Thursday, April 26, 2012

Shameless subculture

Summer is almost around the corner and Filipino community organizations in the Greater Toronto Area are once again soaked in unabashed excitement over their so-called cultural offerings to more than 250,000 Filipino-Canadians in the area. This is usually the time of the year when these organizations wake up from their winter hibernation to prepare for the parade of Filipino beauties—young and old, Mr. and Miss or Mrs.—along with the retinue of roast pigs or lechons that vie with the frenzy and revelry of the entertainment festivals that go with the celebration of Philippine Independence Day on June 12.
Time again for Filipino beauty pageants in Metro Toronto, courtesy of the Philippine
Independence Day Council (PIDC). Click image to view "Money Issues Surface as
New  Officers Take Over  Toronto's PIDC,"
Two major organizations are currently embroiled in a simmering feud about transparency and accountability in financial reporting of the monies raised by their respective beauty pageants. The Philippine Independence Day Council (PIDC), the “mother” of all these so-called organizations, has raised some questions on the way its beauty pageants were run before by a former officer who now sits as a ranking official of the Philippine Canadian Charitable Foundation (PCCF), a rival and spin-off organization.

At the centre of the feud is the allegation made by former PIDC president Ms. Minda Neri that Ms. Rosemer Enverga, now an official of the PCCF, did not make a full financial disclosure with regard to the beauty pageants she managed when she was still with the PIDC. Ms. Enverga, during a press conference she called recently, denied any wrongdoing with her previous running of the PIDC beauty pageants.

This kind of bickering between organizations within the Filipino community is neither unusual nor unheard of. With hundreds of groups organized and motivated to cater to the entertainment of Filipino residents in the metropolitan area, it is almost natural to expect that rival groups would eventually clash and even hurl allegations of improprieties against each other. That has been the practice among Filipinos everywhere, whether at home or overseas. It is as if without the in-fighting everything becomes lifeless and dull, a habit that does not speak well of Filipinos, a baggage they have not done away with even in the Diaspora.

But it’s not the feuding among Filipinos in Toronto that is really depressing. Rather, it is the subculture that these so-called leaders have brought to this metropolis. It is their penchant for crowning Filipino women and girls as beauty queens that has become a shameless exercise, not to mention the appetite for showcasing “bakya” entertainment for the masses, as if this is the best of Filipino culture that one can offer.

During her press conference, Ms. Enverga said that with more than 250,000 Filipinos in the Greater Toronto Area, “we can have as much fiestas and festivals every year, yet we cannot be able to accommodate” all our Filipino kababayans. “This goes also true to beauty pageants; we can have as much beauty pageants. The more, the merrier. So much the better if we can have a lot of choices,” she added.
Not to be outdone, rival organization, Philippine Canadian Charitable Foundation (PCCF)
hosts it own Pinoy Fiesta & Trade Show at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.
Who are these beauty queens? Let us just mention the titles.

Miss PIDC-Philippines, Miss Philippines-Canada, Little Miss Philippines-Canada, Mrs. Philippines-Canada, Paraluman, Miss Carassauga, Miss Caregiver, Miss Manila, Miss Santacruzan, Reyna Elena, Miss Photogenic, Miss Congeniality, Miss (insert name of town or city in the Philippines), etcetera, etcetera.

Why do the likes of Ms. Enverga and other so-called Filipino leaders in the community keep on celebrating our culture in this brazen way? Beauty queens do not represent Filipino culture, and putting these women on the pedestal shows an utter misunderstanding of cultivated behaviour that underlies the fabric of one’s culture.

In holding these beauty contests every year, these so-called leaders are entrenching this tradition as a subculture, no matter how useless and insignificant to our lives and struggles in this foreign city. Sure enough, they offer us fleeting entertainment and diversion from the humdrum struggle of survival that most of us go through. But we are stooping so low in the estimation of other people who think that Filipinos are a beauty pageant-crazy nation. To say that we can hardly accommodate the hundreds of thousands of Filipinos living in the Greater Toronto Area only blows up our collective low self-esteem, that there’s really nothing we can be proud of except for our “Miss-whatever” contests.

A young Muslim woman replying to an opinion survey whether beauty contests are degrading wrote the following response:

“I agree that beauty contests are degrading. They degrade women to mere objects. The sponsors exploit women by requiring them to parade in swimsuits or even lingerie. They are judged mainly on their physical appearance rather than on any other qualities they may possess.

“When the women parade themselves on stage, the judges will look at a number of things, but the most important criteria will probably be poise. To achieve proper poise, a woman's body should be well proportioned—having a neck proportionate to her height, lanky legs, and so on. This process of evaluating poise can be compared to dog shows where golden retrievers of the wrong bodily proportions are kicked out of the competition. I feel judging women primarily on their looks degrade womanhood.”

Indeed, beauty contests project an unrealistic image of the ideal woman in the eyes of the public. We are already inundated with silly standards of beauty by the mass media; we don’t need beauty pageants to further aggravate such situation.

Just consider this as a thought. The first modern beauty pageant was held in 1854 by P.T. Barnum of the renowned circus called the Ringling Bros. & Barnum and Bailey Circus, but his beauty contest was closed down by public protest. Barnum also held dog, baby and bird beauty contests, quite an unpleasant category in which we can lump our present-day beauty contests.

Including young children in beauty competitions further degrades this tradition. Like the American reality show, “Toddlers and Tiaras,” a search for Miss Little Philippines is totally disgusting, an excuse for physical and emotional abuse of the child.

Most psychologists are unanimous in finding that children's beauty pageants are not in the best interests of healthy child development. There is enough undue, exaggerated focus on superficial beauty in our culture without children being pitted against each other in a contest of looks. Our so-called leaders in the community like Ms. Enverga and company pay no apparent regard to considerable body of research that demonstrates why beauty contests are harmful to kids.

This Filipino passion for beauty queens is a mere extension of our collective appetite for shallow entertainment as a panacea for our shortcomings as a people. We tend to hide under the veneer of popular songs, dances and other forms of amusement in order to distract others from seeing our borrowed and western-oriented culture. Because we are good entertainers, we keep others amused and somehow forget our insecurities.

As a people, we tend to be easily distracted by the more mundane and ordinary pursuits in life. Take the case of the Gawad Kalinga (GK) Global Summit which is going to be held in Toronto this coming June 8 and 9. This GK summit is about GK’s role in eradicating poverty and their thrust on learning social enterprises as a platform for liberating the poor from the vicious cycle of poverty. Yet, the Toronto organizers have focused on promoting a gala concert by Philippine musician Ryan Cayabyab and his ensemble of singers on the eve of the summit, instead of giving play to GK founder Tony Meloto who is scheduled to give the keynote speech the following day.

This much shows our priorities and scale of values: singing and hobnobbing with the community’s rich and famous trump the substance of the GK Summit. Just like the celebration of our national independence, the significance of the day is lost and buried in the various festivals and beauty pageants which people would rather see in droves. But the shameless part of all this preoccupation with the commonplace and banal is obviously the role played by our so-called community leaders in promoting this heritage of trumpeting our biggest shame: our penchant for celebrating the inane, our propensity for embracing shallow pursuits over substantive issues that truly affect us as a community.

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