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Essays in Cultural Politics



Polytechnic University of the Philippines


ONE: The Question of Racism in the 21st Century

TWO: Contemporary Global Capitalism and the Filipino Diaspora

THREE: Reading the Stigmata

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When I was invited here at Watshington State University, Pullman, for a talk three years ago

by Paul Wong, then director of the Northwest Center for Comparative Cultures and Race

Relations, I had no idea what Pullman looked like. For me, as well as for many students of

American history, Pullman was associated with the railroad strike of 1894 against the Pullman

Company. It began in Pullman, Illinois, led by the American Railway Union organized by the

now legendary Eugene Debs. Deb and other union leaders were subsequently arrested and the

strike in Chicago suppressed by 14,000 soldiers and police. I wonder if the early settlers here

adopted the name Pullman despite, or because of, this historic incident in which the entire might

of the state confronted the working class and imposed its will by force.

This year 1998 happens to mark the centenary of the conquest of the Philippines by the

military force of the United States. The Filipino-American War of 1899-1902 was a brutal war,

the "first Vietnam," for many historians. However, most textbooks devote only a paragraph, if at

all, to this period--a crucial stage in the construction of the American national identity. Over 1

million Filipinos died, more than 8,000 American soldiers perished, for the sake of "manifest


Then president McKinley didn't know where the islands were--officials joked whether the

Philippines was a brand name of canned goods or some kind of pineapple. McKinley justified the

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forcible annexation of the Philippines to a delegation of Methodist Church leaders in 1899 with

these words: Since the natives were "unfit for self-government,” McKinley intoned,” …there

was nothing left for [the United States] to do but to take them all, …and uplift and civilize and

Christianize them." Samples of these natives who would be uplifted by the Puritan work ethic

and individualist self-help were exhibited in the St. Louis Exposition of 1904, one of a series of

industrial fairs intended to project the global stature of the United States as the fit successor to

the European imperial powers.

One of the scandalous if censored incidents of the U.S. campaign to pacify the islands was the

defection of some African American soldiers to the side of the "enemy," the revolutionary

Philippine Republic. Soldiers fresh from the campaigns against the Plains Indians considered the

Filipinos savages and "niggers" that needed taming and domestication; reservation-like hamlets

had to be set up to cut short a guerilla war that was becoming costly. Right from the beginning, it

was a thoroughly racialized war. The rhetoric and discourse of that "civilizing mission," which

had earlier legitimized the genocide against the Native Americans, slavery of Africans, and

violence against the Mexicans, continued up to the time when thousands of Filipinos were

recruited for the Hawaiian Sugar Plantations after the entry of the antecedent Asian migrant

labor--Chinese and Japanese—was banned. Objects of the policy called “Benevolent

Assimilation,” Filipinos, the new "nationals" who were neither citizens nor aliens but a hybrid of

sorts—postcolonial denizens avant le lettre, were attacked by white vigilantes in Yakima Valley

and the entire West Coast in the thirties and forties.

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We should insert here a reminder that the famous Plessy v. Ferguson judgment took place in

1896, two years before the outbreak of the Spanish American War. The system of apartheid--not

to be altered for half a century--was finally given its legal imprimatur.

Many notable public figures--William Jennings Bryan, Andrew Carnegie, William James,

Mark Twain, among others--vehemently protested the carnage. But the most significant is the

anti-imperialist resolution of the Black Citizens of Boston published in The Boston Post of July

18, 1899. It reads in part:

Resolved, That, while the rights of colored citizens in the south, sacredly guaranteed

them by the amendment of the Constitution, are shamefully disregarded; and, while the

frequent lynchings of negroes who are denied a civilized trial are a reproach to

Republican government, the duty of the president and country is to reform these crying

domestic wrongs and not to attempt the civilization of alien peoples by powder and


Calling attention to the gap between the idealized representation of democracy in foreign

adventure and its actual operations in the heartland reveals the authentic character of the

expanding nation-state as a racial formation. It is one constructed on the basis of racial

segregation, hierarchy, and violence. While the claim of "Manifest Destiny," the American

messianic mission, and the reality of a racialized system may appear incompatible, from a larger

historical perspective, that discrepancy is itself the condition of possibility for the justification of


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A review of the political formation of the United States demonstrates a clear racial, not simply

ethnic, pattern of constituting the national identity and the commonality it invokes. As many

historians have shown, the U.S. racial order, following the logic of the expansion of the free

market, evolved from three or four key conjunctures which, I submit, should be studied as the

core of any general education program: first, the suppression of the aboriginal inhabitants

(Native Americans) for the exploitation of land and natural resources; second, the

institutionalization of slavery and the postCivil War apartheid or segregation; third, the conquest

of territory from the Mexicans, Spaniards (Puerto Rico, Cuba, the Philippines, Guam), and

Hawaiians, and the colonization of Mexicans, Filipinos, Puerto Ricans; and, fourth, the

subordination of Asian labor.

In these constitutive strands of the national formation, the necessary element is racial

stratification, the sociopolitical construction of racial hierarchy. I think all questions of

citizenship and individual liberties hinge on the theorizing of "race" and its deployment in

various political and ideological practices of the State and civil society. While chattel slavery is

gone, “wage slavery” is still with us. I am not denying progress on the civil rights front.

However, the legal scholar Lani Guinier argues that race continues to be an organizing principle

of the democratic nation state. She holds that "majority rule is not a reliable instrument of

democracy in a racially divided society… In a racially divided society, majority rule may be

perceived as majority tyranny."

While vestiges of scientific racism exist, the political use of race as a biological/

anthropological concept is no longer tenable. Ever since I came to this country in 1960, people

always ask me: Where are you from? Where do you come from? I believe that Darwin has given

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that question a generic answer. On second thought, the question may be diagnosed as a symptom

of the need to affirm a measure of common value in the modern milieu of alienation and

reification. Identity politics has arrived.

Today, the problem of cultural ethos or ethnicity has become the major site of racial conflict.

The notion of cultural diversity implies that there is a norm or standard—call it the American

Way of Life, the common culture, the Great Books, the canon, whatever—compared to which the

other is different, alien, strange, weird. Some people become problems by the simple fact of their


The President’s Initiative on Race is to be welcomed in calling attention to the real problem.

The Commission’s banal if not inadequate findings, however, seem to demonstrate that it may be

a strategy of containment rather than critique. Structural inequality and institutional

discrimination, the substantive issues raised in the sixties, have not been fully addressed. Even

mainstream media call it therapy. Ex-professor Newt Gingrich calls it a “liberal failure” because

of the Commission’s “abstract theoretical questions.” No doubt, racial thinking still pervades the

consensual procedures of our society--from the categories of the Census to the neoconservative

attack on Affirmative Action and the gains of the Civil Rights struggles. It has acquired new life

in the sphere of public, especially foreign, policy whenever officials rearticulate the binary

opposition beween us (citizens of Western civilization) and them (the barbaric fundamentalists,

rogue states, terrorists of all kinds). The common life or national identity rises from the rubble of

differences vanquished, ostracized, and erased.

This century now ending thus began with, among other events, the United States seizing

territories in Asia, the Pacific and the Caribbean inhabited by peoples with their own cultures,

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economies, and histories. The imperative of modernization covered up for their loss of

sovereignty. The century began with the United States becoming an imperial power that would,

after World War II, displace its old European contenders and declare a pax American of the free

market on the ruins of fascist Germany and Japan. This peace, however, rested also on a

neocolonial discourse in which the Western democracies legitimized their mastery of the “Free

World” in the crusade against Communist despotism. But, as historians have shown, this

hegemony over nation-states (especially among formerly colonized and now neocolonized

countries) is always already predicated on the continuation of the European narrative and vision

of world domination, on white supremacy. W.E.B. Du Bois questioned the presumed universality

of American nationalism when he wrote in 1945, in an essay entitled "Human Rights for all

Minorities,” that black people in the United States were "a nation without a polity, nationals

without citizenship." Liberals like Nathan Glazer and Michael Walzer condemn any talk about

national autonomy, collective rights, or empowerment of communities, as inimical to the unity

and stability of the country. The "national question" involving people of color in the United

States, which I think is the key to unlocking the race question, remains still unanswered by all

participants in the culture wars, by relativists and law-and-order folks alike.

Meanwhile, the theme of global ideological conflict has now been revitalized. It moves up to

center-stage in a recasting of the Cold War as, in Samuel Huntington's words, a war of

civilizations. Primarily a war between the West and “the Rest.” We need not prophesy the details

of this coming "war" within one world-system of transnational corporate business. In fact we all

live in one world where the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund occupy pride of

place in the pantheon. We are confronted everyday in the media with scenes of ethnic cleansing,

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earlier in Bosnia, now Kosovo, all over what was formerly the Soviet Union, in Afghanistan, in

Ruwanda and earlier in apartheid South Africa. Racialized antagonisms smolder in various parts

of the world, in Quebec, in Los Angeles, Indonesia, Haiti, and elsewhere.

With the propagation of the Murray-Herrnstein notion of genetically defined intelligence, we

are once more surrounded with ideas first synthesized by Comte Joseph de Gobineau in his book

Essay on the Inequality of the Human Races (1953-55) and later elaborated by Social

Darwinism, eugenics, and pragmatic utilitarianism. Its latest manifestation is, in my view, the

theory of common culture--the heritage of Western civilization. It inheres in all philosophies and

policies that legislate a scheme of general education for everyone based on a narrative of

development framed by the classics of the canon, from Aristotle to Rorty and Lacan. Whether

formulated in terms of modernity, progress, Enlightenment, competency, or individual self-

fulfillment, the old belief in "our civilizing mission" persists despite claims of tolerance, liberal

latitude, respect for cultural diversity, and so on. The aim of the cultural literacy espoused by

E.D.Hirsch, for example, and assorted schemes of "general education" is to reproduce the liberal

self, now assuredly more sophisticated and cosmopolitan, founded on centuries-old strategies of

domestication and devaluation of Others.

I express here a view that may outrage defenders of tradition and the accepted disciplinary

boundaries--perhaps evidence that despite changes and modifications on the surface, the deep

structures of habitual thought and feeling remain entrenched. But what are teachers for, asked

James Baldwin, if not to disturb the peace? While critical of the metanarrative of modernizing

progress (courtesy of the IMF/World Bank), I should also say here that I do not count myself as

one of those postmodernist skeptics who believe that everything is a manifestation of pure

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power, discourse or textuality, arbitrary social constructions whose truth-claims cannot be

adjudicated. After all, reality is what hurts….

Multiculturalism is celebrated today as the accompaniment to the fall of the Evil Empire and

the triumph of liberal capitalist democracy. Ishmael Reed, among others, has trumpeted the

virtues of "America: The Multinational Society." His term “multinational” continues the thought

of Dubois, the proponents of La Raza Unida, and the theories of internal colonialism. Ironically,

however, Reed declares somewhat naively that "the United States is unique in the world: The

world is here" in New York City, Los Angeles, and so on. Reed, I suspect, doesn't mean that the

problems of the underdeveloped peoples have come in to plague American cities. With this

figure of subsumption or synecdochic linkage, America reasserts a privileged role in the world--

all the margins, the absent Others, are redeemed in an inclusive, homogenized space where

cultural differences dissolve or are sorted out into their proper niches in the ranking of national

values and priorities.

We thus have plural cultures or ethnicities coexisting peacefully, without conflict or

contestation, in a free play of monads in "the best of all possible worlds." No longer a melting

pot but a salad bowl, a smorsgasbord of cultures, the mass consumption of variegated and

heterogeneous lifestyles. There is of course a core or consensual culture to which we add any

number of diverse particulars, thus proving that our principles of liberty and tolerance can

accommodate those formerly excluded or ignored. In short, your particular is not as valuable or

significant as mine. On closer scrutiny, this liberal mechanism of inclusion—what Herbert

Marcuse once called “repressive desublimation”--is a mode of appropriation: it fetishizes and

commodifies others. The universal swallows the particulars. And the immigrant, or border-



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crosser like Guillermo Gomez Pena or Coco Fusco, our most provocative performance-artists, is

always reminded that to gain full citizenship, unambiguous rules must be obeyed: proficiency in

English is mandatory, assimilation of certain procedures and rituals are assumed, and so on and

so forth.

Cultural pluralism first broached in the twenties by Horace Kallen has been refurbished for

the needs of the "New World Order." What the multiculturalist orthodoxy (of left or right

varieties) of today elides, however, is the history of the struggles of people of color--both those

within the metropolis and the peripheries. While the political armies of racial supremacy were

defeated in World War II, the practices of the liberal nation-state continue to reproduce the

domination and subordination of racialized populations in overt and subtle ways. The citizen-

subject, citizenship as such, held to be the universalizing virtue of the liberal nation-state,

remains defined by the categories that govern the public sphere and the marketplace, categories

of race, geopolitical location, gender, nationality, sexuality, and so on.

Meanwhile, the highly touted concept of civic nationalism, a framework for harmonizing

ethnic differences, is bound to reproduce the racialization of identity and the processes of

stigmatization and marginalization witnessed in the history of the sociopolitical formation.

Others who are different, inferior or subordinate to us, are constructed to define the rights-

bearing subject of the liberal nation-state; these Others are excluded or exteriorized--

undocumented aliens, etc.--to establish the boundaries of the nation-state. In the process, a fictive

ethnicity of the nation as its primordial guarantee emerges to validate its legitimacy and




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Opposed to those who insist on conformity to a uniform monolithic culture, I am for the

recognition of the integrity and importance of peoples' cultures and ways of life, and for their

right to exist and flourish. But how can this recognition of multiplicity be universalized?

I believe it cannot happen within the existing global logic of corporate accumulation. I believe

that multiculturalism, as along as it is conceived within the existing framework of the hegemonic

nation-state or bloc of states founded on inequality and hierarchy, cannot offer the means to

realize justice, fairness, and recognition of people's singular identities and worth around the

world. The multiculturalist respect for the Other's specificity, according to Slavoj Zizek, is the

very form of asserting one's own superiority. This paradox underlies multiculturalism as, in fact,

the authentic "cultural logic of multinational" or globalized capitalism. So I am afraid the race

question will be with us in the next millenium as long as the conditions that produce and

reproduce it are the sine qua non of the prevailing social structures and institutional practices of

our everyday lives.

I originally wanted to end these brief remarks not with that drab and droll statement but with

Chief Joseph's eloquent response to the genocidal and ethnocidal practices of the U.S.

government in the wake of the Nez Perce War of 1879, his plea that all peoples should be treated

equally, or the well-known testimonio of Chief Seattle on the need to value our natural

surroundings and reaffirm our connection with the earth. However, it seems appropriate in this

gathering to recall what the novelist John Berger once said: in our century of homelessness,

migration, exile, and diaspora, when all of us have been uprooted from our home, whether it’s

the village or some other country and continent, an ancestral habitat long gone, or home now



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distant in time, the only defense against solitude and individual helplessness is the solidarity of

all, the solidarity of which this event today is an inspiring example.

(Remarks on the 9 th Annual Multicultural Students Convocation, WSU, Oct. 13, 1998)



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They kept saying I was a hero…a symbol of the Philippines. To this day I keep wondering what it is I have become….

—Angelo de la Cruz, kidnapped Filipino worker in Iraq

The Philippine nation-state often gets world attention only when calamities—such as the

recent typhoon Ondoy’s unprecedented flooding of metropolitan Manila, with thousands of

homes destroyed and several hundreds killed, due to government neglect; or the nearly 100,000

refugees created by the Arroyo regime’s indiscriminate bombing campaign against the separatist

Moro Islamic Liberation Front—hit the headlines. The Maguindanao massacre of 57 unarmed

civilians by a local warlord is the latest calamity .

Filipina domestics abused as sex slaves in Saudi Arabia,

Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) detained in Middle-Eastern jails, hardly merit notice.

Meanwhile, the recently elected president Benigno Aquino III confronts the long neglected plight

of about 100 cases of Filipino migrant workers on death row in the Middle East, 50% of the

cases involving OFWs arrested in China (Migrante-Middle East 2010). Despite propaganda

about concern for OFWs, the previous Arroyo regime miserably failed to translate the $17.3

billion 2009 remittance –one-tenth of the country’s gross domestic product—into self-sustaining

well-paid jobs due to flagrant corruption and sheer neglect (Jimenez 2010). OFW remittance last

1 Meanwhile, news about the plight of twenty

2 or the brutalization of several hundred


1 Carlos Conde, “Toll Rising in Philippine Massacre,” The New York Times (26 Nov. 2009), available: <> (accessed 1 December 2009).

2 Janess Ann Ellao, “From Dubai



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year represented 15 times more than new foreign direct investments, a symptom of the addictive dependency of the Philippine economy on the global capitalist system’s iniquitous division of social labor and the distribution of its value/products. A review of the political economy of the Philippines might shed light on this facet of the global predicament of 200 million people (according to UN estimates) migrating for work outside their impoverished native lands, “spurring heated debates over national identity and border security, and generating suspicion, fear and hatred of the ‘other’ “ (Bencivenni 2008, 1). This phenomenon concretely demonstrates what Samir Amin calls “polarization on a world- scale, … the most violent permanent manifestation of the capital-labour contradiction in the history of the expansion of capitalism” (2003, 25) Three thousand four hundred Filipinos leave daily for work abroad, over a million a year, to join the nearly ten million Filipinos (out of 90 million) already out of the Philippines, scattered in more than 197 countries. It is the largest postmodern diaspora of migrant labor next to Mexico, the highest exporter of labor in Southeast Asia relative to population size. 75% of migrants are women, mainly domestics and semi-skilled contract workers, seeking decent livelihoods, for their family’s survival (Pagaduan 2006). Two thirds of the population live on less than $2 a day (The Economist 2009, 107). Over four million more leave, without proper/legal travel and work permits, for unknown destinations. About 3-5 coffins arrive at the Manila International Airport every day--not as famous as Flor Contemplacion, Maricris Sioson, and other victims of neoliberal policies. According to Connie Bragas-Regalado, chair of Migrante International, at least fifteen “mysterious deaths” of these government “milking cows” (her term for OFWs) remain unsolved since 2002, with more harrowing anecdotes brewing in the wake of the U.S.-led war of “shock and awe” against anyone challenging its global supremacy. This relentless marketing of Filipino labor is an unprecedented phenomenon, rivaled only by the trade of African slaves and Asian indentured servants in the previous centuries. How did Filipinas/os come to find themselves suddenly burdened with this collective misfortune, forced into the traffic of selling their bodies, nay, their selfhoods? Public records show that OFWs contribute more than enough to relieve the government of the onerous foreign debt payments to the World Bank/International Monetary Fund (WB/IMF)



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and financial consortiums. In 1998 alone, according to the Commission on Filipinos Overseas, 755,000 Filipinos found work abroad, sending home a total of P7.5 billion; in the last three years, their annual remittance averaged $5 billion (Tujan 2007). Throughout the 1990s, they remitted over 5 percent of the national GNP, not counting the billions of pesos collected by the Philippine government in exorbitant taxes and processing fees. In 2004, OFWs sent $8.5 billion, a sum equal to half of the country’s national budget. In 2006, the OFW remittance was five times more than foreign direct investment, 22 times higher than the total Overseas Development Aid, and over more than half of the gross international reserves (De Lara 2008). In 2007, they sent $14.45 billion and $15.65 in 2008. For this they have been celebrated as “modern day heroes” by every president since the export of “warm bodies” was institutionalized as an official government policy.

OFW earnings suffice to keep the Philippine economy afloat and support the luxury and privileges of less than 1 percent of the people, the Filipino oligarchy. They heighten household consumerism, disintegrate families, and subsidize the wasteful spending of the corrupt patrimonial elite. They are not invested in industrial or agricultural development (IBON 2008). Clearly the Philippine bureaucracy has earned the distinction of being the most migrant- and remittance-dependent ruling apparatus in the world, by virtue of denying its citizens the right to decent employment at home. OFW remittances thus help reproduce a system of class inequality, sexism, racism, and national chauvinism across the international hierarchy of core and peripheral nation-states.

Historical Orientation

After three hundred years of Spanish colonialism, the Filipino people mounted a revolution for national independence in 1898 and established the first constitutional Republic in Asia. But the United States destroyed this autonomous republic in the Filipino-American War of 1899-1913, with 1.4 million Filipinos killed and the islands annexed as a US territorial possession up to 1946, when nominal independence was granted (Miller 1982). The US conquest perpetuated the feudal landlord system by co-opting the propertied elite that, together with comprador/middlemen traders and new cadres of well-tutored intelligentsia, served as the



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colonial, and later neocolonial, administrators (Constantino 1978). The Philippines offered abundant natural and human resources, together with what US policy-makers originally desired:

strategic military bases for trade with China and a geopolitical outpost in the Asian-Pacific region. By 1946, thoroughly devastated by World War II, the Philippines emerged as a reliable U.S. dependency, with its political, economic and military institutions controlled directly or indirectly by Washington. Up to today, the Philippine army operates as an appendage of the Pentagon, its logistics and war-games supervised by Washington via numerous treaties and executive agreements, as witnessed by ongoing joint U.S.-Philippines “Balikatan” war exercises, legitimized by the anomalouos Visiting Forces Agreement (Diokno 1980; IBON 2005; CENPEG 2009). Despite official denials, the US exercises hegemonic sway over a neocolonial formation so thoroughly Americanized that many Filipinos today believe that moving to the U.S. metropole is the true fulfillment of their hopes and dreams. The U.S. nation-state after September 11, 2001 remains alive and well. US imperialism today might not have formal colonies in the old European sense of territorial possessions (Pease 2000), but (as Eric Hobsbawm [1994] recently pointed out), nation-based finance-capital practiced “the collective egoism of wealth” that coalesced vestiges of “national self- determination” with the new politics of ethnic identity that characterized the transition from the “Age of Catastrophe” (from World War I to World War II) to the “crisis decades” of the Cold War and beyond. Even the cosmopolitan electicism of Saskia Sassen (2008) which extolled cyberspace as “a more concrete space for social struggles than that of the national formal political system” (2008, 90), could not explain the sudden disappearance of the once legendary Sub-Comandante Marcos’ Zapatistas from the transnational arena, nor the place-based national- liberation movements (the Maoists in Nepal, Hugo Chavez and the Bolivarian revolution; Evo Morales and indigenism in Latin America; the New People’s Army and the Moro struggles in the Philippines, etc.). So much for the anathematization of national-liberation struggles in a time when NATO and US military continue to inflict genocidal havoc in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Palestine, and other countries in the Middle East, Africa, Latin America and Asia. With the Cold War unfolding in IndoChina, and the worsening of economic stagnation and lower rate of accumulation in the core capitalist countries by the seventies, the Marcos



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dictatorship worsened the country’s underdevelopment. Structural problems, such as unemployment, inflation, chronic balance of payments deficits, onerous foreign debt, and widenening social inequality are symptoms of the persisting US stranglehold. For over half a century, the US established the legal and political framework that transformed the country into a raw-material exporting economy and a market for consumer goods, with a semi-feudal land system and a bureaucrat-comprador-landlord governing bloc subservient to U.S. dictates (Villegas 1983; Bauzon 1991; Pomeroy 1992). The import-substitution scheme briefly tried in the fifties and sixties quickly gave way to an export-oriented development plan at the behest of the WB/IMF. In the latter 70s, IMF-imposed structural adjustment programs to promote “free- market capitalism” (such as tourism, export-oriented light industries in Export Processing Zones, currency devaluation, etc.) imposed by the latter agencies and the state’s local technocrats plunged the country into a profound crisis (Schirmer and Shalom 1987, esp. Chs. 7-8; Klein 1999). Because of the severe deterioration in the lives of the majority and serious foreign-debt problems, Marcos initiated the “warm body export”—the Labor Export Policy (LEP)—with Presidential Decree 442 in 1974, followed by the establishment of the Philippines Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) in 1983 and the mandatory sending of remittances through the Philippine banking system—a stop-gap remedy for a world-systemic crisis of profit/capital accumulation. For the last four decades, the Philippines has been plagued by accelerated impoverishment as a result of the decline in wages, severe chronic unemployment, rising cost of living, inflation, and huge cutbacks in social services. Neoliberal policies known (“the “Washington Consensus”) maintained the cycle of crisis and systemic underdevelopment, rooted in the iniquitous class structure and the historical legacy of political, economic and military dependence on the U.S. These provide the framework for the increased foreign penetration and control over the national economy, the unremitting dependence on raw material exports and (since 1970s) of human resources (Fast 1973; IPE 2006), coupled with the deteriorating manufacturing and agricultural sectors caused by ruinous trade and investment policies. “Free market” development schemes packaged with “trickle-down” reformist gimmicks implemented by successive regimes after Marcos have precipitated mass hunger (Lichauco 2005). As Pauline



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Eadie (2005) has cogently demonstrated, the role of the Philippine state in perpetuating poverty and aggravating the exploitation of Filipino citizens cannot be discounted, no matter how weak or “failed” in its function as a mediator/receiver of supposedly neutral global market compulsion. By 2007, there were 9.2 million Filipino workers scattered in 197 countries, over 9% of of the total labor force. Permanent OFWs are concentrated in North America and Australia, while those with work contracts or undocumented are dispersed in West Asia (Middle East), Europe, East and South Asia, and as sea-based workers (roughly 250,000). The situation of Filipino migrant workers in the United States has been adequately explored in various studies (San Juan 1998, 2009; Espiritu 2003). Grace Chang (2000) has investigated the plight of Filipina caregivers, nurses, and nannies in North America. A recent write-up on the horrendous condition of smuggled Filipino caregivers in Los Angeles, California, may illustrate one form of modern slavery (Alimurung 2009). Why do Filipinas easily succumb to labor traffickers? About 700,000 men, women and children are being trafficked to the U.S., but OFWs are quite unique in that the Filipino’s deeply colonized mentality/psyche privileges America as “the dream destination,” an intoxicating way out of poverty. Most OFWs today (46.8%) are service workers: household or domestic helpers, maids or cleaners in commercial establishments, cooks, waiters, bartenders, caregivers and caretakers (IBON 2008). Although most are professionals with college degrees, teachers, midwives, social workers, etc., they are generally underpaid by the standards of their host countries—a sociopolitical, not purely economic, outcome of core-periphery inequity. OFWs work in the most adverse conditions, with none or limited labor protections and social services otherwise accorded to nationals. Whether legal or undocumented, OFWs experience racism, discrimination, xenophobic exclusion, criminalization; many are brutalized in isolated households and in the “entertainment” industry (Komite 1980). They are deprived of food and humane lodging, harassed, beaten, raped, and killed (Bultron 2007; Taguba 2002). Meanwhile, the families left behind suffer from stresses and tensions in households lacking parental guidance; often, marriages break up, leaving derelict children vulnerable to the exigencies of a competitive, individualist-oriented environment (Arellano-Carandang et al 2007). These are all symptoms of



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the logic of class and national inequality operating in a hierarchical world-system, not objective, neutral effects of a temporary dis-equilibrium of the free market due to illegitimate political and social interference. Victimization of Filipinos (via insults, beating, starvation, rape, quarantine, murder) by employers from Europe to the Middle East to Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan have been documented in detail since the seventies when the export of “warm bodies” started. The fates of Flor Contemplacion, Sarah Balabagan, Maricris Sioson, and others—several hundred OFWs languish today in jails in the Middle East, Taiwan, Malaysia, etc.--have become public scandals and occasions for venting mass indignation. But the Philippine government officials either refuse to do anything substantial, or deliberately ignore the reports, dismissing them as untypical or trivial. Consequently, on April 8, 2009, the UN Committee for the Ratification of the Migrants Convention deleted the Philippines from the list of model states complying with the UN Convention mandating countries to protect the rights of their migrant citizens.

Agony of Deracination

Amid the tide of barbarization attendant on the putative benefits of flexible, neoliberal capitalism, we have witnessed a paradigm-shift among scholars of the emergent Filipino diaspora. Critical intelligence has been hijacked to serve vulgar apologetics: for example, the employment of Filipina women as domestics or nannies to care for children, old people, the

chronically infirm or disabled, and so on, has been lauded as altruistic care, embellished with a philanthropic facade. With most female domestics coming from impoverished, formerly colonized societies, it is clear that the traditional structure of global inequality among nation- states operates as a crucial determining factor. One can no longer deny that the buying and selling of “third world” bodies is a legacy of the unjust and unequal division of international

labor in both productive and reproductive spheres (Petras 2007)

chain” (household work managed as a profit-making industry) has been described by, among others, Barbara Ehrenreich and Arlie Hochshild (2006). But their picture is vitiated by a telling

This “global care



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omission: the status/rank of the Philippines as a neocolonial dependency, without the capability to enforce its sovereignty right and safeguard the welfare of OFWs. The stark disparity is sharply delineated by Bridget Anderson in her penetrating critique, Doing the Dirty Work? Opposing scholars who streamline if not euphemistically glamorize the job of caring, Anderson exposes how domestics from the Philippines, Sri Lanka, and other subaltern nations function as “legal slaves.” Anderson shows how this came about through the economic conquest of third-world societies by the profit-driven industrialized North. This has given the middle class of the First World “materialistic forms of power over them” (2000, 149). She deploys Orlando Patterson’s conceptual distinction between the pre-modern personalistic idiom of power and the materialistic idiom of power under capitalism. She defines the employer/ domestic relation as a master/slave relation. The employer exercises both forms of power: “the materialistic because of the massive discrepancy in access to all kinds of material resources between the receiving state and the countries of origin of migrants; the personalistic because the worker is located in the employer’s home—and often dependent on her not just for her salary but for her food, water, accommodation and access to the basic amenities of life. The employer uses both these idioms of power, and both idioms are given to employers and reinforced by the state” (2000, 6). Viewed systemically, the global capitalist structure enables the exploitation of poor countries by the rich ones, and the exploitation of the citizens of poor countries by citizens of the global North (either male or female) through immigration legislation, even criminalizing migrants who assert their human rights. Earlier, institutionally imposed norms of race, nationality, and gender served to naturalize the migrant worker’s subjugation. But in the new field of globalized capital, the lack of citizenship rights and the status of subordinated or inferiorized nationality/ethnicity both contribute to worsening the degradation of third-world workers.

But there is something more pernicious that eludes the orthodox scholastic. What Anderson argues is that domestic work commodifies not only labor power---in classic political economy, labor power serves as the commodity that produces surplus-value (profit) not returned to or shared with the workers--but, more significantly, the personhood of the domestic. Indentured or commodified personhood is the key to understanding what globalization is really



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all about. Consequently, what needs to be factored in is not only an analysis of the labor-capital relation, but also the savage asymmetry of nation-states, of polities that hire these poor women and the polities that collude in this postmodern slave-trade. Economics signifies nothing without the global sociopolitical fabric in which it is historically woven (Munck 2002). Brutalized migrant labor throughout the world thrives on the sharpening inequality of nation-states, particularly the intense impoverishment of “third world” societies in Africa, Latin America, and Asia ravaged by the “shock doctrine” of “disaster capitalism” (Klein 2007). Race, national and class forces operate together in determining the exchange-value (the price) of migrant labor. The reproduction of a homogeneous race (in Europe, North America, Japan) integral to the perpetuation of the unjust social order is connected with the historical development of nation-states, whether as imagined or as geopolitically defined loci. Historically, membership in the community was determined by race in its various modalities, a circumscription that is constantly being negotiated. It is in this racialized setting that European women’s positioning as citizen acquires crucial significance. This is the site where third-world domestics play a major role, as Anderson acutely underscores: “The fact that they are migrants is important: in order to participate like men women must have workers who will provide the same flexibility as wives, in particular working long hours and combining caring and domestic chores” (2000, 190). This is the nexus where we discern that care as labor is the domestic’s assignment, whereas the experience of care as emotion is the employer’s privilege. The distinction is fundamental and necessary in elucidating the axis of social reproduction rooted in socially productive practices. Such a vital distinction speaks volumes about migrant domestic labor/care as the key sociopolitical factor that sustains the existing oppressive international division of labor. This crucial distinction undermines all claims that globalized capitalism has brought, and is bringing, freedom, prosperity, and egalitarian democracy to everyone. The political economy of globalized migrant labor involves the dialectics of production and reproduction. Following an empiricist line of inquiry, Rhacel Salazar Parrenas examines the racial and class dimensions of OFWs in what she quaintly terms “the international transfer of caretaking” in Rome and Los Angeles (2005, 113). While she calls attention to the gendered system of transnational capitalism, she downplays the racialist component and scarcely deals



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with subordination by nationality. This is because Parrenas construes “class” in a deterministic, economistic fashion. Her focus on the “patriarchal nuclear household” displaces any criticism of colonial/imperial extraction of surplus value from enslaved/neocolonized reproductive labor. Indeed, the fact of the caretakers’ national origin is erased, thus evading the issue of national oppression (for an eclectic view ignoring U.S. imperial reach, see Santos 2009). The slavish condition of indentured reproductive labor scrutinized by Anderson is not given proper weight. We need to examine how the dynamics of capital accumulation hinges on, and subtends, the sustained reproduction of iniquitous social relations and exploitative inter-state relations. Unlike academic experts, Anderson foregrounds social reproduction at the center of her inquiry, allowing her to demonstrate how gender, race, and nation are tightly interwoven into the mistress/domestic class relationship. In effect, the Filipina domestic is what enables European/ North American bourgeois society and, by extension, the relatively prosperous societies of the Middle East and Asia, to reproduce themselves within their nation-state domains and thus sustain capital accumulation with its horrendous consequences.

In Quest of Filipino Agency

Postmodernist scholars posit the demise of the nation as an unquestioned assumption, almost a doctrinal point of departure for speculations on the nature of the globalization process (Sassen 1996). Are concepts such as the nation-state and its exclusive territoriality, sovereignty, nationality, and their referents obsolete? Whatever the rumors about the demise of the nation- state in the wake of September 11, 2001, agencies that assume its healthy existence are busy: not only the members of the United Nations, but also the metropolitan powers of the global North, with the United States as its military spearhead, have all reaffirmed their civilizing nationalism— disguised as humanitarian intervention--with a vengeance. In this epoch of preemptive counter-terrorism, the local and the global find a meeting ground in the transactions among nation-states and diverse nationalities while the sharing of hegemony is negotiated among the metropolitan powers. Their instrumentalities—the World Trade Organization, NATO, IMF/WB, and assorted financial consortia—are all exerting



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pressures on poor underdeveloped nations. They actualize the “collective imperialism” of the global North (Amin 2003; Martin and Schumann 1996; Engel 2003). Citizenship cards, passports, customs gatekeepers, and border patrols are still powerful regulatory agencies. Given the power of the nation-states of the U.S., Japan, UK, France, Germany, among others, to dictate the terms of migrant hiring, and the administered circulation of wages, passports, rent, and other instrumentalities, the Philippines cannot rescue millions of its own citizens from being maltreated, persecuted, harassed, beaten up, raped, jailed, and murdered (Africa 2009). Violence enacted by the rich nation-states and their citizens hiring OFWs prevail as the chief control mechanism in regulating the labor-market, the flows of bodies, money, goods, and so on. My interest here is historically focused: to inquire into how the specific geopolitical contingencies of the Filipino diaspora-in-the-making can problematize this axiomatic of multiple identity-creation in the context of “third world” principles of national emancipation, given the persistent neocolonial, not postcolonial, predicament of the Philippines today (San Juan 1996; 2006). Suffice it here to spell out the parameters of this transmigrancy, an evolving transit narrative of neocolonials: the profound impoverishment of millions of Filipino peasants and workers, the extremely class-fissured social order managed by local compradors, landlords, and bureaucrat-capitalists who foster systematic emigration to relieve unemployment and defuse mass unrest, combined with the hyped-up attractions of Hong Kong and other newly industrializing countries, and so on. The convergence of complex global factors, both internal and external, residual and emergent, has been carefully examined by numerous studies sponsored by IBON, GABRIELA, Center for People’s Empowerment and Governance (CENPEG), and others. We may cite, in particular, the studies on the devalorization of women’s labor in global cities, the shrinking status of sovereignty for peripheral nation-states, and the new saliency of human rights in a feminist analytic of the “New World Order” (Pineda-Ofreneo and Ofreneo 1995; Yukawa 1996; Chang 2000). In addition to the unrelenting pillage of the public treasury by the irredeemably corrupt oligarchy with its retinue of hirelings and clientele, the plunder of the economy by transnational capital has been worsened by the “structural conditionalities” imposed by the WB/IMF (Villegas 1983; De Dios and Rocamora 1992; Quintos




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Disaggregation of the economy has registered in the disintegration of ordinary Filipino lives (preponderant in rural areas and urban slums) due to forced migration because of lack of employment, recruiting appeals of governments and business agencies, and the dissolution of the homeland as psychic and physical anchorage in the vortex of the rapid depredation of finance capital. In general, imperialism and the anarchy of the “free market” engender incongruities, nonsynchronies, and shifting subject-positions of the non-Western “Other” inscribed in the liminal space of subjugated territory. Capital accumulation is the matrix of unequal power (Hymer 1975, Harvey 1996; Yates 2003) between metropolis and colonies. The time of alienated daily labor has so far annihilated the spaces of the body, home, community, and nation for OFWs. The expenditure of a whole nation-people’s labor-power now confounds the narrative of individual progress in which the logic of capital and its metaphysics of rationality have been entrenched since the days of John Locke and Adam Smith.

Gatherings and Dispersals

In the 1980s and 1990s, diaspora studies emerged as a revision of the traditional sociological approach to international migration and the national process of modernization (Cohen 2008). Because of globalizing changes in the modes of transport and communications (electronic mail, satellite TV, Internet), diaspora communities appear to be able to sustain their own distinctive identities, life-styles, and economic ties to their homelands. Accordingly, the static territorial nationalisms of the past are deemed to have given way to a series of shifting or contested boundaries, engendering notions of transnational networks, “imagined communities,” “global ethnospaces,” “preimmigration crucibles,” etc. (Marshall 1998, 159). These notions emphasize the complexity, fluidity, and diversity of migrant identities and experiences, foregrounding personal narratives and the popular culture of diasporic communities rather than structural, unidirectional economic and political influences. The term “diaspora” usually designates “a minority ethnic group of migrant origin which maintains sentimental or material links with its land of origin” (Esman1996, 316). Either because of social exclusion, internal cohesion, and other geopolitical factors, these communities are never



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assimilated into the host society; but they develop in time an idiosyncratic consciousness that carries out a collective sharing of space with others, purged of any exclusivist ethos or proprietary design. These communities might embody a peculiar sensibility and enact a compassionate agenda for the whole species that thrives on cultural difference (Keith and Pile 1993; Clifford 1997). Unlike peoples who have been conquered, annexed, enslaved, or coerced in some other way, diasporas are voluntary movements of people from place to place, although such migrations also betray symptoms of compulsion if analyzed within a global political economy of labor and interstate political rivalries. Immanuel Wallerstein (1995) suggests that labor migrants (like OFWs) can challenge transnational corporations by overloading the system with “free movement,” at the same time that they try to retain for themselves more of the surplus value they produce. But are such movements really free? And if they function as a reserve army of cheap labor wholly dependent on the unpredictable fortunes of business, isn’t the expectation of their rebelliousness exorbitant? Like ethnicity, diaspora fashioned by determinate historical causes has tended to take on “the ‘natural’ appearance of an autonomous force, a ‘principle’ capable of determining the course of social action” (Comaroff 1992). Like racism and nationalism, diaspora presents multiform physiognomies open to various interpretations and articulations. One sociologist argues that OFWs are revolutionizing Filipino society, pushing the political system “toward greater democracy, greater transparency and governance” (David 2006), a foolish judgment given the corruption and inequities attendant on this labor-export program acknowledged by everyone. Lacking any dialectical critique of the dynamics of colonialism and imperialism that connect the Philippines and its people with the United States and the rest of the world, mainstream academic inquiries into the phenomenon of recent Filipino immigration and dislocation are all scholastic games, at best disingenuous exercises in Eurocentric/white- supremacist apologetics. This is because they rely on concepts and methodologies that conceal unequal power relations—that is, relations of subordination and domination, racial exclusion, marginalization, sexism, gender inferiorization, as well as national subalternity, and other forms of discrimination. What I want to stress is the centrality of waged/commodified labor assessed and valued within the global political economy of commodity exchange (Garnham 1999). In the



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field of current globalization studies, the Global North-Global South duality has not extinguished the crucial theoretical role the concept of the nation/nationality plays, in particular the asymmetries of nation-states and the varying role the state plays in regulating the economy and planning/implementing social policies within specific territories (Nixon 1997; Sader 2010). Has the world really become a home for OFWs, for indigenes who inhabit a group of 7,100 islands, “one of the world’s most strategically important land masses” (Demko 1992)? Globalization has indeed facilitated the mobility of goods, services, information, ideas, and of course peoples. It has proceeded to the extent that in our reconfigured landscapes, now grasped as liminal or interstitial, old boundaries have shifted and borders disappeared. Everyone has allegedly become transculturized due to Americanization or Disneyfication in actuality or in cyberspace. Representations of transnationals or transmigrants materialize as mutations of expatriates, refugees, exiles, or nomadic travelers (such as Filipino “TNTs,” fugitive undocumented Filipinos). Given these transformations, the reality and idea of the nation and of national sovereignty have become contentious topics of debate and speculation (Ebert and Zavarzadeh 2008). They constitute a theoretical force-field comprised of notions of identity and their attendant politics of difference, normative rules of citizenship, nationality, cosmopolitanism, belonging, human rights, and so on. It is in this context of globalization, where ethnic conflicts and the universal commodification of human bodies co-exist in a compressed time-space of postmodernity, that we can examine the genealogy and physiognomy of this process called the Filipino diaspora, the lived collective experience of OFWs.

Encountering OFW Singularities

At the beginning of this millennium, OFWs have become the newest diasporic community in the whole world. They endure poorly paid employment under substandard conditions, with few or null rights, in the Middle East, Asia, Europe, North America, and elsewhere. It might be noted here that historically, diasporic groups are defined not only by a homeland but also by a desire for eventual return and a collective identity centered on myths and memories of the homeland. The Filipino diaspora, however, is different. Since the homeland has



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long been conquered and occupied by Western powers (Spain, United States) and remains colonized despite formal or nominal independence, the Filipino identification is not with a fully defined nation but with regions, localities, and communities of languages and traditions. Perceived as untutored, recalcitrant strangers, they are lumped with familiar aliens: Chinese, Mexicans, Japanese, Pacific Islanders, and so on. Newspaper reports have cited the Philippines as the next target of the US government’s global “crusade” against terrorism—tutelage by coercion. Where is the sovereign nation alluded to in passports, contracts, and other identification papers? How do we conceive of this “Filipino” nation or nationality, given the insidious impact of US disciplinary forces and now, on top of the persistent neocolonizing pressure, the usurping force of quantifying capital and its reductive cash-nexus ? According to orthodox immigration theory, “push” and “pull” factors combine to explain the phenomenon of overseas contract workers. Do we resign ourselves to this easy schematic formulation? Poverty and injustice, to be sure, have driven most Filipinos to seek work abroad, sublimating the desire to return by regular remittances to their families. Occasional visits and other means of communication defer the eventual homecoming. Alienation and isolation, brutal and racist treatment, and other dehumanized and degrading conditions prevent their permanent settlement in the “receiving” countries, except where they have been given legal access to obtaining citizenship status. If the return is postponed, are modes of adaptation and temporary domicile in non-native grounds the viable alternatives for these expatriates, quasi-refugees and reluctant exiled sojourners? The reality of “foreignness,” of “otherness,” seems ineluctable. Alienation, insulting treatment, and racist violence prevent their permanent resettlement in the “receiving societies,” due to implicit genetic or procedural norms of acquiring citizenship. Or to a traditional ethos of purist self-privileging. OFWs are thus suspended in transit, in the process of traversing the distance between coordinates of their journeys. Because the putative “Filipino” nation is in the process of formation in the neocolony and abroad, OFWs have been considered transnationals or transmigrants—a paradoxical turn since the existence of the nation is problematic or under interrogation, whereby the “trans” prefix becomes chimerical. This diaspora then faces the perennial hurdles of racism, ethnic exclusion, inferiorization via racial profiling, and physical



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attacks. Can Filipino migrant labor mount a collective resistance against globalized exploitation and racialized ostracism? In what way can this hypothetical diaspora serve as a paradigm for analyzing and critically unsettling the corporate-led international division of labor and the consolidation of reified ethnic categories as the decline of hegemonic bourgeois rule unfolds? At this juncture, I offer the following propositions for further reflection and elaboration. My paramount thesis on the phenomenon of the Filipino dismemberment is this: Given that the Philippine habitat/dwelling-place has never cohered as a genuinely independent nation—national autonomy continues to escape the Filipino people subjected to a repressive tutelage—Filipinos are dispersed from family or kinship webs in villages, towns, or provincial regions first, and loosely from an inchoate, even “refeudalized,” polity. This dispersal is primarily due to economic coercion and disenfranchisement under the retrogressive regime of comprador-bureaucratic (not welfare-state) capitalism articulated with tributary institutions and practices. The network of patriarchal clans/dynasties in a partly nationalized space unravels when women from all sectors (peasantry, ethnic or indigenous groups, proletariat) alienate their “free labor” in the world market. They are inserted into a quasi-feudal terrain within global capitalism. While the prime commodity remains labor-power (singularly measured here in both time and space especially for lived-in help), OFWs find themselves frozen in a precarious, vulnerable status between serfhood and colonizing pettybourgeois households, or incarcerated as slaves in Japan, Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere. These indentured cohorts are thus witnesses to the unimpeded dismemberment of the inchoate Filipino nation and the scattering of its traumatized fragments to various state-governed policed territories around the planet. From a postmodern perspective, migration is sometimes seen as an event-sequence offering the space of freedom to seek one’s fortune, experience the pleasure of adventure in libidinal games of resistance, sojourns sweetened by illusions of transcendence. For OFWs, this ludic notion is inappropriate. For the origin to which the OFW returns is not properly a nation- state but a barangay (neighborhood), a quasi-primordial community, kinship network, or even a ritual family/clan. Meanwhile, civic solidarities are gradually displacing the old ones. In this context, the Philippine state-machinery (both sending and receiving states benefit from the brokerage transaction) actually operates as a corrupt exploiter, not representative of the masses, a



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comprador agent of transnational corporations and Western imperial powers, enabling the infliction not simply of feminicide but genocide. The Philippine ideological state-apparatus in effect functions as an accomplice of the U.S. prison-industrial complex with its multinational accessories and connections. What are the myths enabling a cathexis of the homeland as collective memory and project? They derive from assorted childhood reminiscences and folklore together with customary practices surrounding municipal and religious celebrations; at best, there may be signs of a residual affective tie to national heroes like Jose Rizal, Andres Bonifacio, and latter-day celebrities like singers, movie stars, athletes (the boxing champion Pacquiao), charismatic TV personalities, and so on. Indigenous food, dances, and music can be acquired as commodities (epitomized by the ubiquitous “balikbayan” [returnee] boxes) whose presence temporarily heals the trauma of removal; family reunification can resolve the psychic damage of loss of status for those enduring lives of “quiet desperation.” In short, rootedness in autochthonous habitat does not exert a commanding sway; it is experienced only as a nostalgic mood. Meanwhile, language, religion, kinship, the sacramental resonance of neighborhood rituals, and common experiences in school or workplace function invariably as the organic bonds of community. Such psychodynamic cluster of affects demarcates the boundaries of the imagination but also release energies that mutate into actions serving ultimately national-popular emancipatory projects. Alienation in the host country is what unites OFWs, a shared history of colonial and racial subordination, marginalization, and struggles for cultural survival through heterogeneous forms of covert resistance and open rebellion. This is what may replace the nonexistent nation/ homeland, absent the political self-determination of the Filipino masses. In the 1930s, the expatriate activist-writer Carlos Bulosan (1995) once observed that “it is a crime to be a Filipino in America.” Years of union struggle, united-front agitation, educational campaigns, and political organ izing in interethnic and interracial coalitions have blurred if not complicated that stigma. Accomplishments in the civil rights struggles of the 1960s have provided nourishment for communal pride. And, on the other side, impulses of “assimilationism” via the “model minority” umbrella have aroused a passion for eclectic multiculturalism divorced from any urge to



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disinvest in the “possessive investment in whiteness” (Lipsitz 1998). However, compared to the Japanese or Asian Indians , Filipino Americans as a whole have not “made it”; the exceptions prove the rule. Andrew Cunanan (the serial killer who slew the famous Versace) is the specter that continues to haunt “melting pot” Filipino Americanists who continue to blabber about the “forgotten Filipino” in the hope of being awarded a share of the now disappeared welfare-state pie. Dispossession of sovereignty leads to moral and ethical shipwreck, with the natives drifting rudderless, some fortuitously marooned in islands across the three continents. Via strategies of communal preservation and versatile tactics of defining the locality of the community through negotiations and shifting compromises, diasporic subjects might defer their return—unless and until there is a Filipino nation that they can identify with. This will continue in places where there is no hope of permanent resettlement as citizens or bona fide residents (as in Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, and elsewhere) and a permanent danger of arrest, detention, and deportation--the disavowed terror of globalization. In general, OFWs will not return permanently (except perhaps for burial) to the site of misery and oppression—to poverty, exploitation, humiliated status, despair, hunger, and lack of a future with dignity. Of course, some are forcibly returned: damaged, deported, or dead. OFWs would rather move their kin and parents to their place of employment, preferably in countries where family reunification is allowed, as in the United States, Canada, and so on. Or even in places of suffering and humiliation, provided there is some hope or illusion of relief and eventual prosperity. Utopian longings can mislead but also reconfigure and redirect wayward travels sojourns, and adventures—historical moments connecting specific trends and actualizing the concrete dynamic totality of a world freed from inherited necessity (Ilyenkov 1977). Filipino nationalism blossomed in the late 1960s and 1970s, but suffered attenuation when it was rechanelled to support the populist elitism of Aquino and Ramos, the lumpen populism of Estrada, and the thoroughly corrupt Arroyo regime. With the re-appointment of the Arroyo-holdover Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo and do-nothing bureaucrats in the Philippines Overseas Employment Administration, President Aquino III signaled its determination to uphold the free-market neoliberal status quo the keystone of which is this unconscionable labor-export policy (Migrante International 2009). The precarious balance of



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class forces at this conjuncture is subject to shifts in political mobilization and calculation, hence the intervention of Filipino agencies with emancipatory goals and socialist principles is crucial and strategically necessary. Especially after September 11, 2001, and the Arroyo sycophancy to the Bush regime, the Philippines (considered by the US government as the enclave/haven of homegrown “terrorists” like the Abu Sayyaf) may soon be transformed into the next fertile “killing field” after Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Recently, a coalition of migrant workers and professionals called Migrante International together with other sectors organized rallies in Manila and other cities to protest government neglect of OFWs. (Makilan 2007; Elllao 2009; De Jsus and Hongo 2009; Olea 2009). This front mobilized millions in the Middle East, Hong Kong, Japan, New Zealand, Australia and cities in Europe and North America. Millions denounced U.S. diplomatic and military interventions (covert action, low-intensity warfare, and its attendant atrocities of extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances of ordinary citizens) against the Filipino people’s struggle for self-determination and social justice—a united-front praxis distinguishing the cumulative strategy of winning hegemony via the praxis of historic blocs.

Identity Matters

In this time of emergency, the Filipino collective identity is going through ordeals, undergoing the vicissitudes of political metamorphosis and elaboration. The Filipino diasporic consciousness is without doubt an odd species, a singular genre: it is not obsessed with a physical return to roots or to land where common sacrifices (to echo Ernest Renan) are remembered and celebrated. It is gradually being tied more to a symbolic homeland indexed by kinship or sutured to organic mores and communal practices that it tries to transplant abroad in diverse localities. In a moment of Babylonian captivity, as it were, dwelling in “Egypt” or its postmodern surrogates, building public spheres of solidarity to sustain identities outside the national time/space “in order to live inside, with a difference” may be the most viable route (or root) of Filipinos in motion—the collectivity in transit, although this is, given the possibility of differences becoming contradictions, subject to the revolutionary transformations enveloping the Philippine countryside and cities. It is susceptible also to other radical changes in the geopolitical



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rivalry of capitalist interests based on nation-states. But it is not an open-ended “plural vision” characterized by arbitrary border-crossings, ludic alterities, and contingencies. There is indeed deferral, postponement, or waiting. Meanwhile, history moves on in the battlefields of Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao where a people’s war (with its Moro component) rooted in a durable insurrectionary tradition rages on. This drama of a national-democratic revolution will not allow the Filipino diaspora and its progeny to slumber in the consumerist paradises of Los Angeles, New York, London, Paris, Milan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Tokyo, or Sidney. It will certainly disturb the peace of those benefiting from the labor and sacrifices of OFWs who experience the repetition-compulsion of uneven development and suffer the recursive traumas of displacement, marginalization, and dispossession. Caught in the cross-currents of global upheavals, one can only conclude with a very provisional and indeed temporizing epilogue to a narrative still unfolding. Filipinos in the United States and elsewhere, mis-recognized by a hegemonic Western dispensation, are neither “Oriental” nor “Hispanic,” despite their looks and names; they are nascent citizens of a country in quest of genuine self-determination. They might be syncretic or cyborg subjects with suspect loyalties. They cannot be called ambivalent “transnationals” or flexible trans-status agents because of racialized, ascribed markers (physical appearance, accent, peculiar non-white folkways, and other group idiosyncracies) that are needed to sustain and reproduce white supremacy in historically racialized polities. Anderson (2000) has cogently demonstrated how the international labor market consistently racializes the selling of Filipina selfhood; thus, not only gender and class but, more decisively, national identities articulated with immigrant status, denigrated culture, and so on, are reproduced through the combined exploitation and oppression taking place in the employer’s household. Slavery has become re-domesticated in the age of reconfigured laissez-faire corporate schemes—the vampires of the despotic past continue to haunt the cyber-domain of finance capital and its brutalizing hallucinations. The trajectory of the Filipino diaspora remains unpredictable. Ultimately, the rebirth of Filipino agency in the era of global capitalism depends not only on the vicissitudes of social transformation in the US but, in a dialectical sense, on the fate of the struggle for autonomy and popular-democratic sovereignty in the Philippines. We find autonomous zones in Manila and in



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the provinces where balikbayans (returnees) still practice, though with increasing trepidation sometimes interrupted by fits of amnesia, the speech-acts and durable performances of pakikibaka (common struggle), pakikiramay (collective sharing), and pakikipagkapwa-tao (reciprocal esteem). Left untranslated, those phrases from the philosophical vernacular address a gradually vanishing audience. Indeed, the register of this discourse itself may just be a wayward apostrophe to a vanished dream world—a liberated homeland, a phantasmagoric refuge— evoking the utopias and archaic golden ages of prehistoric myths. Wherever it is, however, this locus of memories, hopes, and dreams will surely be inhabited by a new collectivity as befits a new objective reality to which Susan Buck-Morss, in her elegiac paean to the catastrophe that overtook mass utopia, alludes. She envisions a future distinguished by “the geographical mixing of people and things, global webs that disseminate meanings, electronic prostheses of the human body, new arrangements of the human sensorium. Such imaginings, freed from the constraints of bounded spaces and from the dictates of unilinear time, might dream of becoming, in Lenin’s scenario, ‘as radical as reality itself’ ” (Buck-Morrs 2000, 278; Fischer 1996). Homelessness and uprooting characterize the fate of millions today—political refugees, displaced persons, emigres and exiles, stateless nationalities, homeless and vagrant humans everywhere. Solidarity acquires a new temper. In the postmodern transnational restructuring of the globe after the demise of the socialist experiments in the Soviet Union and elsewhere, the Philippines has been compelled to experience a late-capitalist diaspora of its inhabitants. Diasporic labor exchange, a novel sociopolitical category (preponderantly female) transported to the markets of various nation-states, in particular the Middle East, is the new arena of hegemonic contestation. Drawn from petty-bourgeois, peasant, and proletarian roots, OFWs are leveled by their conditions of work (de Guzman 1993). Unilaterally enforced labor contracts partial to the employer—the matrix of this inferiorized alterity--defines the identity of Filipino subalterns vis- a-vis the master-citizens. They are the proles and plebeians of the global cities. Meanwhile, the urban centers of the global North, also cognized as the putative space of flows (of bodies, commodities, money, intellectual property, and so on), prohibits these subalterns from carving a locale for their sociality. For these deracinated populations, their nationality signifies their subalternity within the existing interstate hierarchy of nation-states



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(emasculated but not yet fungible nor defunct) while money (yen, petrodollars) permits them the prestige of cosmopolitan status. This auratic profile is reinforced by the whole ideological apparatus of consumerism, the ironically betrayed promise of enjoying appearances or semblances (Haug 1986). The commodity’s promise of future bliss never materializes, remaining forever suspended in giant billboard advertisements, in TV and cinema screens, in fantasies, in the passage of “balikbayan” boxes. For foreign observers, the almost but not yet globalized city of MetroManila exudes an illusion of consumerist affluence, sporting the postcolonial mirage of hybrid spectacles in megamalls and carceral Disneylands amid the ruin of fragmented families in squalid quarters, swamped with petty crimes, drugs, prostitution, and other degrading symptoms of anomie. OFWs congregating in the malls, public squares, and railroad stations, may be the most intriguing parodic spectacle of this new millennium prefigured by Guy Debord’s (1983) “society of the spectacle.” In their alienation and deprivation, Filipina "slaves" of uneven combined development may constitute the negativity of the Other, the alterity of the permanent crisis of transnational capital. This position does not translate into the role of an international proletarian vanguard, but simply intimates a potentially destabilizing force—OFWs act as dangerous alien bacilli, eliciting fear and ressentiment-- situated at the core of the precarious racist order. They also sometimes march under left-wing anti-imperialist slogans and socialist platforms. If the Other (of color) speaks, will the disguised slave-owner/ “master” from the global North listen?

Extrapolating Agendas

What needs urgent critical attention today is the racial politics of the transnational blocs to which we have been utterly blind, obsessed as we have been with “classism.” This approach construes “class” in deterministic fashion, congeals it as an attitudinal modality replete with the nuances of patron-client interaction, with amor propio, and so on (on gender struggles, see Eviota 1992; Aguilar 2000). Filipinos have been victims of EuroAmerican racializing ideology and politics, but characteristically we ignore it and speak of our racism toward Moros, Igorots, Lumads, etc. Race and ethnicity have occupied center-stage in the politics of nationalist



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struggles in this postCold War era. OFWs need to inform themselves of the complex workings of racism and chauvinism subsumed in the paternalistic Establishment pluralism of the industrialized states. On this hinges the crucial issue of national autonomy, pivoting around the

question of whether a dependent formation like the Philippines can uncouple or delink from the predatory world-system in order to pursue a different, uniquely Filipino kind of non-competitive sustainable growth and a radically liberatory kind of national project. Perhaps the trigger for a new mass mobilization can be the awareness of racial politics (articulated with nationality) as a way of restaging the national-democratic struggle in the new framework of neoliberal market discourse--unless there emerges in the global North a powerful socialist/communist challenge to the corporate elite. The prospect of radical social change remains uncharted, criss-crossed with detours, beguiling traps, and blind alleys where signs of the future are perpetually spawned.

. Since my primary intent here is to offer heuristic propositions on the nature of the

Filipino diasporic subject and its capacity for transformative agency, I will hazard to conclude with large generalizations and hypotheses. By virtue of its insertion into transitional conjunctures—from Spanish feudal-mercantilist colonialism to U.S. monopoly-capitalist domination—the Filipino diasporic subject is essentially a historic bloc of diverse forces. Inscribed within the socio-historical context sketched broadly earlier, this bloc/subject is necessarily contradictory, a product of uneven and combined development. Its trajectory may be inferred from the layered dimension of its historic rootedness in a semi-feudal, comprador-sponsored, bureaucratic formation and its exposure to the dictates of the neoliberal market. Such dictates, as we’ve noted earlier, ushered this neocolonized subject- bloc to situations of indentured servitude, serfhood, or virtual slavery, as witnessed by Sarah Balabagan’s ordeal, Flor Contemplacion’s hanging, and the fate of “entertainers” owned by criminal syndicates such as the Japanese Yakuzas (Beltran And Rodriguez 1996; Torrevillas 1996). One may speculate that this collective subject manifests a constructive negativity as it struggles to free itself from quasi-feudal bondage and from slave-like confinement. Given the uneven, disaggregated process of diasporic mutations suffered by OFWs--a removal first from a semi-feudal, tributary formation to a capitalist regime that commodifies their personhoods—the struggle of this bloc (OFWs and their allies) will have to undergo a popular-democratic phase of



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renewal: regaining migrant-workers’ liberties as persons with natural rights (as defined by the UN Charter, UN Convention on Migrants, etc.). After all, their cause is fundamental: to regain their right of livelihood expropriated by a minority privileged elite. But this stage coalesces with the struggle to assert the right to collective self-determination and representation, either as a national/popular bloc or political community defined by common principles and goals (San Juan 2007; 2009). This assertion is the struggle for popular-democratic hegemony in the Philippines and in places wherever OFWs may be found or discovered. Uneven and combined development distinguishes this struggle. This has been foreshadowed by Karl Marx’s multilinear social dialectic that has been distorted by bourgeois and orthodox into a dogmatic economic determinism, as recently argued by Kevin Anderson (2010). The essentially contested concept of globalization, and its corollary notions of postcolonial transnationalism, civic cosmopolitanism, Eurocentric hybridity, and kindred scholastic bromides cannot expunge the realities of class and third-world origin from local and cross-border conflicts (Callinicos 2003; Dirlik 2007). It is in the context of this ideological debate that I have framed my speculative reflections here on the adaptive and creative nature of Filipino nationalism, a political force whose dynamic élan is responsive to the changing alignment of political and social forces in the Philippines and around the world where about 10 million OFWs are scattered and mobilizing every day. Amid the sharpening rivalry among capitalist states/blocs and the upsurge of anti- immigrant racism and neofascist populisms in Europe, North America, and newly industrialized regions, one may discern two contradictory impulses are unified in the Filipino nationalist project of countering imperial hegemony: the separatist one of national independence, and the integrationist one of unity with universal secular progress/world socialist revolution (see Genovese 1972). This process of engagement would be historically contingent on the fluctuating crisis of global capitalism. Essentially, Filipino dislocation on both levels—as a people colonized by US imperial power, and as a quasi-nation subordinated to global capital, in the process of uneven development (Mandel 1983)—constitutes the horizon of its project of affirming its identity as a historic bloc of multisectoral progressive forces. This bloc will play its role as a revolutionary protagonist in the political terrain of a united front against disciplinary



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neoliberalism (Gill 2009), in an era when US hegemony (political + military) is yielding to a

multipolar global arrangement. Filipino nationalism thereby acquires critical universality as part

of a universal anti-capitalist trend with a long internationalist record of struggle (Lowy 1998).

Perhaps the Filipino people, claiming their sovereign right to a historically specific position in

the civilizational arena, would then become equal, active participants in a worldwide coalition of

forces against monopoly finance capital and its local agents, be they labor recruiters,

neocolonized bureaucratic states, financial consortiums, or transnational institutions like the

IMF/WB, WTO, or even a supra-national entity like the UN controlled by wealthy industrialized

elites. Only in this process of active solidarity with other subordinated or excluded peoples will

OFWs, given their creative integrity and commitment to self-determination, be able to transcend

their deterritorialized fate in a truly borderless world without classes, races, or nationalities. We

envisage germinating from the combined ideas and practices of OFW struggles an alternative,

feasible world without the blight of class exploitation and gendered racialized oppression—the

concrete totality of an emancipated, commonly shared planet satisfying human needs and wants.


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"First Evidence of a Blunder in Drone Strike: 2 Extra Bodies"-- so runs the headline of a news report in The New York Times (23 April 2015). President Obama, for the first time, apologized for the accidental killing of Warren Weinstein, an American aid worker, and Giovanni Lo Porto, an Italian development expert, in a CIA-managed drone strike in Pakistan last January. Obama drew a lesson from the accidental sacrifice: "It is a cruel and bitter truth that in the fog of war generally, and our fight against terrorists specifically, mistakes, sometimes deadly mistakes, can occur" (Mazzetti and Schmitt 2015). But how many sacrifices by people of color and indigenes have been made for the sake of profit accumulation since Columbus and then Napoleon and Queen Victoria claimed the world for the mercantile and industrial bourgeoisie? The alternative today, almost a century now since Rosa Luxemburg posed it, is still between capitalist barbarism or revolutionary socialism via the popular-democratic liberation struggles of peoples and nations. The fog of imperial war, first against recalcitrant natives of the non-Western regions of the world, and then against the subalterns in the metropolitan centers of slave traders and merchants, was invoked first with reference to the Vietnam carnage. It seems to have settled and remained stagnant since the conquest of Peru, Mexico and the Caribbean islands up to the division of the African continent in the 19th century. More extra bodies turned up in the U.S. annexation of the Philippines in the first decade of the twentieth-century, up to the present search and surveillance of "illegal" aliens within its borders. At least five bodies, cadavers, of contract workers are returned to the Philippines every day from all corners of the worl



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In this brief discourse, I sketch an inventory of the U.S. imperial adventure in the Philippines as a background to the work of Carlos Bulosan, the first Filipino writer to gain canonical status, and the ordeal of Filipinos in the era of global capitalism. Today the Philippines ranks as second to Mexico in the number of contract or indentured laborers dispersed around the world, with over 12 million Filipinas functioning as symbolic and real capital of a U.S. neocolony. In this context, the now legendary figure of Jose Antonio Vargas, Filipino "undocumented" immigrant, serves as a palimpsest icon or hieroglyph for the universal predicament of all uprooted peoples, not just Filipinos, wandering for some kind of "belonging" in the era of a flat, borderless planet, as the corporate logo proclaims. Can we seriously practice this kind of hermeneutics of suspicion without us being suspect?

Where Exactly Are these Islands?

Except for horrendous natural disasters, such as the Yolanda/Haiyan storm that devastated whole provinces and killed thousands; or the other memorable eruption of Mt. Pinatubo that led to the forced abandonment of the two huge U.S. military bases in the Philippines, that island- nation scarcely merits occupying the headlines of the mass media here in North America or Europe. It's not worth bothering about. Unless you have a Filipino friend, relative or connection, most people have difficulty locating the Philippines in the map--is it in the Caribbean or somewhere near Hawaii?

Last March 22, six thousand people marched in the white sands missile range in Alamagordo, New Mexico, commemorating the 26th anniversary of the Bataan Death March. World War II (with "Bataan" and "Corregidor" as its iconic markers) seems the live touchstone for celebrating the friendship of two peoples against the horrors of the Japanese occupation (1942-45). The welcomed "liberation" of the Philippines, for both Americans and Filipinos, wiped out the vexed origin of this relationship in the Spanish-American War of 1898 and the bloody Filipino American War in 1899. The defeat of Spain led to the annexation, or "Benevolent Assimilation" (to use Pres. McKinley's famous phrase), of the islands. The result was not so



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benevolent since 1.4 million Filipinos died in the ensuing carnage which lasted up to 1913. Very few people know about this episode in American history--a blip in the rise of a gllobal empire.

In his book Lies Across America, James Loewen notes that the ship Olympia, Admiral Dewey's flagship during the Battle of Manila Bay in May 1898, is on display in downtown Philadelphia. But not a word is mentioned about the war which became "a moral issue almost unparalleled in American policy and politics" (Wolff quoted by Loewen, [1999, 379]). From 1898 to 1946, the Philippines was the only Asian colony of the U.S. But when independence was granted, so many strings were attached that the new republic virtually remained a colony, more exactly a neocolony, up to now. Philippine sovereignty remains a myth, if not an invention of academic experts.

After 9/11, the U.S. sent several hundred U.S. Special Forces to the Philippines because of the presence of the Abu Sayyaf and the New People's Army, both labelled terrorists. The kidnapping of the Burnham couple in 2001 and the circumstances surrounding the wife's rescue and the death of the husband crystallized the reputation of the country as a haven of extremists. This became the pretext for the Visiting Forces Agreement and the Enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement, allowing deeper US military intervention, most recently evidenced in the Mamasapano tragedy under the current regime. Historicizing Contingencies

What compelled the U.S. to be involved in these islands more than 8,000 miles away from the continent? We do not need to review the details of the Spanish-American War, nor the Filipino-American War. The expansion of the Republic into an Empire has been rehearsed in so many books. But the main reason is the need of the industrial economy to open up the China market by projecting its might into the Pacific (with the annexation of Hawaii and Guam) and its domination of the Pacific Basin zone of commerce from its Philippine base. So the geopolitical role of the Philippines at this stage of the growth of U.S. finance capital explains not only the violent seizure of the territory but also the political-ideological hegemony over the inhabitants.



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The Philippines today still plays the role of first-line defense against perceived threats from China and others (North Korea, Russia, Iran) from Asia up to the Middle East.

We are now in the era of globalized capital where borders seem to evaporate, Electronic communication has more or less leveled some barriers, but a century of scholarship and misinformation may take more time and will to rectify. We still have passports and immigration controls.

A recent popular history of the relations between the U.S. and the Philippines, Stanley Karnow's In Our Image: America's Empire in the Philippines (1989), tried to revive the idea of a paternalist power managing tutelage of an immature people, formerly labelled savages. The anti- imperialist Samuel Gompers then described Filipinos as "semibarbaric," "almost privimitive," while others used the term "yellow-bellies" and "naked Sulus," the latter referring to the Moros or Muslims residing in the Sulu Islands. But it simply reaffirmed the premise that, however earnest the colonial attempts to civilize the Filipinos, Karnow contends that they failed to break the compadrazgo system, the "coils of mutual loyalties" (quoted in San Juan 2000, 72)--in effect, the Filipinos brought upon themselves their backwardness, poverty, and even the "miseducation" that Filipino historian Renato Constantino claims we received from the putative benefactors.

Such "miseducation" may be gleaned from the functionalist Cold War scholarship of Jean Grossholtz, Alden Cutshall, Glenn May, etc. Grossholtz's conclusion may give a clue to the way ahistorical functionalism easily resolve social disparities and inequties: "The blend of Malay, Spanish, and American cultures has resulted in a society closely tied by primary groups and preserving the warm social ties of the barangay but over-laid with a veneer of the Spanish aritocratic style and the joy in political manipulation and achievement of American politics. Filipinos accept their formal institutions but regard them as a framework for the strong personalized leadership that is their Malay heritage" (1964, 45-46). Such categories as "Malay," "Spanish" and "American" serve to draw clean boundaries and cement ruptures, yielding a



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harmonious polity suspended in a prophylactic glass-case. Invisible are the tensions, conflicts and explosions of popular-democratic struggles against almost 4 centuries of colonial violence.

Respected historians such as David Joel Steinberg. Theodore Friend, Alfred McCoy and others have tried to correct the idyllic picture of a smoothly operating hierarchical system. They tried to prove that Filipinos also had "agency," but they referred mainly to the elite bloc of oligarchic families--the propertied few--with whom the colonial administrators negotiated, whom they coopted to maintain peace and order until a semblance of formal indepence could be established in July 1946.

Sure, the country is both singular and plural, depending on which perspective or evaluative paradigm one uses to triangulate the interminable conflicts of various sectors, classes, and regions in the Philippines. William Blum's optic finds the Philippines "America's oldest colony" right up to the last quarter of the last century when, from the Philippine bases, "the technology and art of counter-insurgency would be imparted to the troops of America's other allies in the Pacific," from the Korean War to the wars in China, Vietnam and Indonesia, and the Middle East (2004, 42).

Failure in apprehending the colonial subject-hood of the Philippines from 1899 to 1946 (and neocolonial status after that) invariably leads to what I consider the cardinal error in diagnosing the actualities of U.S.-Philippines relations. I am referring to the status of Filipinos in the US mainland and Hawaii from 1898 to 1946. From 1898 to 1935, Filipinos (aside from pensionados or government scholars) who were recruited by the Hawaiian Sugar Planters Association in 1907 were colonial subjects, or nationals, not immigrants nor aliens. This move was forced upon the planters by the 1907 Gentleman's Agreement excluding Japanese workers; the Immigration Act of 1924 definitively barred Japanese immigration to Hawaii.

Earlier, of course, the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act served as the benchmark for what Ronald Takaki would assert as the distinctively "racial and exclusionary," not ethnic, pattern



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defining the history of US citizenship and suffrage. Thus while Filipinos were exempt from such exclusionary legislation, they did not enjoy citizenship rights. After the colony morphed into a "commonwealth" in 1935, only 50 Filipino bodies were allowed annual entry into the U.S, The Filipino Menace

The sojourner Filipinos in Hawaii, however, proved recalcitrant and dangerous to capitalist agribusiness. For example, they organized a Filipino Federation of Labor in 1911 and the Filipino Unemployed Association in 1913. In January 1920, Filipino workers struck ahead of their Japanese counterparts; they were later joined by Spaniards and Puerto Ricans. When one of the Filipino labor militants, Pablo Manlapit, was arrested in September 1924, his compatriots staged protests in Hanapepe, Kauwai, where the police fired and killed 16 workers and wounded many others. This surely branded the Filipinos as trouble-makers. Manlapit was compelled to leave in 1927, but later he returned to Hawaii via California and helped revive the Filipino Federation of Labor after which he was deported to the colony (Lopez 2014).

One other Filipino worker in Hawaii, Pedro Calosa formed an association called "Beginning of Progress," was imprisoned and deported for labor agitation in 1927. Back in Pangasinan, he organized a local group in 1929 and led the 1931 Tayug peasant insurrection. Although violently quelled, the uprising signalled a resurgence of populist, transformative energies that nourished the 1896 revolution against Spanish feudal landlordism which continues to this day (Constantino 1975). It is this action by a provincemate, a deported sojourner from Hawaii, that Carlos Bulosan (1913-1956) memorialized in Chapter 8 of his now canonical ethnic history, America is in the Heart

Bulosan's transformation as a canonical author epitomizes a whole history of Filipino experience in the United States in the last quarter of the 20th century. When Bulosan landed in Seattle in 1930, the global crisis of monopoly capitalism had already begun. The Depression of the thirties and forties served as the formative and catalyzing ground for his development into what Michael Denning calls a popular-front militant activist in which the impulse for national



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liberation of the colony intertwined with the internationalist struggle against fascism in Europe and Japanese militarism in Asia. Within this larger context, one has to situate Bulosan and his compariot's traumatized predicament as they confronted the nativist, openly white supremacist racism of California and the West Coast in those two decades of the Depression.

Bulosan's narrative was conceived in the middle of World War II, in the anguish over the fate of his family in occupied Philippines. It was designed to celebrate the America of his friends and ethnic kin as a bastion of democratic liberties against European and Japanese fascism. But to do that, he had to recount the hardships, pain and suffering his community endured, together with workers of other nationalities. He had to sum up what he learned, the gap between ideas and actualities.

Critics have long been puzzled by Bulosan's authorial "double consciousness." The contradictions found in Bulosan's texts can be clarified as symptoms of the way the interpellated subject grappled with both the "Americanized" psyche (educated by the civilizing mission in the colony) and the politicized or pedagogical subject as part of the tremendous union mobilization that swept the workers' organizations in which he was deeply involved. These contradictions can be indexed by the last chapter of his book which, ironically or naively, concludes a narrative of disillusionment, fear, escape from mob violence, and desperate struggle for physical survival everyday. After Corregidor fell to the Japanese, many Filipinos joined the US army. Saying goodbye to his brothers in California who had enlisted in the military, Bulosan ends America is in the Heart with a farewell to the Filipino workers in California as he caught a bus to Portland, Oregon:

Then I heard bells ringing from the hills--like the bells that had tolled in the church tower when I had left Binalonan [his birthplace in the Philippines, near Tayug, the site of the peasant uprising alluded to earlier]. I glanced out of the window again to look at the broad land I had dreamed so much about, only to discover with astonishment that the American earth was like a huge heart



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unfolding warmly to receive me. I felt it spreading throuogh my being, warming me with its glowing reality. It came to me that no man--no one at allo--could destroy my faith in America again. It was something that had grown out of my defeats and successes, something shaped by my struggles for a place in this vast land, digging my hands into the rich soil here and there, catching a freight to the north and to the south, seeking free meals in dingy gambling houses, reading a book that opened up worlds of heroic thoughts. It was something that grew out of the sacrifices and loneliness of my friends, of my brothers in America and my family in the Philippines--something that grew out of our desire to know America, and to become a part of her great tradition, and to contriburte something toward her final fulfillment. I knew that no man could destroy my faither in America that had sprung from all our hopes and aspirations, ever (1973, 326-327).

In his personal letters (from 1937 to 1941), Bulosan confessed that "the terrible truth in America shatters the Filipinos' dream of fraternity" induced by over thirty years of colonial indoctrination. On the eve of Pearl Harbor and the Japanese conquest of the Philippines, he wrote to an American woman friend: "Love would only make it the harder for little guys like us to bear the unbearable terrors of life. 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" (Bulosan 1995, 173). Cultural-studies cholar Michael Denning argues that the rhetorical excess "is a sign of the narrator's desperate attempt to transcend a United States of violence, 'a world of brutaity and despair' "(1997, 274) which also infected his family and working comrades. Such rhetoric was an attempt to heal or erase the evidence of history and class politics on violated, uprooted and transplanted bodies.

Hemeneutics of Stigmata

One incident that summed up the emergency plight of Filipinos in the thirties is the Watsonville race riot, a culmination of vigilante attacks on Filipinos beginning in Yakima Valley in 1928, throughout the West Coast and up to Florida in 1932. During four nights of rioting in



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January 1930, about 250 men attacked 46 terror-stricken Filipinos, killing one of them, Fermin Tobera. One historian summarized the incidents thus:

At the inquest over the body of Fermin Tobera, it was decided that the person who

had fired the short was unknown

Manila, 'thousands of Filipinos took part in orderly demonstrations.' Tober's body lay in state for two days. Tober was declared a national hero and for a time at least

occupied a pedestal along with Jose Rizal, the national hero of the Philippines. A member of the Philippine legislature was quoted as having said at the burial

services that the bullet which killed Tober 'was not aimed at him particularly, its

principal target was the heart of our race


the body of Fermin Tobera



(Bogardus 1976, 56-57).

Pablo Manlapit, the veteran labor leader, organized a march of thoousands in Los Angeles protesting the murder. Concerning the Manila Luneta "necrological service" for Tobera, dubbed as "National Humiliation Day," historian Paul Kramer remarked that it "vividly illustrated the

mutual constitution of U.S

space" (2006, 428). By "mutual constitution," Kramer means that the nativist pogrom disproved the viability of "inclusionary racism," finally giving independence to the U.S. from its colony. Kramer believes that "economic protectionism [by corporate power] and racist nativism" allowed

"American racial insularity" the means of granting formal independence to Filipinos.

colonialism and Filipino nationalism across transpacific

And so, contrary to the old-fashioned history books, Filipinos did participate in shaping their destiny. This is now the fashionable postmodernist theory which purports to grant agency to the poor colonized subalterns, even though the effective players in this drama remain the corporate political functionaries/officials and nativist white-racial supremacists. We are supposed to enjoy the illusion that the dispersed masses of Filipino peasants and workers exercised equal power and resources as the hegemonic bloc of wealthy landlords, businessmen and bureaucrats. In that ideal world, everyone is a free and equal moral person just like everyone else.



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The irony of this tendentious revisionism and the ascription of agency to individual performative bodies of the colonized subalterns seem to be the latest twist in revising Cold War reductionisms. The intention is certainly commendable. One reviewer of the current scholarship insists that the colonized possessed individual agency equal to the colonizers by performing one's own body, which allows "individuals the space to oppose, or perpetuate, the imperial imaginary" (Allen 2014, 221). Pursuing this methodological individualism, in contrast to the allegedly simplistic formulas of an economistic Marxism or the traditional structural- functionalist analysis dealing with anti-imperialist ideologues, the new postmodernizing scholars are devoted to exploring "the liberatory possibilities involved in the performance of one's own body," or of one's own gender or race. Following this logic, Tobera and Contemplacion could have done more with their bodies beyond the confines of the police record or the autopsy report. They need a conceptualist artist like Kenneth Goldsmith, perhaps, to release the performative libidinal impulses hibernating in the bodies of "little brown brothers" and sisters working in the asparagus fields of California and pineapple plantations of Hawaii in Bulosan's time.

In light of the recent controversy over Goldsmith's recital of "The Body of Michael Brown," one wonders if anyone attempted such a feat of artistic transfiguration. Of course, conceptual poetics/aesthetics was unheard of in the thirties. But a clearly analogous situation is that of the national trauma/crisis at the execution in Singapore of Flor Contemplacion, one of the ten-million OFWs/domestic workers sent abroad as a national policy of labor export implemented by the Marcos dictatorship to relieve unemployment and earn foreign currency. After being detained, tortured and tried for four years, Contemplacion was hanged and her body brought for burial in her hometown. An unprecedented spectacle of national mourning, with thousands of Filipinos lining the streeds, awed a worldwide audience. Thousands attended her funeral procession, outraged by both the Singaporean government's straightjacket system and the Philippine politicians' neglect of the brutal treatment of numerous OFWs for years--this time, the anger and grief released transpired in a setting more unsettled than the colonial milieu of Tobera's time.



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It is more than likely that Contemplacion's case will be repeated--as it has been with many executions in the Middle East, and one pending in Indonesia today, Over 10 million OFWs are scattered around the planet--5,000-8,000 contractual workers leave everyday, remitting $26 to $28 billion a year, enough to pay the country's foreign debt and keep the economy floating. Right now, there are about 7,000 Filipinos in prisons around the world, 80 in death row. Nine OFWs have been executed so far under Aquino's tenure, the biggest number so far within less than six years. The bodies of Tobera and Contemplacion seem harbingers of what's to come, turning in their graves with the internment of a double or postcolonial mimicry, over a hundred years since Mark Twain penned his savage satire on the "Business of Extending the Blessings of Civilization to Our Brother Who Sits in Darkness."

Vargas as Cosmopolitan Trope?

Which brings me finally to the body of Jose Antonio Vargas, the 2008 Pulitzer Prize- winning journalist and self-declared undocumented immigrant. Vargas is still very much alive, but his figure serves as an exemplary symbolic icon in the long genealogy of Bulosan's characters traversing the American heartland throughout the turbulent twentieth century. He embodies the inscription of "America" in the heart that Bulosan dreamed about.

Brought to the US illegally when he was 12 years old, Vargas was "sitting in darkness," as it were, until at age 16 he tried to apply for a driver's permit and was told that his documents were fake. In a 2012 TIME issue and before that, in a June 2011 essay in The New York Times Magazine, Vargas and other undocumented folks came out of the shadows, in order to promote dialogue about the system and advocate for the DREAM Act, which would provide children in similar circumstances with a path to citizenship. In that same year, Obama halted deportation of undocumented immigrants age 30 and under eligible for the DREAM Act; but Vargas, who just turned 31, did not quallify and remained in limbo.



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Vargas claims that the immigration system is broken, preventing many deserving candidates (who identity themselves as American) from residing in the country legally. Vargas' campaign "Define American" is intended to document the lives of an estimated 11.5 million people without a legal claim to exist in the country (Constantini 2012). Vargas declared: "I define 'American' as someone who works really hard, someone who is proud to be in this country and wants to contribute to it. I'm independent. I pay taxes. I'm self-sufficient. I'm an American. I just don't have the right papers. I take full responsibility for my actions and I'm sorry for the laws that I have broken' (Wikipedia 2010). Prospect of a Muticulturalist Utopia?

Since 2011, Vargas has been no longer just a Filipino but an anchored, (not floating) signifier for all undocumented (he rejects the label "illegal") immigrants, as his 2013 autobiographical film Documented attests. On July 15, 2014, Vargas was arrested by immigration authorities while trying to leave the border town of McAllen, Texas, where he attended a vigil organized by United We Dream at a center for recently released Central American immigrants.

His arrest was due to an oversight, or felicitous negligence. In order to leave the Rio Grande Valley, Vargas had to cross through a U.S. Customs and Border Protection checkpoint. He went through airport security with his Philippine passport and a copy of the US Constitutition--a trope for the double consciousness, the ambivalence of Du Bois' body torn between the two domains of citizenship and alienation. He was cleared by the Transportation Security Administration, but a border agent took his passport, reviewed his documents, asked him some questions, placed him in handcuffs, and escorted him to the McAllen Border Patrol station for further questioning. We learn that he was released later that day due to the fact that he had no history of criminal activity. Lo and behold, being an undocumented alien is no longer a crime.

Was Bulosan wrong about being a criminal in America? Vargas is one of the 3.4 million Filipinos in the U.S. (as per 2010 census), the second largest Asian group, but actually the largest



SAN JUAN / Racism and Diaspora

from one single homeland. But Vargas is no longer the one-dimensional Filipino; he has become

multiple, a differential or bifurcated signifier of the heterogeneous wanderer. He is no longer just

an expatriate, exile, possessing an in-between planetary identity. Vargas' agency, his performative

body, is now going to be awarded the 2014 Freedom to Write Award from PEN Center USA.

Vargas is a free individual with agency, the transpacific Filipino-American, mutually constituting

his existential predicament in the geopolitical fantasy of all persons displaced by the cataclysmic

changes in the end of the 20th cenury and the beginning of this new portentous millennium.

With fear and trembling, like Kierkegaard, we wait anxiously for the denouement of

Vargas' adventure.


Allen, Linda Peirce. 2014. "Interventions of Memory and Visibility: Recovering and

Reclaiming Filipino American History." American Quarterly (March):

Blum, William 2004. Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II. Monroe, M: Common Courage Press.

Bogardus, Emory. 1976. "Anti Filipino Race Riots." In Letters in Exile, ed. Jesse Quinsaat

et al.

Bulosan, Carlos. 1973. America is in the Heart. Seattle: U of Washington Press. -----. 1995. On Becoming Filipino. Ed. E. San Juan, Jr. Philadelphia: Temple U

Constantini, Cristina. 2012. "Jose Antonio Vargas, Undocumented Journalist, Says "We are

Americans" in Time Magazine Cover Story." Huffington Post

Constantino, Renato. 1975. The Philippines: A Past Revisited. Quezon City: Tala Publishing Services. Cutshall, Alden. 1964. The Philippines: Nation of Islands. Princeton, NJ: D. Van Nostrand Company Inc. Denning, Michael. 1997. The Culltural Front. New York: Verso, Grossholtz,Jean 1964. The Philippines. Boston: Little, Brown & Company. Kramer, Paul. 2006. The Blood of Government. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina Press.

Lopez, Angelo. 2014. movement> Lowen, James W. 1999. Lies Across America. New York: The New Press.

Mazzetti and Eric Schmitt. 2015. "First Evidence of a Blunder in Drone Strike: 2 Extra Bodies." The New York Times (Aprtil 23). <>

McWilliams, Carey. 1964. Brothers Under the Skin. Boston: Little Brown and

Ressa, Maria. 2003. Seeds of Terror. New York: Free Press. San Juan, E. 2000. After Postcolonialism. Lanham. MD: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers.


Los Angeles: UCLA Asian American Studies




"Filipino Americans and the Farm Labor Movement."





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-----. 2009. Toward Filipino Self-Determnation. Albany: SUNY Press. Steinberg, David Joel. 1982. The Philippines: A Singular and a Plural Place. Boulder, COL Westview Press. Takaki, Ronald. 1994. "Reflections on Racial Patterns in America,"' in From Different Shores, ed. Ronald Takaki, 24-36. New York: Oxford U Press. Wikipedia. 2010. "Jose Antonio Vargas." Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. <>



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E. SAN JUAN, Jr., emeritus professor of Ethnic Studies, English and Comparative Literature, is currently professorial lecturer at Polytechnic University of the Philippines. He was a fellow of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute, Harvard University; and the Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas, Austin. Previously he served as Fulbright professor of American Studies, Leuven University, Belgium; and visiting professor of literature at Trento University, Italy; and at National Tsing - Hua University and Tamkang University, Taiwan.

San Juan received his A.B. from the University of the Philippines and his Ph.D. from

Harvard University. Among his recent books are In the Wake of Terror ( Lexington ) , US Imperialism and Revolution in the Philippines ( Palgrave ) , Working Through the Contradictions ( Bucknell) and Between Empire and Insurgency ( University of the Philippines Press ) . Forthcoming books are Learning fom the Filipino Diaspora

( University of Santo Tomas Publishing House ) and Filipinas Everywhere ( De La Salle

University Press) . His recent anthologies of poems in Filipino are Kundiman sa Gitna ng Karimlan, Ambil, and Wala.

San Juan has received awards from MELUS ( Katherine Newman Prize ) ; Association for Asian American Studies, Gutavus Myers Center for Human Rights; Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Study Center, Italy; Center for the Humanities, Wesleyan University; Academia Sinica, Taiwan; Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities, University of Edinburgh;; and the Cultural Center of the Philippines. He is a member of the editorial advisory board for Cultural Logic, Humanities Diliman, Malay, and Kritika Kultura. - #