My Funny Brown Pinay

Ahhhhhh. Such a relief to finally be able to go on vacation! I actually have time to just sit and do nothing which is quickly becoming a favorite pastime of mine: sitting in flannel pajamas, sippin’ on some green tea and vegging out on my laptop. Bliiiissss.

Coming from a Filipino family where performance is a time-honored tradition (come to any major Filipino celebration whether it’s a wedding or a cotillion and you will be inundated with contemporary and traditional music and dance numbers), my holidays were all about singing and dancing. I would’ve been more enthused about it if I weren’t still recuperating from the trek between LA and the Bay Area, hence my desire to veg out and do nothing.

But I’ve been looking for an excuse to post this video on Charmaine Clamor, an acclaimed Filipina jazz songstress and one of the founding members of JazzPhil-USA. I’m always on the lookout for influential individuals in the Filipino community, especially those who have something important to say about what it’s like to be Filipino. My Funny Brown Pinay, Clamor’s rendition of jazz classic My Funny Valentine, is a personal and historical account of how Clamor struggled with her flat nose and brown skin, an experience that is not unfamiliar to many Filipino brothers and sisters.

Thankfully, the trend of wanting to appear more White is fading (no pun intended). I remember when I was younger pinching my nose to see how it would look like if I had a straighter, Whiter nose. To be honest, I still kind of fret about my flat nose (only recently I began using nasal strips for snoring and was somewhat insulted when the strips didn’t fit comfortably over the bridge of my nose). The bathroom at my grandma’s house in Hawaii had small stockpiles of Eskinol, the papaya facial cleanser mentioned in Clamor’s song, that my family would use to lighten their skin (here’s an interesting debate about whitening products here),  and my cousins would avoid staying in the sun for long periods of time. But since then, I noticed that we’ve all come to embrace our skin color, and are actually proud the darker we become. I personally don’t try to be lighter or darker, but I notice that I do get a little annoyed when family members poke fun because I look lighter.

That poses an even more interesting question: what is the motivation for embracing our darker skin tone? Is it actually embracing our cultural identity or is it a desire to separate ourselves from the majority race? I bring up the latter because education of Filipino history has increased since my generation, which uncovers the history of western imperialism in the Philippines. And I don’t know about other Filipinos, but I remember that enraged me like no other! Parts of it sparked my interest in my dissertation study (the psychological experiences of Filipino mail-order brides in the United States), thus propelling me along my own, tumultuous cultural identity development.

Anyway, I plan to meet Charmaine Clamor one day to 1) thank her for releasing this anthem of Filipino beauty and to 2) write an issue on her for my future publication. It will become a reality.


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. drake
    Dec 27, 2010 @ 11:46:57

    Very interesting post about a very interesting artist. Charmaine is deep!


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