Born Karl Westerberg in Minnesota, United States to an American father and a Filipino mother, this Filipino drag performer may be said to have triumphed in the world of performing on and off stage, and on and off camera. This is actually not that surprising, since – while she was growing up – it was always her dream to become an artist, to find a career where she can use her creativity; leading her to first become a graphic designer for a design firm in New York.
But while “being a graphic designer seemed like a fun job and I enjoyed doing it… it’s an office-based job, and you have clients who will approve your artistry; it’s not your own creative artistry all the time,” she said.
When she found her drag persona, it paved (and still does) the way for her to express her creativity and her passion for artistry in a different form. And then she made a name when she placed second in the third season of American reality TV show RuPaul’s Drag Race.
Meet Manila Luzon.
In an exclusive interview by Outrage Magazine, Manila said she wanted to celebrate her Filipino heritage, to bring her Asian-ness to her drag persona, thus her name “Manila Luzon”, which pays homage to where her mother was born (Manila), and Luzon the island where the city of Manila is on in the Philippines.
“Some critics say that my name is ridiculous, but others like it. I love my name, and I think it suits me very well,” Manila stressed.
Dubbed as the Asian Glamasaurus in the world of drag in New York, she is a self-confessed party girl, using different influences from the ‘80s, ‘90s and the naughties (2000s) – though she’d like to think she takes it to another level, the Manila Luzon way.
The “Manila Luzon way” means recreation – e.g. she once performed wearing one of her creations, a kimono made of Ramen noodle wrappers.
And what makes Manila Luzon different from other drag queens? “I am just me all the time… not many other people can honestly say that. Other queens just ain’t me!”
Manila was chosen to join the All Stars season of RuPaul’s Drag Race for a second time. She partnered with Latrice Royale during the competition, but they were eliminated after three episodes.
FINDING A VOICE
And how did Manila’s career start?
“I’ve always looked for excuses to get dressed up in costumes. Then one day I discovered that my sister’s clothes looked pretty cute on me. When I finally came out of the closet, I decided I was going to go ALL OUT and be the gayest I can be. That’s when Manila was finally born.”
Manila’s inspirations include: Madonna, Kylie Minogue and Barbra Streisand.
“I’m known for my outrageous lip sync to Donna Summer’s ‘MacArthur’s Park’ from Season 3 of RuPaul’s Drag Race. But I really love performing my original songs, ‘Hot Couture’ and ‘Best XXXcessory’ because I created them myself from scratch. It’s nice to create something and then show it to people.”
Manila credits RuPaul for shared life lessons – “I love how Ru says that whatever other people think of me, is none of my business. As a drag queen, I love the spotlight, but being out there you can attract a lot of negative feedback from complete strangers. It can really get to you. But I’ve learned that if I am to be the best Manila I can be, I don’t have to listen to all the bad stuff,” she said.
Asked how her life changed after joining RuPaul’s Drag Race, Manila said: “I’ve been given a social responsibility now since I’ve been on TV. I try to live my life in my truest form, and I have the audience to set an example in our community.”
CHANGE WILL HAPPEN
Asked what she’d do if she was President of the Philippines, Manila – true to form – said: “First thing I would change is the preservation of Imelda’s shoe collection. Then I would start my own!”
Then, turning serious when asked for her stand on the fight for equal rights of the LGBT community, she said: “Oddly, I know deep down that right will conquer. It may not be now, but it will happen; and I am excited to witness it take place in history.”
Manila is eyeing visiting the Philippines “hopefully soon”. For now, though, she has “lots of fun projects on the way, you’ll have to wait and see.”
And for the Filipino LGBT community, she said: “Keep fighting. Love will always win over hate.”