Volcanic rumbles

There’s something about Taal Vulcano in Tagaytay, Philippines. Early January last year, after 42 years of being silent, it erupted–which almost canceled my flight from my province to the capital, Manila, en route to the Netherlands for a short course in media campaigns. And this year, during the last week of the Study in the US Institutes (SUSI) for Journalism, Technology and Democracy, it was in the headlines again for showing signs of being restive.   

The deceptively small yet powerful Taal Vulcano in Tagaytay, Philippines
The deceptively small yet powerful Taal Vulcano in Tagaytay, Philippines

Looking it up on the Internet, I found out that this volcano–considered to be one of the tiniest in the world–was actually an inspiration for the Nomanisan Island in the animated film Incredibles 2, produced by Pixar Animation Studios and released by Walt Disney Pictures. The Taal Volcano and other references to Filipino culture like the parol, a traditional Christmas decoration, in the animated film “Lilo & Stitch” and which also appeared in Disney’s Christmas advert last year titled “From Our Family To Yours,” are opening doors for quality representation (at least in the animation industry) of Filipinos in mainstream American media.

The fact that America is a melting pot of cultures underlines the need for diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in media organizations and industries, making sure that it not just one voice that speaks for all. The lack of DEI results in culturally insensitive representations that become negative stereotypes, so entrenched it might be difficult to change them. And in this, minorities can be an easy target. 

Filipinos – the third largest Asian group community in the US – for example, have been referred to or framed as either overseas workers or just nurses or mail-order brides, or showing the Philippines as a garbage site in some American television programs. This can be depressing. 

But I find light in the character of Mateo Liwanag in the NBC sitcom “Superstore.” It is played by Filipino actor Nico Santos who also starred in the Asian-American romantic comedy-drama film “Crazy Rich Asians.” Liwanag as a last name is easily recognizable and unmistakably Filipino; in our language, it means bright light. His character is celebrated and it is the driving force of how the story is told. 

The coining of the term Pixnoy – a portmanteau of Pinoy, an informal demonym referring to Filipinos, and of Pixar – is a push for the recognition of Filipino writers, directors, and animators working in the industry and for the opportunity to tell stories not from anyone else’s lens but from theirs with characters that are explicitly Filipino. 

The words of Vanessa Ruiz, Director for Diversity Initiatives and Community Engagement at Cronkite, were encouraging: “be proud of who you are and bring it into your work.” 

There have been changes in terms of DEI, says Juan Mundel, director of Global Initiatives at Cronkite. I see this reflected in works like Raya and the Last Dragon, and in the short animation Float, where the representations of Asian countries are in the lead, not just shown in the background. 

But there is still a long way to go, Mundel was quick to add. In the push for a more diverse, equitable and inclusive media, I agree with what Venita Hawthorne James, professor of practice at Cronkite, said: that being intentional and purposive is key. 


The problematic portrayal of Filipinos on American TV. (2016, June 23). CNN. 

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