The Apl Essay
By Lauren Lola
When I first became acquainted with the hectic environment that is junior high school, it was the first time in my life where I suddenly became curiously conscious of the fact that I am biracial. Gone were the days of living in naïve oblivion that I was so accustomed to in elementary school, as I would hear every other kid describe others by way of their races and/or ethnicities. I was no longer one of only a handful of kids of Filipino descent, and felt that this was just as good of time to start digging into that side of my heritage that I was deprived of in my upbringing.
But where could I go to learn? Ethnic studies was not offered as a class at the junior high level, I didn’t really have any Filipino friends at the time, and the presence of Filipinos in the media was practically non-existent then. That’s where the Black Eyed Peas come in, and through them, Apl.de.ap.
The Black Eyed Peas was experiencing their best success at the time. With Fergie then being a fairly new member of the group, people were jamming to their hits from the “Elephunk” album, and just as much so when they released their “Monkey Business” album not long after. Apl.de.ap is one of the three original members of the group, and the only one of Filipino descent.
This was a discovery I was very surprised to make, and I was quick to learn on just how much Apl’s Filipino identity means to him through the eleventh track from “Elephunk,” “The Apl Song.” Sampling lyrics from the song “Balita” by Filipino band Asin, Apl raps about his upbringing in the Philippines before moving to the United States, and also how it was for him the first time he made a trip back.
“The Apl Song” is the first song I ever heard with lyrics in Tagalog. While I couldn’t understand the lyrics, listening to them did hit me at an unidentifiable level; like I had found something that was missing from my life, but didn’t know it until that first time listening to the song.
Watching the music video for the song took things to a whole new level for me. Directed by Patricio Ginelsa, the video follows a Filipino World War II veteran living in a retirement home, who finds himself neglected by his family, while wishing to return home to the Philippines. All throughout, the story is intercut with Apl rapping his story, with appearances from other members of the Peas. There was just something very familiar-feeling about seeing a Filipino American story told in a music video, and yet it was my very first time ever seeing Filipinos appear in such a project.
Apl is hailed by the Filipino American community for shedding light and celebrating his Filipino identity. For me, I give him a lot of credit for expressing such stories through his art, as a biracial Filipino American. Apl is Filipino through his mom’s side and African American through his dad’s. Having been brought up by his mom in the Philippines before coming to the United States, his life experiences couldn’t be more different from my own.
And yet even back then in junior high school, I was still able to find common ground with him anyway, through his message in finding pride and understanding in one’s heritage, regardless of whether you’re one thing or not. Looking back on this memory as an adult who has a much more fleshed out knowledge about her Filipino heritage, I see Apl and his music as a starting point to a journey I carry with me for life.