With his jet-black hair, golden skin and hazel eyes, Alejandro Doron Jr is the sort of man who regularly stops people in their tracks. He may be good looking, but he knows why people stare. He’s small at 1.17m.
As one of Manila’s many unano (dwarves), Doron hopes to end the daily harassment he faces by starting the Philippines’ very first little people colony.
The 35-year-old bartender works at Manila’s only “dwarf bar,” the Hobbit House, where he and his colleagues, ranging in height from 0.76m to 1.35m, serve tourists Hefeweizen beer and New York ribeye steaks, as dwarf comedians and Elvis impersonators perform on stage.
Just a 10-minute drive away, at the Ringside bar in Makati, some dwarves don gold and black swimming trunks to perform in oil wrestling matches. Others undress for fascinated sex tourists.
While there are no official figures for the Philippines, dwarfism — of which there are more than 200 distinct varieties — is generally defined as being 1.47m or shorter.
Doran says that Manila’s community of little people are highly visible because many of them have come to the capital to find both work and each other.
“Otherwise, they are like me: the only dwarf in their village,” he said, which makes them vulnerable to both physical and verbal abuse.
Critics have questioned whether dwarf-specific jobs such as Doron’s are exploitative, but for many little people in the Philippines, such work can be a godsend. While Filipinos are, on average, of short stature (1.63m for men and 1.52m for women), a minimum height requirement of 1.57m exists for many jobs.
“I’m a computer programmer by profession, but even if you have a good resume and meet the job qualifications, [potential employers] say there’s a height restriction, so they can’t hire you,” says Jonathan Cancela, 30, who, at 1.42m, works as an oil wrestler at the Ringside bar.
The Philippines has had a longstanding fascination with little people, popularized in the 1970s by TV shows and films on dwarf boxing, wrestling, comedy and kung fu. Such an interest in little people means that many of them, at least in Manila, have plenty of work. Doron often dons fancy dress to play leprechauns and monsters for TV shows, children’s parties and even so-called Snow White weddings.
At the three-story squat he shares with 11 others — including his own family and that of his sister — Doron slowly sips a glass of cola while his partner, Olivia Fernandez, 38, who is 1.57m, rocks their one-year-old baby in her arms. Of their five children, two are dwarves. Fifteen-year-old Rina has taken the day off from school for fear of bullying.
“Some boys wanted to cause a rumble, so I am home,” she says quietly, standing at 0.86m.
Fernandez says she has faced opposition from both friends and family over her relationship with Doron. Their seven-year-old daughter Glysdi, also a dwarf, gets so much verbal abuse that “she is always crying.”
“I told them, if people talk about you, don’t listen to what they say,” Doron said. “But it’s hard. It’s the natural attitude of people.”
Being free from this constant abuse is the reason why he and about 30 other dwarves are planning to establish a colony, Doron said. An investor has donated 16,000m2 of land near Manila, though the fields still have to be cleared, the houses built. However, money is tight and Doron hopes local politicians will help with funding.