L.A.'S FILIPINO INV(ASIAN)?
A friend sent over a link to this story in this week's L.A. Weekly: "The Fil-Am Invasion," where author Sam Slovick looks at how the Hollywood club scene in Southern Cal has become dominated by Filipino party crews.
Obviously, this is a subject that I have some vested interest in, though I am, by no means, that knowledgeable about the local scene down here. Most of what I do know has come about from 1) a story I wrote on the Beat Junkies, also for the L.A. Weekly, back in 2002, 2) Lakandiwa De Leon's excellent history of L.A. Filipino DJ scene from Jennifer Lee and Min Zhou's Asian American Youth anthology and 3) Bangele Alsaybar's illuminating essay, "Deconstructing Deviance: Filipino American Youth Gangs, "Party Culture," and Ethnic Identity in Los Angeles" from the Amerasia Journal (25,1: 1999).
As a piece of journalism focusing on a nightlife scene, I think the piece is decent - it gives you a sense of the scene, mentions both historical and contemporary players within it, and tries to take you "inside" with a lot of thick description (my friend found it a bit too "gonzo" but it didn't go too overboard in my opinion).
However, in terms of delivering on what I thought would be the heart of the story - discussing the Fil-Am angle to the "invasion," a few concerns did crop up as well as a few other small issues:
1) Minor point, but either Slovick or his editor misspelled J-Rocc's name as J-Roc. Don't deny my man his extra "c"!
2) I never got a sense of "why Hollywood?" Is it simply that it's the biggest club scene in Los Angeles? Is there something aspirational about Filipino party crews crashing a scene that they used to be kept out of? After all, it's not like the Pinoy party crews lacked a scene of their own for most of the '80s and '90s. So why Hollywood? Why now?
3) Slovick quotes party promoter Mark Neflas as saying:
- "“Back in the ’80s every race was doing their own thing. It was segregated. Now everyone’s collaborating. Now hip-hop is one race."
4) One of the very interesting things the article notes is this:
- "Recent successful themes include booty-shorts night, short-skirts night, a booty-shaking contest and lingerie night. Apparently it’s been a very successful business model, this booty thing."
5) Slovick closes by writing,
- "Hip-hop doesn’t mean what it used to. It’s come a long way from Public Enemy’s first gig at the World, in downtown Manhattan in the mid-’80s. Militant uniforms with berets referencing the Black Panthers. Melle Mel standing a few feet away trying to make sense of his presence in a room full of gender-challenged club kids and hip-hoppers as worlds collided. Jean-Michel Basquiat looming on the periphery like Gee Cee at Cinespace. Now, nobody controls the brand. It’s free market. Wide-open road."
6) Most seriously, for a story focusing on group of promoters and DJs linked by a common ethnic heritage, I didn't get a sense, at all, about what role race and ethnicity actually play here. The only mentions are here:
- "...the Fil-Am party scene moved out of the garage and into the clubs in L.A., San Francisco and Southern California, where the voice of disenfranchised ethnic America resonated with these first-generation Cali teens — who, though many in number, felt outside the American mainstream."
"These Fil-Am kids are serious about having a good time, and that’s about it. It’s cultural. It came from the islands. The celebratory communal music and dance go way back to tribal roots."
What about Filipino culture influences the scene or their interest in these kinds of parties?
Is this more of a Filipino American phenom? If not, what exactly are its roots in the "islands," let alone its *cough cough* "tribal roots"?
There's this pseudo-anthropological attitude being espoused here that's troubling. To write that the Pinoy party scene goes back to "the islands" (which ones? Luzon? Visayays? One of the other 7000?) is like saying, "the Black hip-hop scene goes back to Africa" and then leaving it at that.
Is there an argument to be made about cultural traditions passed down through the generations? Of course. But that's not what's being explained or described here. Moreover, the Fil-Am party scene has distinct, unique connections to American experiences such as patterns of migration, settlement, family/social networks and the challenges of forging an ethnic identity outside the Black/White paradigm. None of these factors enter into the discussion. At best, what the author does have to say on the issue is rather journalistically lazy, especially given that it's supposed to be rather central to the piece itself (at least, the title suggests it!)
At worst, the article's use of a loaded phrase like "tribal roots" reinforces a century-old tradition of treating Filipinos as the repositories of "primitive" culture, as if their interest in hip-hop has nothing to do with their experiences with modernity but instead, are simply carryovers from some ancient, unknowable past.
I certainly think the Filipino party scene in Los Angeles is well worthy to be written about. I just wish there had been more attention paid to what about it being Filipino is actually important - both to the L.A. music/nightlife scene as well as to the participants and their followers.