For everyone with a bee in their bonnet over TV show statements, take a deep breath, relax (you’re in distinguished company, Filipinos from generatons past have vigorously protested what they perceived as disparaging slights in Hollywood), and read this marvelous essay from someone who managed to be funny and affectionate about Filipinos:
In Search of the Wily Filipino
By Steve Martin
“We’ve seen the slit-eyed dangerous Jap, we have seen the wily Filipino…” – Marlon Brando discussing movies on “Larry King Live.”
The wily Filipino. How often have I gone to bed at night with that phrase echoing through my head. And yet I only recently became aware that I had actually never seen one. I had driven through Filipino neighborhoods, and everyone and everything I saw appeared to be straightforward. Signs for this or that – the dry cleaner’s, and auto-repair – all seemed innocuous but probably hid a true guile lurking beneath. I wondered under what circumstances the wiliness would come out.
I have worked with a Filipino for several years, and I decided upon a little test. I asked her what she would do if she saw a traffic accident and someone was wandering around looking dazed. “I would stop and help, I suppose,” she said.
“Why?” I asked. “To get something?”
She looked at me. “What would you do – call for help and wait for it to show up?” I realized that she was invoking the stereotype of the benign and polite Wasp, and I recoiled. I was so upset that it almost made me want to be angry.
I decided to rent movies where I might examine the portrayal of the Filipino. I watched “The Godfather,” “2001,” and “Gone with the Wind.” There wasn’t a single depiction of a wily Filipino. Why? Perhaps the movie industry is secretly run by Filipinos. Perhaps it is they who have been the hidden hand behind such films as “The Logical Filipino” (1986), “The Straight-Up Guy from Manila” (1993), and the adventure classic “Deep in Wily Laos” (1995). And if that were true wouldn’t it demonstrate unquestionable guile?
A friend of mind told me about a sensational Filipino acupuncturist. I called to make an appointment. “What seems to be the problem?” a deceptively pleasant voice asked on the other end of the line. “I… I…” I hadn’t quite worked out this part of the plan. “I… I…” I hung up. Thirty seconds later the phone rang. There was no one there. I thought nothing of it, then recognized the craftiness at work: Caller ID! The wily Filipino had called me back using caller ID, and now had my number! Fearing reprisal, I phoned again and booked an appointment.
I entered the office and sat in the waiting lounge. Waiting for what, I wondered. Probably waiting to be outfoxed, one way or another. The assistant asked me to fill out a form. She cleverly slid the sheet toward me and artfully offered me a pen. I filled it out as I listened to the coded dialogue going on in the office. Common inquiries about the weather were no longer empty pleasantries; they were complexly structured sentences in which the first letter of every word combined to spell out my mother’s maiden name. Once inside the office, I started using words with the doctor and his nurse that were uniquely American – words like “cahoots.” I wanted to see their reaction. I got none. Well, just one – a look so wily I shuddered.
Then this exchange happened:
“It says here you want treatment for parvo.”
“Yes,” I countered. This game was rough.
“Parvo is a dog disease.”
The lakes of perspiration on my forehead instantly beaded into a map of Michigan.
“Yes,” I replied. “I’m worried that my dog may have it.”
“So you’re here for anxiety? You want me to treat you for worry?”
This was not just idle sparring between worthy foes. This was a coded chess play of words, a dazzling display of cunning.
The needles went in. Four in my ears. Three in my scalp. Some were twisted by hand. Some had electric current sent thought them. Ten minutes later, they were removed, and I felt a remarkable calm. The tables had been turned. The wily Filipino had allayed my anxiety, and now I was indebted to him. He had won. I had anticipated wiles of some form, but never suspected that they would be at this level of sophistication.
I returned home and turned on the television. “Larry King Live” was still on:
“… the luckless Italian, the furtive Chilean, the horny Hawaiian, the pungent Norwegian, the strict Eskimo, the loud-talking Canadian -”
“We’re running out of time,” Larry said, and the show came to a close.
I needed to get away. I packed my bags, booked a ticket on WILY (the official Filipino airline), and fled to Hawaii.
* From The New Yorker, July 6, 1998.