Karen Tongson was named after the 1970s soft-rock music icon Karen Carpenter, and she immigrated to the United States from the Philippines soon after Karen Carpenter died in 1983 at age 32. As Tongson returns to the country of her birth, she examines what fuels the Carpenters’ continuing popularity in her home country and how their music has had affected her life. Read the story at BuzzFeed.
While the Carpenters mania that seems to exist in perpetuity in the Philippines might easily (and to a certain extent rightfully) be construed as yet another of the many vestiges of the nation’s colonial entanglements with the United States — what the scholar Vicente Rafael describes in White Love and Other Events in Filipino History (2000) — I want to make a case here for a power relation more difficult to parse: a different dynamic, another species of intimacy. You see, the Carpenters belong to us, not the other way around.
But with Karen Carpenter, we aren’t just fans, followers, or cheerful colonial acolytes, Taft’s infamous “little brown brothers” worshipping another white woman’s prudish perfection. Karen’s voice is our voice…we have the power to reanimate her, for better or worse, as our echo.
I begin to understand what Karen has actually done for me. She is more than my namesake; she is my constant. She is the anchor to a now, a then, a never-was, and a never-will-be. Karen Carpenter’s dispassionately passionate vocals multiply not only across the harmonies in her own recordings but also through countless Filipino voices, making sense of both Manila and the Southern California suburbs that became my eventual home.