If you have Internet and/or Filipino friends, you’ve probably heard about a certain Thanksgiving episode on the CW’s stalker musical comedy Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. I’ve seen train ads for the show before, but completely wrote it off as “Breakup double standard much?” But folks started flooding my feed, and I needed to see it for myself. So I borrowed a friend’s Hulu account and 40-something minutes later, this Bay Area Pinay with an Ethnic Studies degree must admit: I’m not mad.
When titular ex-girlfriend Rebecca (quirky Rachel Bloom) moves cross-country to West Covina (just one of several hella Filipino cities name-checked on the show), she’s chasing Filipino-American dream guy Josh Chan (gwapo Vicente Rodriguez III). If not for Josh’s current boo Valencia (the lovely Gabrielle Ruiz), Beccs and Josh would have raised the number of onscreen AMWF couples to like, four. But Chan is not another ambiguously Asian male. His last name highlights how Filipino ethnicity often gets obscured by apellidos reflecting our mixed ancestry, from intermingling with Chinese (Chan) to Spanish colonization (hence my last name, Navarro). Yes, on the CW.
The episode spotlights – and, some argue, normalizes – the Filipino-American family for primetime audiences. More than a fish-out-of-water gimmick, the show juxtaposes Rebecca’s experience at the Chan gathering as chill, if not a little crowded (true), with her BFF Paula’s uncomfortable (white) family function. They cast pan-ethnic icon Amy Hill (of All-American Girl fame) as Josh’s mom, who delivers a decent accent epport, then give Josh’s sisters alliterative and uniquely Filipino names (I see you, Jayma and Jastenity). More props: Filipino party scenes means casting Filipino extras. Someone even says talaga, which I’ll roughly translate as “for real, doe.”
Other moments played “mildly racist,” to quote another character, including an ongoing “culturally insensitive” gag around a favorite Filipino dish. I also cringed when Rebecca launched into her Anna and the King-type fantasy of charming the Chans with her white woman literacy. But if this episode signals that mainstream America is ready to be “surrounded by the unconditional love of a hundred Filipinos,” here are five throwback episodes featuring Filipino-American characters for other special occasions. Enjoy!
“A Gift of Friendship”
High-five if you remember this TNBC sitcom. This Christmas episode focuses on resident hustler Al Ramos (played by Dion Basco, of the prolific Basco family), who tries to hide the fact that his family has fallen on hard times. Though his parents are played by Latino actors, Al and his siblings appear positively Pinoy.
Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella
This multi-culti made-for-TV movie features a fairy tale interracial romance between Brandy’s Cinderella and Fil-Am Prince Christopher, played by the talented Paolo Montalban. Check out the song that had most of 90s tween Americans swooning.
First Day of School
Pretty Little Liars
“Gamma Zeta Die”
ABC Family’s binge-worthy tween drama deviated from the canon when it cast mestiza Shay Mitchell to play bisexual character Emily Woods, originally a strawberry blonde in the book. Emily’s mother is played by actor-singer Nia Peeples, also of Filipino descent.
In this supernatural thriller, Chinese-Filipino Sgt. Wu (played by Reggie Lee, also Filipino-American with Chinese ancestry) investigates a Wesen based on one of the most terrifying monsters of my motherland: the baby-eating asuwang. Coincidentally, this happens to be one of my mom’s favorite TV shows.
Barney & Friends
“Happy Birthday Barney!”
90s kids learned how to sing the birthday song in Tagalog from Barney’s friend Min, played by Pia Hamilton (née Manalo). Too bad we still don’t have an apartment on Sesame Street, though.