There's a Tagalog (Filipino) song that I listen to when I'm feeling sad and having a bad day.
On Sunday I YouTubed Charice's performance of "Maghintay Ka Lamang," which means "you only have to wait," and coincidentally, unbeknownst to me, the international Filipina pop superstar whom I was clinging to through her music that day was coming out of the closet as a lesbian on national television in the Philippines.
When I heard the news on American outlets on Monday, I began tearing up and started crying. I thought, "Finally, a celebrity coming-out story I can fully relate to!" I texted my father, "Did you hear that Charice is a lesbian?"
His response: "Yup. Philippine TV on Sunday. Live TV." Apparently, he and my mother had already known.
You see, Charice has been a household name in my family ever since she first appeared on American television on Ellen DeGeneres and Oprah's daytime talk shows a few years back, belting hits by Whitney Houston, Jennifer Holliday and Céline Dion. If there's anything Filipinos love, it's ballad-singing divas, and Charice was making waves in the U.S., rubbing shoulders with music-industry elite like Andrea Bocelli and David Foster (Charice's godfather), appearing on Glee as Sunshine Corazon and becoming the first Asian solo singer in history to get into the top 10 on the Billboard 200 albums chart, which is even more reason for Filipinos to rejoice and take pride in their homegrown talent.
And that's the thing: Filipinos are very prideful people. There's a joke that even if you're part Filipino, Filipinos will claim you entirely as their own. (Examples: Enrique Iglesias, Nicole Scherzinger, Vanessa Hudgens, Darren Criss, Bruno Mars, etc.) No ifs, ands or buts about it, right?
Yet for LGBT Filipinos, who often come from large, conservative Catholic and Christian families, that Filipino national pride can be suffocating and intimidating. You can't possibly face that insurmountable and unwavering pride. You'll be a disappointment. And that's in a group that fully adopts and accepts people who are even just a sliver Filipino.
But think about Manny Pacquiao, another Philippine national idol, whom Filipino families go crazy (literally, loco) for during his boxing matches, out of pure passion and love for their country and people. Filipinos admire Pacquiao, and he undoubtedly has great influence over them.
Yet remember when he made headlines last year when he denounced same-sex marriage, citing his devout religious beliefs? That's the kind of homophobia that one encounters in the Philippines, and a macho, heroic boxer whom many kids look up to has a lot of power to inflame anti-gay sentiments.
Ironically, Pacquiao selected Charice to sing the Philippine national anthem, "Lupang Hinirang," for his fight with Shane Mosley in 2011. I want to know what he thinks of Charice now.
In response to Charice's coming out, the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines said that she is "experiencing an identity crisis," and that her family and friends should "intervene to help her."
I imagine that that's why Charice acknowledged those detractors in her coming out, saying:
I have deep gratitude for the Filipinos, because they are the ones who know who I really am. I don't know what the problem is, because for me, there is no problem with that. So now I ask for forgiveness from those who don't understand and those who cannot accept. I apologize. I understand you.
What I hope people understand is that coming out as LGBT and being a person of color means another layer, another degree of complexity. It's like when Jason Collins recently came out and said, "I'm black. And I'm gay." Some were quick to criticize Collins for bringing up his race. I hated that. It's imperative for LGBT racial minorities -- black, Latino and Asian -- to have role models as well. Though Anderson Cooper and Ellen DeGeneres are great people to look up to, queer people of color cannot fully identify with their experiences.
Filipinos and other Asian ethnic groups are still way behind when it comes to understanding what it means to be LGBT, and I'm glad that Charice said what she did. It takes a great deal of awareness and maturity for Charice, who's just 21, to bring that up. It still isn't easy for LGBT Filipinos and Asians to fully live their lives openly, but it will undoubtedly get better now that Charice has spoken up.
Lea Salonga, a famous Filipina Broadway performer, tweeted:
Dear @officialcharice have you any idea how many young people you inspired today? More power, blessings and love to you!!!
— Lea Salonga (@MsLeaSalonga) June 2, 2013
I couldn't agree more, because that closeted young Filipino boy still lives inside me, and I'm beyond grateful to Charice for letting him know that it's OK to be gay and Filipino. It works.
So I'm listening to "Maghintay Ka Lamang," a song that has much sentimental value to Charice, again and again, and there are lines in the first verse that just seem entirely appropriate to share. In Tagalog:
"Kung hindi ngayon ang panahon, na para sa iyo
Huwag maiinip, dahil ganyan ang buhay sa mundo
Huwag mawawalan ng pag-asa, darating din ang ligaya
Ang isipin mo'y may bukas pa, na mayroong saya"
"If today is not the moment for you,
Don't lose patience, because life on Earth is like that.
Don't lose hope; happiness will arrive.
Think that there will still be tomorrow, and there will be happiness."
I'd like to think that this song will become something of a Filipino LGBT pride anthem now, and that young LGBT Filipinos will find strength in its lyrics and in Charice.
Maraming salamat, Charice! Mahal na mahal kita! (Thank you very much, Charice! I love you very much!)
Here's the video of Charice singing "Maghintay Ka Lamang":