Saturday, September 22, 2007

The Owners, the Workers...and the Street

Ever wonder why historically there have not been huge, vibrant Filipinotowns like there are Chinatowns or Koreatowns in the U.S.?

Well, the clue lies in Filipino history. As a colony of Spain for over 300 years and the U.S. for half a century (at least formally), Filipinos have historically been working people (in the socioeconomic status sense) at the service of Western economic powers.

As during the periods of colonization, Filipinos continue to provide an important source of global labor for economic powers hungry for workers. Especially with our experiences in the U.S., we have proudly labored as farmworkers, bellhops, plantation laborers, nurses, navy stewards, postal workers, airport security, caregivers, and babysitters. Simply put, Filipinos have not been given the resources and capital that other Asian groups have in order to be "owners" in the U.S. (For example, refer to the history of post-WWII Korea and bilateral U.S. foreign aid to that country, which in turn translated to Korean entrepreneurship in the U.S.). So although Filipino businesses do indeed flourish especially in dense Filipino areas such as Daly City, Carson, or Jersey City, they do not flourish nearly to the extent of Korean or Chinese businesses (and other nationalities with entrepreneurial capital). Neither do Filipinos have the extensive network of ethnic loan lenders that other Asian groups enter the U.S. with. The histories of each country are very different, and the Philippines cannot be examined without its connected history with Spain and the U.S., and the racialization and economic subordination that comes along with that history.

A cousin of mine from the East Coast recently told me a story of a panel discussion on "Asians and Hip Hop Culture" that occurred at his university. One black student mentioned the irony of East Asian (Korean, Chinese, Japanese) youth's fascination with hip hop culture, because of the sometimes antagonistic relationship between East Asian groups and blacks and Latinos. (Let's assume here for the sake of this entry that blacks and Latinos are seen as the main representatives of hip hop culture). She made the exception for Filipinos, "who seem to get along better with blacks and Latinos." Filipinos' history of colonization, their subsequent position as workers in a racially segmented U.S. society, and their unlikelihood to occupy the "owner" status in racially segregated ghettos may give us clues to how Filipinos "get along" better with blacks and Latinos.

I'm not saying that by virtue of interacting with working class people of color, that Filipinos get along with them and perhaps share cultural habits. Although this may be true for some Filipinos who work alongside people of color (many nurses, postal workers, navy stewards, etc. are black, Mexican, Puerto Rican, etc.), the bigger point I'm trying to make is that the power relationships that place workers who perform "menial" labor subordinate to bosses, owners, entrepreneurs, and "white collar" professions stratifies the economy in terms of power and prestige, especially in urban areas where race relations can be tense. This stratification has an abundant history of racialization (race being a way to differentiate, exclude, and marginalize people in society). The way we talk, shoot the shit, interact, dance, make music, make art, and identify with one another are greatly informed by the imagined relationship we have with relative groups in a racialized, stratified economy. Peep Linda Espana-Maram's look at the youth culture of Filipino farm workers in the 1920s-1950s. Filipinos vibed alongside Mexicans and blacks in the dance scenes at the time. You can watch's "Bebot Generation 1" music video to get a fictional glimpse of that scene. (Also read up on the "Zoot Suit Riots" for the violence against Mexicans, blacks, and Filipinos in that scene).

So when the panelist made the comment about Filipinos "getting along" with blacks and Latinos, that needs to be examined in the context of the culture of working people. (As a note: no matter if Filipinos live with two car garages in the 'burbs, we know Filipino parents often work their asses off with overtime to attain a level of luxury). Not so much for Filipino parents, who may harbor racial prejudice against blacks and Latinos inherited from the U.S. colony (the Philippines), but the second-generation and young Filipino immigrants must deal with the racial politics of the schoolyard and therefore may be more sensitive to their position in a highly racialized society. The nature of their parents' labor (as sons and daughters of navy stewards, nurses, postal workers, etc. who work alongside other people of color) may provide important clues to how youth imagine their racial and economic position among their East Asian peers who are more likely to be (or perceived to be) owners or "white" collar (especially in urban areas). In addition, the perception of Filipinos in the eyes of blacks and Latinos may be less antagonistic as with other Asian groups because the owner/non-owner relationship is not as severe for Filipinos in urban areas; instead, they occupy similar spaces of labor.

I know the situation is more complex than what I have written about above, but I just extend this idea as one of many explanations of Filipinos' alignment with other people of color and their cultural productions. Your thoughts...


Cheryl said...

Hey good post! Sorry I'm just commenting now. I realize the racial politics of Guam, where I'm from, is so different from that of the mainland U.S. So my thoughts are always changing as I'm trying to figure out how Filipinos and other people of color interact whether here, abroad, back in the PI, etc. On Guam, we never really thought about black-white-Filipino race relations... well more so because the AfAms and the Caucasians usually stuck to the military bases. Instead, it was always this hierarchy between all of the Asian/Pacific Islander ethnicities. What isn't so different, though, is the working class majority of first generation Filipinos even on Guam, and the conflicted positions of the second generation Filipinos in how they negotiate their racial and economic positions--especially where so many of us are of mixed heritage. It gets so complicated. I'm really interested in Filipino and Korean race relations. I think there's alot to write about there.

But we definitely have a "Filipino-town" back home. And keep writing, cause we're always reading. Can you just write a book already and then come lecture here in Chicago? Thanks.

p.s. I am totally driving up your hit counter.

Leo said...

Mad late response.

But I am actually still interested in the relationship of why there isn't as much Filipino-owned small businesses and historic Manilatowns that exist. I think its the level of assimilation and necessity that Filipinos DON'T have to rely on each other as a community to be successfull in the US. In other words, we don't got to rely on the concept of Ethnic Enclave.

I agree that colonization produced a labor-relationship where our folks' were trained as workers, not owners, but don't we have to take into account other folks who weren't given U.S. capital that established their own communities?

We can look at the Vietnamese community in New Orleans East and we have to revisit the development or functions of enclave: folks have limited english, don't have many educational transferable skills and don't have much capital. Outside the community, we see a proliferation of Vietnamese nail shops analagous to the Chinese laundries and birth of middle-men Asian American small businesses in low-income communities of color. Inside the community, we see establishment of Vietnamese-owned restaurants that are catered for Vietnamese folks, remittance delivery offices, grocery stores, pharmacies and a Vietnamese-ran Catholic Church which is its central point.

Back to the Filipino community, folks speak English, had the choice to immigrate based on economic reasons and come with a HIGH-PRIORITY to assimilate. Folks like my mom and aunt's practicing physicians, owners of their offices in PI turn to Registered Nurses in US. They have transferable skills that allow them to navigate through mainstream America and do not see a need to support Filipino-owned businesses other than the frequent stop at the Asian grocery usually owned by East Asian folks.

My personal view is Filipino parents from the first generation reinforce kids to identify any opportunity to assimilate as quick as possible, identify white and try to reinforce a racist stratification of labor by not following other people of color.

Leo said...

check this article on development of Fil Am communities in So Cal happened:

I wonder what our homie Michelle thinks.