“Before we go any further, can I check those diplomas? I’d just like to make sure they’re not from some med school in the Philippines.”

Thousands of Filipinos all over the world are reacting angrily to that remark in an episode of “Desperate Housewives, ” one of the most watched TV shows in the world. The remark has provoked prolonged discussions over many e-groups, especially among Filipinos abroad. And there’s an online petition over a hundred thousand have signed, demanding that ABC network, a Disney company which produces the show, issue an apology “more sincere” than the three sentence version it released last week. Various groups have also thrown pickets at ABC’s US headquarters.

Among them is the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns (Nafcon), an alliance of Filipino organizations and individuals in the United States organized in 2003. Nafcon is demanding that ABC–

“1) broadcast a sincere, proper, and satisfactory apology before the show’s next three episodes; such apology is to be addressed to the Filipino people and signed by its top management;

“2) Together with its parent company, Disney, to conduct a thorough investigation of the show’s writers, editors, and producers and take appropriate action;

“3) show proof of its decision to cut the scene from the episode permanently and never to air it again, including in all productions of DVDs and boxed sets of the series;

“4) hold cultural-sensitivity programs for all management and employees;

“5) commit concrete support for groups advocating positive images and constructive coverages in the media especially of the often nameless and marginalized communities; and,

“6) acknowledge publicly the decades-long contribution of Filipino medical practitioners and health care providers to the U.S. medical community.”

These demands are as likely to be met as Disney’s dismantling its global lock on entertainment. (Disney is one of only seven Western monopolies that blanket the planet with TV shows, movies, CDs, etc.) But good luck to Nafcon, anyway, whose president happens to be activist priest Benjamin Alforque.

Meanwhile, here in the country of our sorrows, the usual politicians have weighed in with their reactions, among them Miriam Defensor Santiago, who wants Filipinos to boycott the show, and Bienvenido Abante, Chair of the House of Representatives committee on public information, who wants an outright ban of the series—and who doesn’t seem to know, despite his exalted position, that doing that would constitute censorship.

It’s as if this were the first time that a US minority group—this time the minority within a minority of health care professionals of Filipino origin or ancestry—had ever been insulted by US pop culture.

It isn’t. One of the ironies of media globalization is that the western, particularly US TV shows and movies millions of Filipinos and other people of color watch, are not especially sensitive to the sentiments of their audiences. Drivers, cooks and domestic have been referred to as “my Filipino”, for example, and their accents made fun of in Hollywood movies as well as TV sitcoms.

Other minorities do much worse, especially those groups regarded as less docile than Filipinos. US popular culture has been insulting Arabs even before 9/11, although, in the aftermath of the Vietnam War, Vietnamese used to have that distinction. The idiotic movies of Chuck Norris—whose crew denuded Batangas’ Maculot Mountain and left a ton of trash on its summit while making one of its silly potboilers in the 1990s—have been depicting Vietnamese as brutal “gooks” and Arabs as wild-eyed “towel head” fanatics for years.

Who’s going to be targeted usually depends on who’s the US’ perceived enemy of the hour, and while the latter may currently include North Koreans, the current disfavor of the month are Arabs, particularly Iranians.

US pop culture is not pro-actively sensitive. Most of the time it reflects the attitudes, biases, fears and beliefs of the majority. And why not? Its writers, directors, and producers are themselves children of the same majority culture.

Right now the majority is not so much concerned with Filipinos as with “the enemy within”—meaning the Muslims and Arabs living in the homeland. As for Filipinos, well, they’re certainly not the enemy, being from a country that’s been so supportive of US policies and so ingratiating in its mendicancy it’s way past embarrassing.

That’s what made the remark about Philippine med schools particularly painful. Like the government they thought they’ve left behind, Filipinos in the US work hard to be accepted. They keep their mouths shut when other minority groups are insulted and injured. They vote Republican in US elections to dispel any suggestion no matter how faint of “radical” views. They work at their long A’s and O’s and try to speak with a twang. They prohibit their children from speaking Filipino.

It’s a shock to discover that despite it all, despite the effort at deculturizing themselves, and despite the smiles and the patronizing, seeming acceptance of the white majority, they remain outsiders in a culture that, regarding itself as superior, disdains others.


Prof. Luis V. Teodoro is a former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication, where he used to teach journalism. He writes political commentary for BusinessWorld.

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