Was Cunanan a Pinoy?

Andrew Cunanan was born in the US of a Filipino father and an Italian-American mother,  was raised in American neighborhoods and educated in American schools.  His father, Modesto, who once worked in the US Navy is now most likely a US citizen.  Yet melting-pot America refuses to assimilate Andrew Cunanan, the prime suspect in the murder of the world-famous fashion designer Gianni Versace. Media reports persist in identifying him as a “Filipino” or “FilipinoAmerican”.

Unfortunately, he was not a Tiger Woods, the young American golf sensation, whose father, a Vietnam veteran, is Afro-American and whose mother is Thai.  Born and raised in America, Woods is never referred to as “Thai” or “Thai-American”.  He is simply “American”, period.  In contrast, Cunanan’s American-ness has had to be qualified, hyphenated.  It is not true therefore, as the saying goes, that success has many parents; it has only one, and it’s American.  But notoriety will always be an immigrant, or an orphan.

In light of this, it is not difficult to understand why Senator Blas Ople of Hagonoy, Bulacan is opposing the burial of Andrew Cunanan in nearby Plaridel, Bulacan, where his father has re-settled after leaving his US family in 1988.  “Bulacan,” the senator pronounced,  “does not deserve to be part of Cunanan’s global notoriety.  Andrew Cunanan is a product of American culture and owes nothing to his Bulacan roots.”

Well said.  I agree with the first sentence, but not with the second however.  Cultures do not produce homogeneous human beings. Their effects are mediated by various sorts of contingencies or accidents.  It is what makes the origins of personalities complex.  The same culture that deformed a Cunanan can nurture a Tiger Woods.

I have 2 sisters presently living in San Diego.  Both of them are married to Filipinos who were former US Navy men.  Their children are all US-born, and are studying in public multi-cultural American schools.  They are all doing very well, as far as I can gather.  Like the Irish, the Poles, the Russians, the Italians, the Germans and the Greeks who came to America before them, they are all American citizens today.  Even so, I can imagine how hellish it must be for them to have to explain to their classmates and neighbors that serial murder is not in their ethnic genes.

In London about a year ago, the police arrested a Filipino boy for the murder of a school principal.  Some months later, 2 other Filipino youths were picked up for the gang-rape of an Austrian tourist also in London.  These 2 separate incidents focused public attention on the emergence of Filipino youth gangs suspected to be connected to the Chinese triads operating in Britain.

Filipinos I talked to on my recent visit to London, however, deny the existence of such criminal gangs in the community.   Like other young people of their age, they said, Filipino kids do join friendship groups, and some of them may occasionally get into trouble with the police. But this does not necessarily justify looking or watching out for “Filipino gangs”.

It is a problem that is familiar to all immigrant communities.  It takes a while before they are treated as full-fledged members of  a place. Their ethnic or racial origins will continue to hound them like an embarrassing pedigree for generations, and will always be used as a resource for explaining their troubles with the law.  The more culturally and politically unified they are, the more difficult their assimilation in the dominant society will tend to be.

Ironically, as a people, we Filipinos have never been known to be fiercely assertive of our ethnicity or of our traditions.  Which is why we fit so well in the global labor market.  We wear our culture, or what remains of it, like a private amulet, rather than as a public badge. Identity for us is a very private matter.  We prefer to submerge it than to hold it aloft for the world to see.  We  are the original global postmodern nomads.

Neither place, nor tradition, nor ethnicity binds us.  We can be in any part of the world, and not feel strange.  Family ties are all that somehow connect us to the past, and which permit us to have nostalgia.  They can form a big part or a small part of the identities we weave as we make our way in the world of overseas employment, but I assume that even family ties seldom become strong enough to stop the Filipino from pursuing what she or he wants to be.

It’s funny that when Cunanan’s suicide in a houseboat in Miami was first made known, a Filipino radio announcer gleefully remarked:  “Iyan ang Pinoy!  Nanaisin pa niyang magpakamatay kaysa hulihin siya at igapos nang buhay.”  (That’s the Pinoy!  Better for him to take his own life than to be caught and bound alive.)  I thought of this remark, and wondered whether a Pinoy folk hero had been born.

I do not know of any Filipino who has expressed any sympathy for Cunanan, the serial killer suspect.  But I am certain that our Pinoy radio announcer  was not alone in his admiration for the Cunanan who eluded arrest and made the FBI look like a bunch of fools.  It was the wrong kind of heroism, of course, but perhaps the Pinoy traits that our announcer saw in Cunanan are the same ones that allow the intrepid Filipino to circle the globe:  the insatiable thirst for adventure, the courage to take on the whole world, and the silent refusal to explain one’s madness.   Precisely the stuff of movies.


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