WALKOUT - A Critical Review
By Arturo P. Garcia
March 31, 2006
Some people have recently called the HBO film, Walkout, as “providing much inspiration to the student walkouts” across America in recent days. The movie is about the story of Paula Crisostomo, daughter of Filipino janitor Panfilo Crisostomo and a Mexican mother, who was one of those who led the walkout of over 10,000 high school students in East Los Angeles in 1968. Her story was highlighted in a telemovie, entitled Walkout produced among others by Latino-American actor Edward James Olmos for HBO and launched this March 18, 2006.
This film is a remarkable breakthrough of sorts one which celebrates the struggle of the Chicano minority for self-determination in racist, capitalist America“ something that a progressive can both appreciate and agree with.Â But there are also things that one must also be critical about.
Although the film is a historical feature that tells the story of the Chicano people’s struggle against racism and discrimination and is undoubtedly a breakthrough against white supremacy, it is also a telling lesson in the chauvinism of some Chicano activists towards Filipinos in America. This is a case of a majority minority that unconsciously or consciously discriminates against another albeit smaller national minority in advocating for its own self-determination in the United States.
Don’t get us wrong. Filipinos have gone a long way in building solidarity with the Mexican people. Filipinos have had a long history of cooperation with the Mexican people even with their own struggle for national determination and liberation.
Tracing our history, Filipinos of Mexican origin led the Cavite Mutiny of 1872 that resulted in the martyrdom of the three Filipino Priests, Frs. Gomez, Burgos and Zamora (Gomburza)- an event which had a powerful effect on the Filipino people and later became an inspiration for Dr. Jose Rizal to write a novel about Spanish clerico-fascism and colonial theocracy.
The early decades of the last century in the United States tell many stories not only of how white capitalist bosses pitted Filipinos and Mexicans against each other, but also of how both groups united and organized eventually to prevail over corporate growers up and down the West Coast, but especially in the valleys of California.
What is perhaps a fitting example of solidarity is the internationalism of Philip Vera Cruz who graciously gave way to the much younger Cesar Chavez to become the president of the United Farm Workers Union (UFW) in the mid-1960’s to preserve the union’s internal unity and unify Filipino and Mexican workers against capitalist exploitation and oppression in the fields.
And yet, woefully, Philip Vera Cruz is often relegated to the background and forgotten by the UFW in its official history and all the glories are bestowed on Cesar Chavez as if he were some kind of demigod and savior of farm workers. Simply not true. From the point of view of the manongs and veterans of the 1965 Grape Boycott that started it all, Cesar was a terrible ingrate. What the UFW does not want brought to light until this day is how Chavez stabbed Filipinos in the back when in 1978 he went to the Philippines to shake hands with Philippine dictator Marcos and shamelessly brought along yellow trade unionists like Luis Taruc and Jerry Montemayor back to Delano. It was this incident that broke the camel’s back and made Philip Vera Cruz bitterly resign as Executive Vice President of the UFW. This is but an example of big-minority chauvinism of some in the Chicano movement in their zeal to promote Chicanismo “ or Chicano power at the expense of Filipinos.
If we go back to the film “ Filipinos have a point in resenting the fact that the role of the Filipino father Panfilo Crisostomo was given to a Mexican actor. Could the film makers really not have found any Filipino actor to play such a role more suitably?
Thus, even in the film, the Filipino character was again diminished and was again relegated to the background. He was featured cussing a Filipino expletive word which was not even correctly pronounced.
In one scene, Panfilo was quoted: If you get into the ring, you will be hurt. And do you know why Americans are afraid to fight Latino boxers? Because they don’t quit. This is to tell her daughter why she should continue to fight for what she thinks is right.
This is simply a case of stereotyping and attributing to Latinos what is also applicable to Filipinos. That fighting quality may be true for Latino boxers. But it is even more apt for Filipino boxers today when we have the likes of Manny Pacquiao. And it was also true even back in the sixties when Flash Elorde was world champ in the junior lightweight division. Paula Crisostomo’s quality of never giving up was in her blood as a Filipina. Like Gabriela Silang, Filipinas never give up and fight to the last breath for what they believe is right.
One part of the film which was almost fleeting was Panfilo’s rejoinder to her daughter: œYou are not Chicana. you are a Chilifina”
Overall, notwithstanding our criticism of the portrayal of the Filipino father, the film is still a breakthrough of sorts and offers a way to correct the horrible deficiencies of the mainstream Hollywood studios of portraying the usual racist and chauvinist stereotypes of minorities as criminals, syndicated crime warlords, berserk, exotic and other images that they want to portray.
As with the film Crash which portrays Asians as human smugglers and Arabs as angry, unreasonable would-be killers, progressives should stand up and criticize films or aspects of them which appear to talk about racism but in effect are still racist or white supremacist in essence.
Genuine self-determination starts with respect for each others culture and learning from each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Not demeaning and disparaging each others culture and imposing one’s own over the other. Or else we will always be like the enemy we are out to overthrow and change is not coming from ourselves. We should always remember to change the society, change must also come from within ourselves.