Dogs and Filipinos in ‘Merika (Gil Portes, 1984)

photo credits:

• Not really well acquainted with Gil Portes’ work, but got attracted to the film because of favorite scriptwriter Cloudualdo del Mundo, Jr. Story about Filipinos in Manila Drive, New Jersey and in the nearby areas, particularly New York. Mila (Nora Aunor) is a nurse that got introduced to Mon (Bembol Rocco), a newcomer in East coast, used to be based in Los Angeles. A romance slowly sparks between them during different activities with other Filipinos (hearing mass, parties, or just plain pasyal during day offs). Relationship gets problematic when Mon pressures Mila for marriage. It was later found out Mon is an illegal alien or ‘TNT’, hoping to secure a green card by marrying Mila.

• As one gets into the film, it becomes more apparent that the romance plot is just means to give a social commentary on the situation of Filipinos in US and even American culture as a whole. There is a lot of demystification of the “American Dream”, but at the expense of idealizing the Homeland, Philippines. Mon is cynical, fully embracing American life and culture while Mila is hesitant, ambivalent, maintaining close ties to the Philippines (letters, long distance phone calls) and aspiring of eventually going home. Mon and Mila are polar personalities of OFWs, the rest of the cast are between the spectrum the two symbolizes.

• Merika is a significant film in the sense that it directly explores the myth of America, hence the appropriate “Filipinized” title. This is a task best done in the medium of cinema, since Hollywood dominated Filipino movie theaters as far anyone can remember, pushing Filipino cinema into stagnation relying on tried and test formula just to stay in business.

• The movie tactfully comments of the situation in the country in the early 80s (magulo, maraming rali), Ninoy Aquino has been killed. The EDSA People Power is about to happen. An interesting minor character is a nurse from El Salvador, missing work, worrying about the situation in her country because of US involvement. A witty remark/subplot that could be taken as also a critique of US support of Marcos and Martial Law, and eventually the involvement in post-EDSA.

• Merika would later become a template of subsequent OFW movies. However, the subgenre’s potential as an instrument of critique wasn’t radicalized during a more ‘democratic phase’ in the country’s history but instead has been contained. Now, OFW movies are centered on romance and the social commentary is in the background, the exact opposite of Merika! Films like Dubai, Milan, and other more recent films come to mind.

• Now, Filipinos still become nurses with the intention of working abroad. They may start in the Middle East or more affluent Asian countries, but the ultimate destination remains to be (A)Merika.


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