I’m an Igorot and I don’t have a tail

That’s how I introduced myself one time to dispel people’s ignorance about Igorots, an indigenous group in the Philippines.

It may come as a surprise in this time of advanced technology where information is readily available at the tip of one’s fingertips that there are still a lot of misconceptions about us, the people from the mountains. No, we don’t have a tail. Not all of us are short and dark. And who are you calling uncivilized? Apparently, some school textbooks claim so.

Having said that, a photo of an Igorot hottie, aka “The Carrot Man,” going viral on the internet is, I think, a good thing. Yes, it’s also an indication of our being shallow but hey, an eye candy is an eye candy. Can’t argue with admiring physical beauty. But more than that, he’s attracting attention towards the region and its people. The fascination, so it seems, comes from the fact that an Igorot could actually look like that!

They tell me I don’t look like one because the image in their heads is again, someone short and dark, with curly hair, much like a fellow IP, the Aetas. And there’s totally nothing wrong about their appearance. It’s just this messed up idea of how we perceive beauty.

Where did this apparent discrimination come from anyway? I believe it’s when the Spanish colonizers weren’t successful in conquering the north and they had to resort to demeaning remarks hurled at Igorots which has crossed over to the present time.

So I wouldn’t really blame the unfortunate ignorance of some Pinoys but is ignorance an excuse?

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Me, doing an Igorot dance. (c) Noel Orcullo
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Superheroes

Today’s generation would know X-Men from the superhero film series. For a 90s kid like me, though, I was introduced to these awesome superheroes through X-Men: The Animated Series.

Once the theme song starts, you can’t help but be pumped up through its adrenaline-rising mix of dramatic music and explosion of action-packed graphics that make you imagine of being a superhero yourself – flying, fighting with the bad guys, and doing cool stuff with whatever superpower you may have.

Originating from Stan Lee’s comics in the 1960s, X-Men is a showcase of well-written storylines expanding to alternate universes, the past, the future, and worlds beyond imagination. The characters, each with anything but simplistic backstory, have amazing God-like abilities of extraordinary strength, flying, teleportation, invisibility, shape-shifting, mental telepathy, telekinesis, energy-absorbing, energy-blasting, and an endless list of superpowers you can think of.

Beyond the glitz and the glamour, however, is a clear message of acceptance and anti-bigotry. Comic Book Girl 19 and Tyson Wheeler in their documentary, “Epic History: X-Men Volume I: The 60s Era” explained how social and political movements in the 60s became the inspiration for the backdrop of X-Men stories.

There’s the Civil Rights Movement, Second-wave Feminism, and Gay Liberation. X-Men’s “No more mutants!” and “Mutants are demons!” gave a glimpse of protests against what was deemed as unnatural or an abomination.

Martin Luther King dreamed of racial equality as Professor X dreamed of equality between humans and mutants. Malcolm X didn’t believe in Martin Luther King’s advocacy as Magneto opposed Professor X’s idea. Mutants claim they are born this way as gay people are, with a lot of them going into hiding for the fear of persecution and stigma. These are but a few of the real-life transitions.

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The X-Men #1 (Sept. 1963) is the debut of the X-Men, Professor X, and Magneto. Art by Jack Kirby.

The success of X-Men or any superhero for that matter is the hope that they present. We have the tendency of seeing the world at the beginning of its tragic decent towards destruction despite the fact that it’s actually getting better. The superhero fantasy can be a sort of an escape or is a reflection of our desire to evolve from being a loser to a kickass hero with well-chiseled abs. Plus, you get to wear your underwear on the outside and wear a cape, too, if you’re lucky.

Also, in a classic good vs evil conflict found in superhero storylines, we root for the good prevailing over evil. So we are not naturally evil after all.

Above all, what draws us to superheroes, beyond the mask, the colorful, crazy costumes, the fantastic powers, is their humanity. Their struggles, vulnerability, and the ever-persistent dream of a better world.

Skin Deep

Bright billboards and all these glossy magazines are plastered with gods and goddesses, beauty radiating. Mortals such as I can do nothing but gawk at such perfection. But is it real? Or is it merely an enchantment brought about by Photoshop and make-up? This we know and yet we long for that face, that body, that color. Because we want to be praised, to be admired, to be worshiped, to be beautiful. Or just to be accepted.

Skin Color

I watched “The Butler,” a 2013 American historical drama film based on Eugene Allen’s life as a White House butler. It gave a glimpse of the struggles African Americans had to go through in the US. It saddened me to be reminded of humanity’s tendency towards racism, discrimination, and hate.

The Holocaust, Apartheid, Ku Klux Klan. Only but a few illustration of this madness. I know war and conflict are part of life but it baffles me how we resort to violence without any sense of regard to human life just because we feel that THEY are different from us. THEY are not our equal. THEY are inferior.

I thought we have learned from the past. I thought that with technological advancement, we are no longer ignorant to cultural diversity. I thought we would be more accepting of our differences. That’s what I thought. Then Ferguson, Baltimore, and now Charleston happened.

In the Philippines, we claim that we don’t have this so-called racism. But TV shows, ads, billboards, and subjects of ridicule say otherwise. Colonial influence still dictate that having fair skin is the standard of beauty. Skin whitening products abound. And being dark is still considered inferior.

How stupid and shallow to pass judgement on people based on skin color. What’s wrong with the world?

A Room with a View

Writing 101 Day 2: A Room with a View
Today’s Prompt: If you could zoom through space in the speed of light, what place would you go to right now?
Today’s twist: organize your post around the description of a setting.

The freezing, cold wind blows through me. All I can see below my feet is a sea of clouds. The sun rises and bright light of yellow, orange, and red magically explodes revealing mountain peaks that extend beyond infinity.

This is what it’s like to be on top of the third highest mountain in the Philippines, Mt. Pulag. I’ve been there twice and it’s a place that is always worth returning to. I love hiking and climbing mountains. That explains my huge calves made bigger because of all the walking. I wish to be there again or climb any mountain for that matter.

I better explore them now while they’re still there. Because sooner or later, man would cut down the trees, flatten the mountains, build structures and roads. They would call it tourism. They say it’s good for the economy. It generates jobs. It promotes the area. But who benefits really?

I’m an Igorot, a group of indigenous people hailing from the mountains. Maybe that explains my affinity to the earth. City dwellers sometimes refer to Igorots as uncivilized and it’s a term of ridicule referring to someone who is dark and dirty. I don’t understand people, educated ones at that.

I look out the window. I’m the midst of the civilized. All I see are tall buildings. The noise of cars and people talking drown out the soft whisper of the wind, or a bird calling if there’s any.

I close my eyes. Searched my memory and went back to the sea of clouds.

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Mt. Pulag Summit