has thus renarrated its emplotment to reverse the linear history of time. I am also thinking of the imagery of the color red. Red carries the symbolism of blood (Turner 1969). The image of Pacquiao’s right eye dripping with blood suggests that this dripping is equated to a weakening state, a loss of energy and literally of blood.

In fact, blood is accentuated on Pacquiao’s face and animated on his shorts, the ropes, and the head-band. The bleeding marks a liminal state, with possibilities of defeat or triumph.The line “To die for you” is thus used to communicate Pacquiao’s readiness to shed his blood for the Philippine nation, even if it comes at the cost of death. One can also think of references to sacrifice—though I do not wish to romanticize the use of religious imagery, one can see how Pacquiao embodies a kind of deified status, while still carrying with it the human element, as shown in the shedding of his own blood. The fall and rise of Pacquiao from the depths of despair follows the Catholic tradition of Jesus Christ’s passion, or what historian Reynaldo Ileto terms the “pasyon.” According to Ileto, pasyon is a Filipino idiom that follows Catholic traditions of suffering, sacrifice, and redemption during Holy Week, which was embodied, in particular by Filipino male revolutionary fighters to resist colonialism. Indeed, Spain colonized the Philippines for over 350 years, and with colonialism came the inculcation of Catholic beliefs, traditions, and values. This is evident in the fact that close to 90 percent of the Philippine population is Catholic (Gall 1998).

In this video, I see metanarratives of Filipino passion referenced in the treatment of male heroism in Philippine culture like Jesus Christ, Bernardo Carpio, and José Rizal. Pacquiao follows the tradition of these male heroic figures precisely because the video transmits messages of suffering, sacrifice, and heroism—and perhaps of Pacquiao as masculinized savior of the nation.

Dorothea Lange, "Filipino lettuce field laborer. Imperial Valley, California", February 1939, Farm Security Administration Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Dorothea Lange, “Filipino lettuce field laborer. Imperial Valley, California”, February 1939, Farm Security Administration Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

This narrative concurrently parallels the contemporary experiences of Filipina/o global laborers, particularly seamen. According to anthropologist Kale Fajardo, “Although notions of sacrifice play a big part in the [Philippine] state’s interpellation narrative, notions of Christian suffering and sacrifice also ‘color’ Filipino seamen’s perceptions, experiences, and understandings of seafaring/maritime time-space in the global economy” (2011: 147). The narrative also suggests something of a twenty-first-century reclamation project for a national community of belonging and a renarration of victory and triumph as opposed to loss. But the narrative of winning comes at the expense of defeating other men of color, particularly Latino men—rather than Spanish or white American colonists. In this way, Pacquiao operates as a model minority figure upon whom tensions between former colonized, brown bodies are symbolically played out, and a clear-cut “winner” emerges.15 Of course, such tensions are endemic to boxing, as ethnic identity and nationalism, paired with practices and performances of masculinity, frame the limits of cooperation between people of color (Rodriguez 2002).

Juxtaposing my description and interpretation of the video, I asked Roland, a second-generation Filipino American from San Diego, to view and discuss the video with me. When I asked what messages he thought the video conveyed, he suggested that it was “as if Pacquiao was a warrior or fighting for his people.” He then referred to the phrase from the national anthem, “Ang mamatay nang dahil sa ‘yo.” He stated, “More wars and independence, but I guess it applies.” The reference to “more wars and independence” is curious for it echoes a perpetual process of having to claim a Philippine nation marked by violence, occupation, and the struggle for national autonomy. “More wars and independence” means that the Philippines has never quite “won” and its status as an independent nation has never been on its own terms. At the same time, Roland genders the Philippine nation, linking notions of a heroic masculinity to “warriorhood.” Ty Tengan and Jesse Markham (2009) note how ideas of “warriorhood” enable Polynesian football players to counter processes of emasculation brought on by legacies of colonialism. In the same way, Roland associates warriorhood to Pacquiao and thus to the Philippines, which enables Roland to reconstruct the Philippines as masculine. The act of shedding blood and subsequent violent practices in the boxing ring become taken-for-granted notions of national identity, be it in the U.S. or in the Philippines.

Beyond my and Roland’s interpretations of the video, such perceptions of Pacquiao as an allegory of the Philippine nation have been articulated by other Filipina/o Americans. In an article featured in New America Media, for example, journalist Charisse Domingo reflects on how Pacquiao provides an alternative story of Philippine national narratives. This provides Filipinas/os throughout the world a sense of pride and esteem.You don’t have to be a sports fan to love Manny Pacquiao. You just have to know the feeling of being fallen and fighting your way up. Many of us have felt that at one time or another, of course. But to the Philippines as a whole, this is more than a feeling—it’s the entire story of our nation. We have a history of colonization by not just one but three colonizers—Spain, the United States and Japan. It’s a little embarrassing sometimes to say you’re Filipino because of our history of being the world’s doormat. And Pacquiao’s history is within the personal narrative of every Filipino in this world. (Domingo 2006)
Interestingly, Domingo deploys the “work of the imagination” (Appadurai 1996) by using the pronouns “us,” “we,” and “our” as a strategy of inclusion to recruit the presumably Filipina/o and/or Filipina/o American reader into a shared experience of “being the world’s door-mat.” Indeed, according to Domingo, “[Pacquiao] is the physical expression of our psyche,” precisely because he embodies the Filipina/o community’s life stories and struggles. For Domingo and the rest of the Filipina/o diaspora, then, Pacquiao’s life story, especially the fact that he figuratively and literally has fought his way out of poverty, serve as a symbol of ethnic and national pride and empowerment.

At the same time, Domingo points to residual legacies of colonialism that have shaped her understanding of Philippine national history. In doing so, she is critical of how such legacies shape the contemporary experiences of Filipinas/os, many of whom serve as “migrants for export,” (Rodriguez 2010) for the Philippine nation-state, and who constitute a “feminized” nation. According to anthropologist Kale Fajardo, “[T]he Philippines, its citizens, and its global migrant labor force (men and women) have been feminized through debt and dependency and gendered and sexualized through orientalism and colonialism by more powerful and wealthier nations such as the United States and Japan” (Fajardo 2011: 71). In this context, Pacquiao’s boxing success and life narrative simultaneously provide a metaphorical voice for a national community burdened by both the legacies of colonialism and current socioeconomic conditions.

Conclusion

In this chapter, I have argued for taking stock of the mass-mediated sporting landscapes through the figure of the global boxing sensation Manny “Pac-Man” Pacquiao. Pacquiao’s image and persona produce complicated identity formations brought on by globalizing process and transnational cultural practices that are mediated by and implicated with local identity formations, particularly in terms of race and gender. While Asian American studies’ legacies are anchored to particular historical moments in the U.S., this chapter also looks beyond U.S. borders to understand how Filipina/o and Filipina/o Americans make sense of diaspora and nationalism that are complicated by global popular culture to demonstrate the heterogeneity and multiplicity of Asian American sporting audiences (Lowe 1996). As such, this chapter asks us to take seriously the multivocality and multilocality of bodies and communities (Gupta and Ferguson 1997) that are not accounted for in Asian American studies, ethnic studies, and sports studies.

By emphasizing a transnational framework, we see that dominant representations are not simply mapped onto representations, but are constantly negotiated and struggled over. Finally, this chapter examines how the sport of boxing, and a boxing superstar of Filipino descent, generates scholarly discussions of sport that move beyond black-and-white-dominated discussions of sport. In this way, by considering how Pacquiao’s respectable, racialized masculinity works in transnational relation to other communities, we see how racialization takes on different contours that are complicated by gender. As we’ve seen throughout this chapter, Filipina/o Americans’ engagement with the spectacularity of Pacquiao and boxing reveal not only how globalizing forces are locally adapted, but also how their engagement with popular cultural forms allows for imagined communities within and outside of the U.S. borders.

Constancio R. Arnaldo, Jr., is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Asian American Studies at Miami University. He has written about Manny “Pac-Man” Pacquiao and Philippine Cultural transnationalism in “Crossroads: Asian Americans and Popular Culture” (NYU Press, Forthcoming). He begins a new post-doc position at the University of Nevada Las Vegas this fall in the university’s Interdisciplinary Degree Program.

Notes

1. This chapter’s title is inspired in part by that of Margaret Costello’s MA thesis,“The Filipino Ringside Community: National Identity and the Heroic Myth of Manny Pacquiao.” This chapter went through various iterations before submission and would not have been possible without feedback from a number of people. I want to thank Johanna Almiron and Lorenzo Perillo for providing comments and encouragement during the early stages of this chapter. At the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, Ricky Rodriguez, Karoliina Engstrom, and Martin Manalansan helped refine my chapter. During the 2011 Association for Asian American Studies Conference, Kale Fajardo and Linda Maram posed probing questions to me and I have incorporated them here. A heartfelt thank you goes to Norma A. Marrun, Stanley Thangaraj, and the blind reviewer’s feedback. This chapter is much better because of their critical and productive comments. Lastly, thank you to my brother, Chris, my sister-in-law, Orchid, and my nephew, Caleb, for inspiring this piece.

2. Pound-for-pound is an unofficial term used in combat sports to measure the value of a boxer in relation to other boxers regardless of weight class. It is also used in mixed martial arts. The term is often deployed by fans and boxing pundits in debates over who the best fighters are.

3. Lately, Pacquiao’s religiosity has gone from practicing Catholic rituals, to more evangelical Christian practices.

4. 24/7 is an HBO television series featuring the buildup to a fight.

5.“Customer Reviews for Nike Manny Pacquiao Give Us This Day Men’s T-Shirt.” Nike.com, n.d. http://reviews.nike.com/9191/415234/nike-manny-pacquiao-give-us- this-day-mens-t-shirt-reviews/reviews.htm.

6. Pacquiao, however, does not embrace the “Mexicutioner” nickname. See Satterfield (2011).

7. I emailed Pacquiao’s publicist, Fred Sternburg, to find out when and how Pacquiao received the nickname “Pac-Man.” Sternburg never responded to my emails.

8. I would argue that 2008–2010 were the years when Pacquiao was “destroying” his opponents in devastating fashion.

9. This does not mean that Filipinos were completely exempt from the anti-Asian sentiments and anti-Asian laws. Eventually, Filipinos became targets of white racial mobs and targets of exclusion.

10. While conducting fieldwork in Southern California, I was listening to ESPN radio. The hosts of one show, Scott Van Pelt and Ryen Russillo, were talking about Pacquiao. Van Pelt (2009), in an effort to describe Pacquiao stated that “Pacquiao has a ‘childlike glow’ about him.

11. bra1ndead comment in thread accompanying drealkulit (2007).

12. See Nguyen and Tu (2007) for descriptions of popular culture and Asian American multiple, contradictory practices of consumption.

15. I thank David Coyoca for this important insight.

See Asian American Sporting Cultures, pgs. 120-124 for References.

Comments

  1. Great fighter; but will ultimately be known as a Christian bigot. I simplistic terms….a “coconut.”

  2. This is an excellent piece.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: