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  • Andre Santillana

Bigotry in paradise

Updated: Jun 11

Yes indeed, it exists even in paradise. In fact, this is the main theme in South Pacific, a 1949 broadway musical by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein which was made into a movie in 1958. In fact, the main characters had to confront bigotry amidst the lush, romantic setting of the South Pacific.


Ensign Nellie Forbush is wooed by tall, dark, debonair, and baritone French planter, Emile de Becque. What else can a spirited young nurse from Little Rock, Arkansas do but return the Frenchman's affections and fall in love. "One enchanted evening" (also the title of a song in the musical portfolio), De Becque proposed marriage. Nellie accepted. And so they lived happily ever after in paradise. Not quite.


The enchantment quickly wore off on that same evening when Nellie made two important discoveries, things she had not known about her beloved Emile: First, that De Becque has children from a previous marriage. In addition, De Becque's previous marriage was to a native South Pacific islander.


Surprised, confused and bewildered, Nellie hurriedly left De Becque's estate. From then on, she refused the Frenchman's attempts to see her.


Nellie's friend, Lieutenant Joseph Cable, USMC, finds himself love-stricken with Liat, an island girl and daughter of the colorful native hawker, Bloody Mary. Being madly in love is one thing but when Bloody Mary raised the idea that Joe and Liat marry, an internal transformation happened to the Marine officer.


Lt. Joe Cable (John Kerr) and Liat (France Nuyen) in South Pacific.



Aware of their respective amorous predicaments, Nellie and Joe try to sort out the dark clouds roiling in their minds. When asked by Nellie how bigotry can come about, Lt. Cable sums it up pretty well in the song, You've Got To Be Carefully Taught:


You've got to be taught

To hate and fear You've got to be taught From year to year It’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear You've got to be carefully taught

You've got to be taught to be afraid

Of people whose eyes are oddly made And people whose skin is a different shade You've got to be carefully taught

You've got to be taught Before it's too late Before you are six, or seven, or eight To hate all the people your relatives hate You've got to be carefully taught You've got to be carefully taught


You've got to be taught To hate and fear You've got to be taught From year to year It’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear You've got to be carefully taught

You've got to be taught to be afraid

Of people whose eyes are oddly made And people whose skin is a different shade You've got to be carefully taught

You've got to be taught Before it's too late Before you are six, or seven, or eight To hate all the people your relatives hate You've got to be carefully taught You've got to be carefully taught


Bigotry is taught. I do believe that this is one way that people become bigoted or in contemporary terms, become "racist". I do not claim to be an expert but I had a most unforgettable and sad experience about bigotry and how it is handed down from one generation to another, for parents and elders to teach and children to learn.


Flashback to 2015:


I used to fence quite often . Yes, fencing -- where you dress up in all white jacket and breeches, wear a wire-mesh face mask and fool around with blunted swords -- was one sport I used to be and still am passionate about. It is a sport that attracts both the young and not so very young. The common practice in a salle or fencing school is to ask another fencer to bout. The sport is not gender-sensitive, meaning you can fence with either sex. As a fencer, I made quite a few friends, both male and female, with ages ranging from eight years old to eighty.


On this particular day, I was fencing with a male friend who happened to be Chinese. For the purpose of this article, we will call him "Li". I guess with both of us being Asian and close in age, we immediately hit it off. I like fencing with Li because although his specialty is the epee, he is more than skillful with the foil which is my weapon of choice.


Li and I had just finished fencing. Having taken our masks and gloves off and shaken hands, we began to make our way to the sidelines to give way for other fencers when a blonde young lady of about middle school age came over.


"Can I fence with any of you?" she asked, foil in hand.

Li and I both replied in the affirmative.

"Great," she replied with a big smile. "By the way, can I ask you something?"

"Go ahead," I said. "What part of the world are you from?" she asked Li, with a smile that brightened up her lovely face.

"I am Asian," Li said.

"Oh... Asia..." the girl said, her smile still radiating on her innocent visage. Before Li and I could respond, she shot out another question, this time directed to me, her tone calm, naive: "How about you, where are you from?"

"I'm from the Philippines. I am Filipino," I said.

To Li's and my unpleasant surprise, the girl said: "I don't like Asians." Her next remark, maintaining her innocent, smiling, friendly expression, made things surreal. "My parents said I shouldn't like Asians."

Li and I stared at each other in astonishment.

"But I like Filipinos,"the girl added.

I could not believe my ears.

"Will you fence with me?" she asked Li.


Without anything else being said and being the great guy that he is, Li picked up his sword and obliged the person who had just insulted him, with a fencing bout. He even gave her a few tips on attacking and parrying during the course of the bout. The girl laughed and smiled all the while, showing no sign of animosity towards Li. I watched them fence, not sure how I should feel about the things I heard and witnessed.


Without doubt, the girl's parents taught her to dislike Asians. However, the parents failed to explain that Asians included Filipinos as well. Being the obedient daughter that she is, the girl accepted her parents' point of view. It might not even be accurate to call their bigotry a "point of view". The parents assigned their child a label: "Asian". Then they told their daughter to dislike anyone who called themselves "Asian". However, the girl does not even have an idea what an "Asian" looks like or what "Asians" as a category consist of. I could have told the girl that I am Swedish and would have gotten away with it.


Her acceptance of her parents' teaching is not linked to any emotion, which explains why she was friendly in tone and manner and exuded naiveté while expressing her "dislike for Asians". Her bias against others was drilled in her head by her elders. However, the skewed teachings of her elders failed to connect with her contrived experiences and emotions.


I could never bring myself to condemn this beautiful, friendly, naive, blonde child. I consider her an innocent whose purity will be tarnished by the seed of bigotry planted in her by her elders. The words she said in 2015, though hurtful, were empty, devoid of anger, hatred or revulsion. Her bias was an idea molded in her brain by those she trusted. Sadly, those she trusted--her own parents--made her a victim. I can only pray that after the passage of half a decade, the girl has freed herself from the dark, narrow-minded influence of bigoted parents.

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