By Rhea Panela
For Northwest Asian Weekly
The Super Bowl is the biggest sports event of the year for Americans, and for Filipinos living in the United States, the boxing matches of Manny Pacquiao have the same effect. Filipino families spend days preparing for the viewing of fights from the comfort of their own living rooms, inviting other relatives and friends to join in what could very well be described as a Filipino holiday. Guests enter a house and are immediately greeted by the mouthwatering aroma of crispy lechon (roasted pig), pancit (traditional Filipino noodles), and of course, there’s a pack of chilled beer for the men, all of which bring them back to their days in the Philippines.
Pacquiao has been hailed a national hero, and in his most recently released original song, “Lalaban Ako” (“I Will Fight”), he sings in Tagalog, “Kahit maging sino ka man, dukha o mayaman, kung para sa bayan, sabay tayong lalaban.” These lyrics roughly translated into English mean, “No matter who you are, whether you’re poor or rich, if it is for the town, we will fight together.” The lyrics bear a strong, personal message to Filipinos all over the world.
The Philippines has been in turmoil for decades under a government that the citizens have accused of corruption such as embezzlement and graft. This is why many natives choose to immigrate to other countries in pursuit of a better life.
However, the country unites in peace and pride whenever there is a scheduled Pacquiao fight. Even opposing rebel soldiers suspend their battles in the southern war-torn provinces of the country in order to watch the boxing matches and support the nation’s most iconic celebrity. Now he holds additional responsibilities in politics as an elected congressman in the Philippines, hoping to uplift the economic and emotional well-being of the poorest regions of the country.
It is not about the millions of dollars and the pride of winning a title for Pacquiao, but rather the opportunity to represent the Filipino community in mainstream media and share his fighting spirit with them. He is one of the only well-known Filipinos out there on a global stage and for him to lose any match would mean that the superstar of the Philippines could slowly fall off the map of Hollywood-level stardom.
The long-awaited boxing match between Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather that took place on May 2 was expected to be the “Fight of the Century.” There was disappointment not only that Pacquiao lost, but also because there were such high expectations for this specific fight alone that Pacquiao unfortunately was not able to uphold.
There has been so much pressure on Pacquiao to win his fights because his people have so much pride in him. “Filipino Pride” has been one of the most treasured values carried by any Filipino, whether they live in the Philippines or overseas. Those who do not understand the culture tend to see this pride with a negative connotation, and sometimes Filipinos are referred to as cocky or that they always complain in defense of a fellow Filipino in a competition, such as in the cases of American idol runner-up Jessica Sanchez and Miss Universe 2012 1st runner-up Janine Tugonon who both had massive fan followings from both the Philippines and in the United States.
What I personally see as the reason behind such reactions is that they have such high expectations for a person of Filipino background to make it big in an industry, whether it be pageantry, entertainment, or sports, because they hope that there will finally be a role model for them to look up to and possibly help lift up the reputation of the Philippines. The role model has the honor of representing not only the home country, but also foreign and American-born Filipinos who are minorities in the United States and abroad.
Unfortunately for Filipinos who clasped their hands and prayed for Pacquiao, the people’s pride, to win, Pacquiao lost the match to Mayweather. However, while Mayweather stood on each corner of the ring, pointed to crowd, and shouted out, “I won! I know I won!” the majority of the audience met him with loud boo’s and “Pacquiao! Pacquiao!” Pacquiao fights can bruise emotionally while the boxer is beaten physically.
What really mattered that night was that the entire world could see how much Pacquiao really meant to his people and his fans. Mayweather may have taken home the money and the winning title, but Filipinos and all Pacquiao fans showed their passion and support for their fighter. No matter what, Filipino pride cannot be shattered thoroughly. That night, Pacquiao won something that his opponent could not take home with him. He had won the hearts of over a million people, and that love carries a deeper value than Mayweather’s $180 million. (end)
Rhea Panela is currently a journalism student at the University of Washington.