Manila Vanilla

What it's like to be a U.S. Fulbright scholar, basketball player, journalist, and the whitest man in Metro Manila.

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Location: Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines

New Yorker by birth, shipped across the globe to the world of malls, shanty-towns, patronage, corruption, basketball and a curious burnt-toast smell that wafts around at dusk

Friday, November 14, 2008

America has its Pacman

This is a silly comparison, but since Barack Obama won the U.S. presidential election last week, I've observed and participated in spontaneous acts of mass euphoria that have reminded me of one man: Manny Pacquiao.

Are we sure this is NYC and not the EDSA shrine?

To avoid trivializing the president-elect or the Pinoy boxing hero, I want to point out that the similarities between the men are few, but in the post-election celebrations that I saw erupt in the New York streets last week, one thing that Pacman and Obama clearly share is the ability to inspire.

When I got off work at an East Village bar around 1 a.m. Wednesday, the streets were mobbed with celebrants. A lot of them were just screaming joyous nonsense, like a guy screaming "Roc-A-Fella yall!" and another woman walking down the street alone and repeating "Obama Obama Obama" to herself like she had political Tourette's. Everyone in their cars was honking or rolling down the windows to whoop it up, there were random huggings in the street. I had never seen like it ... in the States, that is. 

The widespread elation looked a lot like Manila after one of Manny Pacquiao's wins (and can you believe, that during the three years I lived in the Philippines, I never saw him lose? Pacman went 6-0). The streets would be ghostly quiet during the fight. Everyone would be inside watching or squatting outside the sari-sari stores, watching on the tinderas' TVs. Then, after Pacquiao won, my neighborhood would fill up with people cheering, shadowboxing, laughing, praying, drinking, man-hugging, whatever. Every time I saw it, and every time one of the LP TODA tricycle drivers ran up on me, put his arm around me and foisted a shot of straight gin on me while yelling something along the lines of "Tinalo si Larrios!", it felt like I was part of a public outpouring of joy -- irrational joy, probably -- that didn't happen in the States. Americans just weren't like that.

The crowd watching Pacquiao versus Marquez 2 in Boracay.

Well, it turns out we are like that, and it felt pretty cool. Now, it's worth mentioning that there are clearly millions of Americans who weren't doing the Pacman shuffle after the election, and while we're at it, let's point out that Obama and Pacquiao may inspire very different kinds of pride. But for me, the most inspirational thing about the election was seeing Americans of my generation adopt and adore a public figure the way I saw Pinoys love Manny. Now, if Obama will promise not to sully our love by becoming a light heavyweight contender, then perhaps Pacquiao will agree not to spoil his legend by entering politics in 2010. Oh, who am I kidding? Saddening though it is, Pacman para sa Senado!


Blogger Pon said...

it was like that in EDSA II. we had a spontaneous rally in our middle class neighborhood in front of the house of senator miriam santiago, our neighbor. some brought out pots and pans to make noise. some started singing UP Naming Mahal, the university's anthem, Bayan Ko, etc. a great moment of community that had never happened before. we had a lot of fun, until the cops came in tricycles and drove us away. a week later Erap was gone. it's the opposite from electing a president, but same feeling of elation, I think.

5:39 PM  
Blogger markered said...

Sorry to hear you're back in the States, though I'm sure you're glad to be home. Will miss reading your take on my homeland.

7:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Too bad, people coudnt do the same against GMA. Maybe it's true, the middle class just didnt like Erap because he represented the "masses." Another form of elitism manifesting this time as People Power II.

6:47 PM  

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