On Bruno Mars and SNL, Larry Itliong, and why I’m not watching the third debate


I’m still not a fan of how Saturday Night Live portrayed Chinese factory workers with black wigs, black-frame glasses and ching-chong accents two weeks ago.

But the program may have redeemed itself by unveiling a tour-de-force performance by the unbelievably talented Bruno Mars.

Make that Asian American of Filipino descent Bruno Mars, heretofore known merely as an American “pop star.” This past weekend, Mars earned his “total entertainer” stripes. On SNL, Mars carried the show on his back–from the monologue, through a half-dozen or so skits, one filmed piece (“Sad Mouse”), and two musical numbers. Actually, most of the set pieces had some form of music. It all showed off Mars’ prodigious talent, not just as a singer, but as an actor and comedian.

Not since Rob Schneider has a Filipino American talent shined so brightly on SNL. But while Schneider (his mother is Filipina) could muster a decent Elvis impersonation, Mars is truly a gifted singer with a soulful voice, good comic timing ,and a commanding presence.

None of this would necessarily come through just listening to him on your iPod, so the SNL monologue capitalized on whether Mars could deliver.

“Can I be like Timberlake,” Mars sang of the one-time boy band sensation now international movie star.

Then he delivered the punchline. “Underneath this trendy suit,” Mars sang,” hides a scared Filipino…”

The laughter began, but then Mars topped it, by singing the word, “girl.”

Filipino girl?

To dispel all doubts, Mars broke into a gospel-like refrain. “I’ll be amazing,” he sang. “I can do it.” But it was just a hint of what was to come.

In a Jerry Springer-like send up of a show (this one called “Haters”), Mars came on as 17-year-old Crystal, the girl who steals men from her mother, with Mars donning a blonde streaked wig and exuding high-grade sass.

What do we have here? It was an unintentional homage to all the great Filipino transvestite entertainers the world has known. And just in time for Filipino American Heritage Month (that’s what October is, as declared by the Filipino American National Historical Society).

Filipinos in drag for laughs I can take. Asian drag, where whites in yellowface play Asians for laughs, I can’t.

Let’s hope Mars helped SNL understand the difference. Diversify the cast. Yes, Mars is a unique Filipino American talent. But there’s binders full of Asian Americans out there, out-of-work and funny. SNL doesn’t need to resort to Asian drag.

LARRY ITLIONG AND FILIPINO AMERICAN HISTORY MONTH October is Filipino American history month, not because of my birthday (on the 9th), but because this was the month the first Filipino is believed to have stepped foot in North America on October 18, 1587.

Coincidentally, it’s the month we celebrate the only known day to honor Filipino labor leader Larry Itliong.

October 25 is Larry Itliong Day in Los Angeles County.

If you’re saying “Larry Who?,” you’re not alone. But, of course, if I asked if you could identify Cesar Chavez, you’d probably say “Si Se Puede.”

That Chavez has overshadowed Itliong is one of the indignities of modern history, because the record shows the driving force behind the great Delano grape strike, which brought fame to Chavez, was not so much Chavez’ actions but the actions of Filipino farm workers led by Itliong. Filipinos first came in large numbers to America in the 1920s, primarily to replace Chinese and Japanese workers who were barred from entry. The Filipinos, known as “manongs,” worked the fields for years until the ’60s, when the migration patterns began shifting and Mexican workers became predominant. Chavez rode that wave, while Itliong’s star receded.

Itliong did great things organizing in California’s Central Valley. It’s a shame that to this day, Chavez has gotten most of the glory for the fight in the fields. (Read the recent New York Times article about Itliong here.)


I’ve already voted by mail, so for me, the election is all over but the counting. Done. I can taste the glue of my ballot envelope.

For me the only October Surprise? The San Francisco Giants, my favorite baseball team, is playing a game 7 in the National League Championship Series, and I have tickets.

Because it would be thrilling to potentially jump up and down and update that glorious historical phrase, “The Giants win the Pennant, the Giants win the Pennant!,” I am going to the game and not watching the third presidential debate. At least not live. Maybe I will listen to it between balls and strikes.

I know, debates matter. But according to some of the latest national polls of likely voters, the candidates are tied at 47 percent (oh, there’s that number again). That leaves six percent of you still so unenthusiastic about either candidate, you are certified “Undies,” or “undecided.”

My dear Undies: I don’t doubt you may really want to see yet another side-by-side comparison of President Obama and Governor Romney to decide your vote.

But at this point, I think people have heard just about everything. And if they haven’t, it’s not going to come out in a debate. If you’re undecided, is it possible you really just don’t like either of them? And, I know, it’s too bad, Ralph Nader isn’t running.

But what are you waiting for? Some kind of divine sign?

This third debate is a foreign policy debate, and while that’s important, look at how little about foreign affairs is covered in the news.

The reason for this is because diplomacy is really slow, and unsexy, and not much really can be done in a single news cycle anyway, except to show anything with flames or blood. After Libya, we know that kind of reporting doesn’t really tell the true story and makes it hard to determine who is competent and who isn’t. It all makes foreign affairs such a difficult thing to assess. Presidents seem to merely manage the problems, but no one really solves any problems. The best a president can do is to tread peacefully and not create a crisis. Then pass on the problem to the next administration.

So I expect the candidates to share a world view–both what is and what could be–and then promise not to get the country involved in any unnecessary wars (as both Bush administrations did). The ideal candidate will assure me that he will keep America safe and strong, and not spend an enormous amount on the military. As for the finer points of the Middle East, in a 90 minute debate? Futile. Theories on China? Academic.

Foreign policy shouldn’t be the deciding point for most people anyway.

Just look at the latest this past weekend on immigration reform. Romney says he’ll take apart the new amnesty program for young undocumented students that Obama recently approved. Rolling back a short-term plan isn’t as bad as rollbacks on civil rights gains we’ve achieved in the last 50 years. Just based on that, is there any person of color who at this stage is honestly undecided?

Emil Guillermo is an independent journalist/commentator.
Updates at Follow Emil on Twitter, and like his Facebook page.
The views expressed in his blog do not necessarily represent AALDEF’s views or policies.
read Emil's bio