Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts

Vol. IV,    No. 48      January 2 - 8, 2005      Quezon City, Philippines











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Copyright 2004 Bulatlat


Filipinos in the U.S.:
‘Where Are You from? When Are You Going Back?’

We live in a racist society, a racial formation called "the United States of America" where - and this is not news anymore at this late day - people of color suffer daily from racial, national, and class oppression.


"Yes, I feel like a criminal running away from a crime I did not commit. And the crime is that I am a Filipino in America." – Carlos Bulosan, from Sound of Falling Light: Letters in Exile

“Uprisings and revolutions have always occurred in countries tyrannized over, in countries where human hearts have been forced to remain silent.” Jose Rizal, "The Philippines a Century Hence"

[This essay is a revised version of a lecture delivered at the University of Colorado, Boulder, on 26 April 1992. Despite the passage of over a decade, the thrust of its message remains central to the understanding of the neocolonial situation of the Filipino diaspora. The crisis in fact has worsened since Bulosan, Philip Vera Cruz, and the generation of Manongs were stigmatized in the McCarthyist reaction of the Cold War era. 

After 9/11 and the USA Patriot Act, Filipinos  have been racially profiled and targetted as putative "terrorists." A distinct Filipino nationality has been invented by 9/11 right-wing patriotism.

Given the deliberate manipulation by the Bush administration of the CIA-created Abu Sayyaf as part of international terrorism (cynically linking it with the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People's Army) and the subservience of the Arroyo regime to Washington's marching orders, Filipinos in the U.S. have suffered tremendously: witness the planeloads of Filipinos summarily deported every time the need arises to pressure Arroyo and the military to submit to U.S. demands.  Recall the U.S.  threat to deport over a hundred thousand Filipinos after the Angelo de la Cruz release led to the withdrawal of Filipino troops from Iraq.

Despite the publicity given to General Taguba, Lea Salonga, and assimilated colonials, white racial supremacy and its accompanying institutionalized violence persist in categorizing Filipinos as subaltern subjects fit for serving the needs of a new pax Americana. Only an anti-imperialist, national-democratic struggle in the Philippines, not a reformist antiglobalization campaign of "civil-society" NGOs led by careerist intellectuals, can counter the new, more vicious racialization of Filipinos within a hegemonic protofascist regime that now prevails in the U.S.

A united front of all the internally colonized peoples of color opposed to the Homeland Security State, together with all oppressed classes, can serve to reinforce the worldwide resistance to this new "civilizing mission" of postmodern barbarians in the metropolis. The strategy of persevering in completing our unfinished 1896 revolution begun by Andres Bonifacio and Jose Rizal can guide us toward a world free from class exploitation and racial oppression.

We live in a racist society, a racial formation called "the United States of America" where--and this is not news anymore at this late day--people of color suffer daily from racial, national, and class oppression. And in the same breath we Filipinos, together with others, struggle daily to survive and affirm our human dignity. Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin (formerly H. Rap Brown) stated in 1987 that in the United States "racism is the state religion.... Racism is to America what Catholicism is to the Vatican.  Racism is the religion, and violence is its liturgy to carry it out" (Time, Feb. 2, 1987).

Signs of the times--like Willie Horton and Rodney King, not to mention thousands of everyday incidents in university campuses and urban battlegrounds like Bensonhurst, Miami, Milwaukee, Detroit, and recently Los Angeles where the unprecedented rebellion sent tremors to the boardrooms of the ruling class; and in places where hatred of Asians and Arabs is peaking--all these indicate that Al-Amin's observation, instead of being rendered obsolete, is being confirmed in ways that might still frighten some and in other ways that paradoxically elicit the homage of its victims.

Transported but Not Transplanted

By the year 2000 the Filipino body count will surpass the two million mark. We are rapidly becoming the majority (21% of the total) of the Asian American population of nearly 10 million.  [As of 2005, the Filipino population in the U.S. will easily exceed three million, the largest of the Asian American contingent of 12 million.] More than half a million (664,938 to be exact) entered the country between 1965 and 1984. This third (even fourth) wave of immigration comprise mostly professionals and technical personnel, unlike their predecessors, the farmworkers of Hawaii and California and Alaskan cannery hands memorialized in Carlos Bulosan's America Is in the Heart (1948).

Over 170,000 Filipinos enter the country legally every year. This doesn't include about 25,000 Filipinos serving in the U.S. Navy (chiefly as stewards and mess boys), a number more than those serving in the Philippine Navy itself--an anomalous phenomenon where Filipino citizens function as mercenaries eager to serve their former colonial master. 

Because of this demographic change and other reasons, it is perhaps the opportune time to assert our autonomy from the sweep of the categorizing rubric of "Asian American" even as we continue to unite with other Asians in coalitions for conjunctural political demands. There is a specific reason why the Filipino nationality in the U.S. (even though the majority of U.S. citizens are still unable to distinguish us from the Asian Others) needs to confront its own singular destiny as a dislocated and "transported" (in more ways than one) people: that reason is of course the fact that the Philippines was a colony of the United States for over half a century and persists up to now as a neocolony of the occupying nation-state in whose territory we find ourselves today.

The reality of U.S. colonial subjugation and its profound enduring effects--something most people cannot even begin to fathom, let alone acknowledge its existence--distinguish the Filipino nationality from the Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, and others from the Asian mainland. To understand what this means is already to resolve halfway the predicament and crisis of dislocation, fragmentation, uprooting, loss of traditions, exclusion, and alienation--tremendous spiritual and physical ordeals that people of color are forced to undergo when Western powers fight and divide the world into spheres of domination for the sake of capital accumulation, when populations are expediently shuffled around in the global chessboard of warring interests.

This crisis of deracination and exile (permanent or temporary) becomes pronounced in the phenomenon of the "brain drain," a factor that explains the continuing underdevelopment of the Third World. It is not a joke to say that the Philippines, now an economic basket case in Asia, produces every year thousands of doctors, nurses, scientists, and engineers for the world market. As exchangeable commodities, many of them immediately head for the United States--in addition, there's more than a million "warm body export" now inhabiting the Middle East and Europe--while in the Philippines where 80% of the people are poor and 30% of the children malnourished, most towns and villages don't have any decent medical/health care (not to mention other vital social services) to sustain a decent quality of life for all its citizens. [These proverbial "servants of globalization" are actually victims of U.S. imperial domination of the transnational market and finance capital.]

American Dream of Eluding Success

All studies of the 1980 and the 1990 census show that Filipinos, despite high educational attainments, enjoy the lowest average income (among Asians). We are historically denied access to occupations in management and other prestigious career positions. According to sociologists Victor Nee and Jimy Sanders, Filipinos remain a "disadvantaged minority group," concentrated in low-skilled and low-status jobs with low mean income. I am not of course referring to those Filipino doctors and a handful of corporate consultants each earning a quarter of a million dollars every year. But despite this comprehensive and more accurate picture of structural disadvantage--the collective plight of Filipinos inferred from government statistics--we are astonished at the celebratory thrust of the impressions and responses of Filipinos recorded by Ronald Takaki in his instructive history of Asian Americans, Strangers from a Different Shore.  Takaki cites the following testimonies from recent Filipino immigrants:

"...In the United States, hard work is rewarded.  In the Philippines, it is part of the struggle to survive." Images of American abundance, carried home by the Balikbayans, or immigrants returning to their homeland for visits, have pulled frustrated Filipinos to this country. When Carlos Patalinghug went back for a visit in 1981 after working in the United States for ten years, he told his friends: "If you work, you'll get milk and honey in America."  Other Balikbayans described the United States as a "paradise." (433)

We all know of course that comparisons are always made to what the person would have been earning in the Philippines assuming she is employed--the trick of invoking the exchange rate of dollars to pesos, ignoring cost of living disparities, indeed works miracles. Isn't this mutable exchange rate--index of the unequal relations of power between North and South--the opium of the masses, not religion?

What seems incredible is this story (narrated by Lawrence Johnson in Rice Magazine, July 1988) of Maria Ofalsa who came in 1926 and two years after was hospitalized "from overwork and exhaustion"; her family experienced horrendous prejudice, harassment, eviction which they quietly bore throughout the Depression up to the fifties. Finally, after getting her citizenship in 1952 and still aware of the racism around her, she tells her countrymen: "When you come here to the U.S. remember this is not our country, so you try to be nice and don't lose your temper and try to be friendly and don't put on a sour face." Frankly I don't know whether, without much ado, Maria should be canonized or beatified.

Historical Amnesia

Some of us know that Filipinos, faced with rampant paralegal violence in Watsonville, California and in other places in the late twenties and thirties, did not act nicely when they initiated militant actions like those by the Filipino Labor Union in 1933 who were trying to organize thirty thousand compatriots. Or those by the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee in 1959 which led to the historic Grape Strike of 1965 and laid the immediate foundation for the establishment of the United Farm Workers of America initially led by Larry Itliong and Philip Vera Cruz. The epochal inter-ethnic union struggles of Filipinos and Japanese workers in Hawaii in 1920 and 1924 also deserve tribute and commemoration.

Philip Vera Cruz, a distinguished veteran union leader, declared in the sixties: "I think the only way to change things is to break up the corporations and weaken the enemy.... Agribusiness is built on the exploitation of farm workers...It's the same struggle all over the world, many fronts of the same struggle."

Contemporaries of Maria Ofalsa, Manuel Buaken and Carlos Bulosan probably lost their temper then. Buaken wrote in 1940: "Where is the heart of America? I am one of the many thousands of young men born under the American Flag, raised as loyal idealistic Americans under your promise of equality for all....Once here we are met by exploiters, shunted into slums, greeted by gamblers and prostitutes, taught only the worst in your civilization."   Bulosan also lost his temper when he summed up his experiences in the thirties and forties: "I came to know afterward that in many ways it was a crime to be a Filipino in California."

It might be instructive to recall that although over 175,000 Filipinos in the U.S. in the thirties were officially designated "nationals," wards under American "tutelage," without the rights of citizens.  In 1934 with the passage of the Tydings-McDuffie Act, Buaken and Bulosan and their compatriots suddenly became aliens. They were "birds of passage" trapped in the promised land. Earlier they had been forbidden to marry Caucasians; they were barred from owning land and receiving public assistance during the Depression. In 1940 they were subjected to another humiliation: all Filipinos had to register and be fingerprinted like ordinary criminals.    

Not altogether unprecedented, the sisters of Maria Ofalsa today have turned out to be "troublemakers." In another continent, amid the utter indifference of the Philippine government to the plight of thousands of domestics in the Middle East, we recently learned that one of these brutalized Filipinas, a certain Lourana Crow Rafael, 44, was accused of killing a member of the Kuwait royal family, Sheika Latifa Abdullah Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, after she refused the domestic's request to travel to her home country in the wake of the enormous terrors before and after the war (USA Today, Feb. 21, 1992). Talk of losing one's temper under those circumstances! How can we even begin to imagine that scenario (even assuming that our domestic compatriot was  being framed) without lapsing into another mystery-filled Hollywood banality. 

Recently, two planeloads of Filipina domestics arrived in Manila from Kuwait bearing tales of cruel and inhumane treatment, rape, and all sorts of violence inflicting horrible physical and psychic tortures which some Westerners find incredible and fantastic.     

Awaking from the Nightmare

With the formal independence of the Philippines in 1946, and the coordinated resistance of Filipino workers here in the late forties and fifties--in particular among Alaskan cannery workers--to racist violence and persecution, a new sensibility emerged among the second generation of Filipinos. Most of those who came of age in the great civil rights struggles of the sixties and the antiwar movement of the early seventies began to articulate the Filipino protest against racial and national oppression in sympathy with the resurgent anti-imperialist movement in the Philippines against the U.S.-Marcos dictatorship.

Many Filipinos born here in the United States matured during the "Great Transformation" of the sixties and began to connect with the heroic ordeals of the manongs in such mass coalitions around the International Hotel in San Francisco and around other programs to address still unredressed grievances. There's a whole history still to be written about these not yet forgotten itinerary of struggles. When the eighties arrived, the impulse of opposition and criticism seemed to have subsided. I quote from a letter written by a Filipina immigrant to the Hartford Courant at the time of Aquino's assassination in 1983:

For me, the killing hit home in more ways than one.

I was born a Filipino. That may seem like an easy statement to make, but even as I write it, I am amazed at the embarrassment I used to feel.  Ever since my parents brought me to the United States, I had been ashamed of who I am and ashamed of my nation.

When friends at school said it was disgusting to see my mother serve fish with the head still intact, or for my father to eat rice with his hands, or to learn that stewed dogs and goats were some examples of Filipino delicacies, I took their side. I accused my own of being unsanitary in their eating habits....

And when Marcos flaunted his tyranny and declared martial law in 1972, and my aunt said that it was the best thing that ever happened to the Philippines, as long as you kept your mouth shut, I accused Filipinos of lacking the guts to fight for themselves....

But everything changed for me when that man [Benigno Aquino] I had laughed at landed in my homeland and died on the airport tarmac.

For the first time I accused myself of not having enough faith in, and hope for, my own people. Maybe because I'm older now, maybe because of the assassination, I see things differently.

In the past I felt that I had no right to be proud of my people. Now, with the cruel Marcos regime tottering, I have finally awakened. Filipinos all over the world need the strength that comes with pride, now more than ever.  It is time for all of us to speak up, regardless of the consequences.

This woman refused to follow Maria Ofalsa's advice to keep her mouth shut and behave nicely. Unfortunately there are few like her. Understandly enough, most Filipinos are busy making money to survive and support relatives and families in the Philippines. They don't want to have anything to do with what's going on politically in their country of origin (or even here, for that matter) even though every American (the majority of people you encounter in the shopping malls and other public sites) who encounters them cannot but connect them to those islands--are they still "our" colonies in the Caribbean?

How many Filipinos have we not heard confessing to their American hosts how "my country [of origin] is shit!" and how I am so happy and proud to finally be American citizens? These aliens--they have renounced their homeland but are not accepted anywhere--hang in the limbo of what Frantz Fanon, in The Wretched of the Earth, designates as the symbolic violence of the self-denying colonized.

In the Belly of the Beast

As to be expected, these Filipinos have dutifully internalized the ethos of bureaucratic individualism, the ABC of vulgar utilitarianism, inculcated by the media and other ideological apparatuses in the Philippines and reproduced here in the doxa, the received and commonsensical practices of everyday life. Although some still pay homage to the rituals of the patriarchal family, many have now transformed themselves into the living exemplars of the cult of neosocial Darwinism during a period of economic recession in the belief that they are adapting to the mores of their adopted country and are making themselves "true" Americans, "the genuine Stateside articles." This schizoid claim to authenticity seems to compensate for the trauma of dispossession and savage inferiorization suffered in nearly a century of colonial subordination.

We know that in instances where hospital strikes occur in any big city, planeloads of nurses from the Philippines are ordered by the cost-cutting management to function as "scabs," a title which her other sisters surely do not deserve. [It might be useful to note here that the 50,000 Filipino nurses in the U.S. remit over $100 million annually, more than the earnings from Philippine gold exports; and that the remittance of Middle East workers and domestics in Canada, Japan, Hong Kong, and elsewhere, is the number one dollar earner for the Philippine government.]

In one major case in the past, in 1946, 7,000 Filipino workers and their families were recruited by the Hawaii Sugar Planters Association to break "The Great Sugar Workers Strike." In due time, however, they quickly realized that they were being used by their exploiters and so joined the strikers organized by the International Longshoremen and Warehousemen's Union.     

Exodus and Pilgrimage

In the eighties, despite the fact that a larger proportion of recent Filipino immigrants possess superior technical and professional skills, we still find a pattern of consistent downgrading and underemployment of Filipino professionals. How is this to be explained or justified?

Pharmacists, lawyers, teachers, dentists, engineers, and medical technicians who have logged years of experience are often forced to engage in sales, clerical, and wage labor. We still find evidence of the routine attitude of EuroAmericans to Filipinos as good only at manual work in the fields--those images of Filipino workers in California and Hawaii plantations still predominate in the consciousness of the dominant society. (Seeing how their father, a brilliant Filipino lawyer whose acquaintance I made while he practiced in New York City, was humiliated by Americans who nourished such racist attitudes, the children of my friend experienced psychic damage.)

In the past, Filipinos were considered merchandise listed next to "fertilizer" or "manure" by farm proprietors in Hawaii and elsewhere. Today, the demand for Filipino nurses and domestics--contract labor avidly promoted by the Philippine government--may betoken for certain government bureaucrats an improvement in our international status as supplier of cheap labor and other resources to the industrialized metropoles. For the majority, it means temporary alleviation of seemingly permanent deprivation.

In the racially stratified and ethnically segmented labor market of the United States, as well as in the rest of the world, Filipinos occupy the lower strata, primarily in service occupations such as food, health, cleaning; because of this they earn only about two-thirds of the average income of white men. Despite these problems of discrimination in the labor market and underemployment, Filipinos as a group (for various reasons not entirely cultural) have not developed entrepreneurial skills for small ethnic enterprises such as those undertaken by Koreans and Indians in the big cities. And yet we boast of being the only Christian nation in Asia, or for some perhaps the most Americanized colony in the whole world.

How can we explain the persisting neocolonial subjugation of the Filipino bodies and psyches, so many "manacled minds" impoverished by learned self-denigration and beset by tribal passions (what is now fashionably labeled "kin altruism"), concerned only with the welfare of their clans if not their own creature comforts? Why is it that unlike other racial minorities Filipinos are unable to resolve the crisis of expatriation and uprooting, of alienation and national marginalization, through strong and enduring commitment to promoting the larger good of one community? Why is it that this community is non-existent, and if there, at best fragmented and inutile?

Why is it that Filipinos in the diaspora don't feel or understand their subjugation as a race and nationality? Perhaps these are all rhetorical questions. One recalls that Filipinos who followed the notorious Hilario Moncado and joined his Filipino Federation of America (founded in 1925 in Los Angeles) opposed the unionization efforts of Filipinos in Hawaii. One more proof that pursuing liberation via ethnic pride Hilario-Moncado style (and there are many examples today) would be suicidal!

Apologists for the Empire

Various American experts have ventured answers to explain the continuing "invisibility" or "forgottenness" of the Filipinos in the United States and its corollary, the underdevelopment of the homeland. Theodore Friend for one blames the historic legacy of Spain fostered by Marcos and Aquino, a legacy that plagues Latin American countries as manifested in such markers of dysfunctionality as "autocracy, gross corruption, bloated debt, a deprofessionalized military, private armies, death squads."

Remarking on Aquino's charisma as "Mother of Sorrows" unable to clean up "the patronage ridden" civil service and "the anarchy of ruling families" which define Philippine politics, Friend urges Filipinos to "shake free of Hispanic tradition." What happened to the period of U.S. tutelage, from 1898 to 1946 and thereafter, the asymmetrical power relations between "the bastion of the Free World" and its erstwhile colony?  This is also the message of Stanley Karnow in his lengthy apologia for American imperialism, In Our Image. Nowhere does Friend even mention U.S. violence and its manipulation of the landed and comprador elite in its colonial conquest and domination of the Philippines for almost fifty years!  

For his part, the historian Peter Stanley does mention this only to praise it as "the relatively libertarian character of U.S. rule" over Taft's "little brown brothers." The much-touted U.S. legacy of schools, roads, public-health programs, artesian wells, democratic politicians, and "the most gregariously informal, backslapping imperialist rulers known to history" serves to explain, for Stanley, why Filipinos cherish a "deferential friendship" for Americans.  [Contrary to Sucheng Chan who alleges that Filipinos organized fraternal associations because American culture influenced them to do so, Masonic-like groups named after Rizal testify to the residual revolutionary culture among these early immigrants.]

The Infamous Pinoy Connection

Does this then explain why Fred Cordova, in his pictorial essay Filipinos: Forgotten Asian Americans (1983, 221), insist that "An estimated one million innocent Filipino men, women and children died while defending Americanism during World War Two from 1941 to 1945"? Indeed one may ask: Have all these many Filipinos been really screwed up all their lives to make that sacrifice?  One million natives defending the cause of Lone Ranger and Charlie Chan--ugly racist stigmata cited by Fred Cordova--whom he lumps together with Florence Nightingale and Martin Luther King, Jr.?

One million dark-skinned natives sacrificing their lives for Americanism? As for celebrating Filipino "firsts" in order to generate ethnic pride, what does it signify if we learn that Filipinos were the first this and that, to wit, the first Asians to cross the Pacific Ocean for the North American continent and that their descendants in New Orleans, Louisiana, fought with the pirate Jean Lafitte and the Americans during the War of 1812? Would such knowledge relieve the lostness or sublimate the pathos of a situation bewailed so often by Bienvenido Santos, inventor of the myth of Filipinos as "lovely people": "Think of the impotence of Filipino exiles in America who are displaced and uprooted wandering in strange cities."

To return to our American mentors: Stanley is able to suggest that Filipinos who come from different regions of the islands form fraternal groups based on localities of origin because they find it "difficult to conceive of each other as sharing a national identity." While such a proposition (like so many orthodox explanations) is flawed by a functionalist bias in blaming the victims for the inadequacy of their culture, it nevertheless prompts one to reflect on the following:

We Filipinos don't have any real identification of ourselves as belonging to a nation because that nation of all the classes and sectors in the Philippines is non-existent and remains a virtual hope or intention; that organic embodiment of the national-popular will has not yet come into being, has in fact been aborted and suppressed by U.S. military power when it was being born during the revolution of 1896-1898, a culmination of three centuries of revolts against Spanish rule.

We don't as yet have a popular-democratic nation as the matrix and locus of authentic sharing and belonging--that nation is still in the process of emergence through a manifold complex of antagonisms and struggles still in the agony of unfolding. What we call the Philippines today, a society where state power is controlled by a comprador-oligarchic elite whose interests center on the preservation of an unjust and unequal status quo, is for all practical purposes still a dependent formation, virtually an appendage, of the United States ruling class, notwithstanding substantial gains in decolonization during the last twenty years climaxing in the Philippine Senate's decision to remove the U.S. bases, thanks to the prodding of Mt. Pinatubo.

Blame Their Damaged Culture

Consequently, Filipinos up to the fifties were perceived as a social problem in the United States, according to the Filipinologist H. Brett Melendy, because of their "cultural backgrounds and value systems" that pivot around the family and indigenous kinship structure. Melendy blames the Filipinos for their sojourner mentality, not the racializing apparatuses of the U.S. state or the racially hierarchic institutions of civil society, for their exclusion, their exploitation, their abject poverty. The culture and value system of these poor victims have somehow survived U.S. colonial rule--they in fact maintain that system of dependency which flourishes today--amid the surface Westernization or mock modernization of the whole society.

This perspective partly explains the political nullity of Filipinos who, formally interpellated as citizens, are unable to unite and construct their community in symbolic rituals of autonomy and integrity, to represent it as a coherent, resourceful, sustainable locus of meaning and value and mobilizing strategies. Partly only because, as I said earlier, we cannot ignore the structures of racial differentiation and hierarchizing that historically constitute the elite hegemony and civic consensus of U.S. society, as well as the assimilationist strategies of the U.S. racial state and its various political techniques of cooptation and disarticulation. These techniques have confined the racial minorities, people of color, to subalternity.

This is the predicament we Filipinos face as we enter the threshold of a new century. In the crisis of dislocation and fragmentation that we continue to experience in a racist polity, how can we reconstitute a single unified community here that can generate a discourse and practice of collective resistance, of autonomy and integrity?

Agent Provocateur

In 1989, I sent a letter to Philippine News in San Francisco posing questions that elaborate possible stages of our ethnogenesis, questions such as the following:

What really distinguishes the Filipino community here in its historical formation? How is it tied to the history of the Philippines as a colony of Western powers? What specific elements of immigrant history, the suffering and resistance of various waves, should we select and emphasize that will mobilize and unify Filipinos?

What struggles should we engage in to forge a dynamic and cohesive identity, struggles that will actualize the substance of civil and human rights? What political and moral education should we undertake to develop and heighten the consciousness of a distinct Filipino identity and political presence in the U.S.?

Finally, on what moral or ethical principles (superior and alternative to the bureaucratic individualism of the free market which centrally inform the hegemonic ideology of late capitalism) should we ground this Filipino community, that is, what social goods should we articulate as the fundamental goal or end of our community within the larger social formation?

This is not just a matter of instrumentalizing the members of the group to gain material resources and goods necessary to survive and reproduce the next generation. It is not a juridical matter of entitlement. It is not just a question of the cultural norms (which the structural-functionalist doctrinaire insist is the decisive criterion of successful performance) required to make us fully participate in the political process, a question of what do I want? and with whom shall I cooperate to acquire what I want?--the pragmatic rationality of means-ends.

The question of what we are going to do cannot be answered unless we answer a prior question: In what narrative or narratives that are now proceeding in contemporary world history shall we participate? Is it a narrative of assimilation and integration, or a narrative of emancipation and national self-determination? Is there a universalizing or transcendent multiracial narrative, a global narrative that subsumes and guarantees our self-empowering if long-delayed ethnogenesis?

Return of the Dog-Eaters?

Some historians entertain the belief that the reason why Americans had the notion that Filipinos were dog-eating savages can be traced to the widely publicized ethnographic exhibit of primitive tribesmen that the U.S. colonial government in the Philippines helped to organize for the Louisiana Purchase Exposition at St. Louis in 1904.

But I think it is misleading to ascribe to this minor spectacle an exorbitant power that can even overshadow the now mythical stature of the Iron Butterfly's [Imelda Marcos] shoe fetish that has--for good or ill--put the Philippines in the map of the global bestiary and folklore of mass consumerism.

Whatever the narcotic power of these media spectacles may be, if we continue to delude ourselves that we are not objects of racist interpellations--that we are in fact on the way to successful incorporation into the U.S. nation-state--then history might repeat itself: we shall for the moment be paraded again as dutiful "little brown brothers" and sisters civilized by American tutelage, a hybrid subspecies soon to be made extinct in some proverbial melting-pot, a quaint cross between the comic-strip icon of the Mexican bandido and those "inscrutable Orientals" who should be shipped back as soon as possible--"go back where you came from" is the taunt often heard, thus restoring the purity of the body politic. A mythical purity as an obsession, the myth of purity feeding on and nourishing white racial supremacy, the American civic religion of superiority over the planet.

What we need to do, the agenda for constituting the Filipino community as an agent of historic change in a racist society, cannot of course be prescribed by one individual. The mapping and execution of such a project can only be the product of a collective effort by every one who claims to be a Filipino in the process of engaging in actual, concrete struggles, in conjunction with the efforts of other people of color in the United States to rid society of the material conditions that beget and reproduce class, gender, and racial oppression.

The future in the twenty-first century is there for us to shape--if we dare to struggle for a better world which is always possible, dare to sacrifice and win!-- Posted by Bulatlat



E. SAN JUAN, Jr. was recently visiting professor of literature and cultural studies at National Tsing Hua University in Taiwan and lecturer in seven universities in the Republic of China. He was previously Fulbright professor of American Studies at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Belgium and fellow of the Center for the Humanities at Wesleyan University. Among his recent books are BEYOND POSTCOLONIAL THEORY (Palgrave), RACISM AND CULTURAL STUDIES (Duke University Press), and WORKING THROUGH THE CONTRADICTIONS (Bucknell University Press). Two books in Filipino were launched in 2004: HIMAGSIK (De La Salle University Press) and TINIK SA KALULUWA (Anvil); his new collection of poems in Filipino, SAPAGKAT INIIBIG KITA AT MGA BAGONG TULA, will be released by the University of the Philippines Press in 2005.



© 2004 Bulatlat  Alipato Publications

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