Alex Compton: On Filipinos, Fil-Ams, and his love affair with the Philippines
I WAS BORN IN MANILA, at Makati Med. My parents were Southeast Asian scholars; they met in the Peace Corps in Thailand in the 1960s. My dad’s first job, after completing his Ph.D. at the University of Michigan, was at the International Institute of Rural Reconstruction in Silang, Cavite.
My dad’s job was for two years. We left the Philippines when I was six months old, and I grew up in the States.
My parents are some of the whitest Asian people you will ever meet; both my parents are fluent in Thai and Lao, and they had a lot of Filipino friends. My dad was a professor, and my mom worked in the Southeast Asian studies department at Cornell, and one of our friends was a Filipino who taught Tagalog there.
But I’d never been to the Philippines when I came back in 1998. Coming to play basketball here was a complete accident. I was the captain of the Cornell basketball team, and I always spent time at the coaches’ office, talking to them, breaking down film.
I was talking to one of our assistant coaches, Tyrone Pitts, who played as an import in the Philippine Basketball League. At the time, I didn’t know he played in the Philippines, I just knew he played around the world as an import. I just asked him where he played, how that was like, because I loved traveling, and obviously my background is international.
And he just mentioned this story, “In 1991, I played in the Philippines.” And I was just, like, “Wow, you played in the Philippines? That’s where I was born, that’s crazy!” And that’s where the whole thing started. He said, “You were born there? Can you play there? Basketball over there is huge, you have no idea. You’ll be hanging out with movie stars, it’s wild!”
(What’s a Filipino? Whether you agree with him or not, broadcaster Arnold Clavio’s “They’re-not real-Filipinos” criticism of Azkals players following a sexual harassment suit brought against some members of the national football team, appears to have hit a raw nerve – and raised an important question. This article is one of a series exploring the very notion of “being Filipino”. Follow @interaksyon on our #WhatsaFilipino discussion on Twitter, and on this special coverage on InterAksyon.com.)