Dear Filipino Olympian Michael Martinez, Outside-the-box Big Dreamer


I was fifteen in Manila, with perhaps a similar teenage curiosity and passion as yours, when I had a big secret--I started writing a novel. I called it then, The Maya's Wail. I didn't tell anyone, because I knew nobody would understand. I was the kid with a few academic laurels, therefore, according to many, I should aim to be a doctor--an attainable dream--and follow the tracks of the medical professionals in my family. I had no interest in medicine or in following anyone's footsteps. I was bent to create my own path, early signs of a life-long commitment to non-conformity and creativity. But your dream--to be an Olympic Ice Figure Skater from the tropics--touches the realm of the impossible.

What you must have gone through at seventeen to pursue "the impossible dream," a notion that only lives in Filipino consciousness as the theme song of an all-too-forgotten yellow revolution or as a Frank Sinatra rendition, overly accessed and performed by our Karaoke singing enthusiasts. To watch a Filipino think outside of the box at such a young age is refreshing. Many Filipinos are risk-averse, and culturally gifted to react with sub-standard response to big dreamers--bahala na ang Diyos (your destiny is in God's hands) when they should be saying, abutin mo ang langit (reach as far as the heavens).

That you were graciously honored by the American media is not surprising. America loves underdogs with big dreams, and your life has the trappings of a perfect Disney story. America is built by the Lincolns, Rockefellers, and MLKs--big dreamers and doers--on the horizon of limitless potential. Considering our intertwined history, Americans are outsiders to Filipino culture, and will never fully understand what it takes for someone like you to dare step out of the boxed thinking of Filipino society.

Many Filipinos are trapped in boxes. Colonial boxes. Feudal boxes. Natural disaster boxes. Medieval religious boxes. Unbeknownst to them, these boxes govern our present and future, passed down the generations like Adobo recipes. Outside of these boxes are the artists, writers, scholars, activists, independent thinkers, and entrepreneurs that are shunned for not conforming. Just look at our ancestral big dreamers--Jose Rizal, Andres Bonifacio, Ninoy Aquino--who met tragic endings so they could claim an eternal light in our textbooks, studied more than emulated. As we huddle inside these paradoxical boxes, political dynasties are robbing us blind. And Filipinos let them do it. How does one explain that the Philippines has only recently recovered $29 Million of the Marcos loot (in the billions, they say), while the progenies have been elected in office? Now, like blindfolded martyrs, millions of Filipinos find themselves overseas building the economies of the Middle East notwithstanding highly oppressive working and living conditions. We glorify our Overseas Foreign Workers when they capture the world with their majestic singing voices, while their basic human rights voice is muted for as long as their billion dollar remittances fuel the Philippine economic engine. When do we leave these boxes?


I am sure when you return to the Philippines, people will praise you for all the wrong reasons. Who doesn't love a modern-day Cinderella? I don't expect much in the way of shifting the mindset of those who you will put you on a pedestal. I can only be glad that you, at your age and without even being aware of it, are carving a new path for the youth who will one day shatter the walls of these boxes. Your dream is too big for the local people to comprehend. Unlike many Filipino celebrities who were discovered by happenstance on YouTube, your innate talent goes beyond skates, jumps, and choreographed dances. You constructed your own box and made the unthinkable possible. If only the Philippines had more people like you, political dynasties and their closest kin, corruption, would have been flattened like cardboards long ago.

Fifteen years after I started writing The Maya's Wail, I would publish it as The Umbrella Country. I was already in New York City, far from the boxes that would have kept my eternally curious mind and ambition in prison. Your ambition is much bigger than mine, and in fact, the country's. Challenges are already lined up ahead of you. But you have the advantage of youth, and the courage of having already stepped out of the box. You saw something in your future that is only visible to you. Fortunately, your dream is contagious, and grateful are the people who watch you and realize what awaits outside their boxed lives. Only time will tell if you will fulfill your ambition, but be rest assured that there are many of us whose hands are on your back pushing you to reach your fullest potential.

Outside-the-box Fan,