Saturday, May 17, 2008

Who Are You? A Survey of the Fil Am Self

Right after the Association of Asian American Studies Conference, a small group of my comrades formed a loose network called the Filipino Soul Aesthetics Working Group. Basically, we are trying to get like-minds together (students, professors, artists/performers, and community organizers) to begin a dialogue about Filipino "soul" (we are still trying to define "soul"). So far, we are zeroing in on Pin@ys and hip hop culture, but we are also open to including Pin@ys and other Black cultural expressions, such as jazz and funk.

Why Black cultural expressions? Many people may be yelling, "Hey! We look Asian! The Philippines is in Asia!" But after self-reflection and self-research, many of us will realize that Filipinos are a very complicated "Asian" group, especially considering Spanish, White American, and African American presence/culture in the Philippines. Check it! Filipinos are extremely mixed in terms of history, language, culture, and artistic expression! Simultaneously, Filipinos occupy a distinct position in richer Asian nations, as Filipinos are mostly "lower-class" workers (and called pretty horrible things by other Asians...btw, any other folks out there have an uncle/cousin heading to Dubai to do construction work or work as a driver??? holla) and we also tend to be stage performers and entertainers in other Asian countries.

Jota dance by Philippine Performance
Arts Company folks in Florida

What is important to understand is that these influences in Filipino expressions/social positions are closely linked to the intense history of Spanish and U.S. colonization, a unique history other Asian nations do not have (yes it goes beyond the chopsticks thing). So, considering this, how would you classify Filipinos culturally/racially/ethnically? (This framework of colonization anchors the questions we will be asking in the Filipino Aesthetics Working Group.)

There is an abundance of current examples of Filipino artists/performers "pin@ytrating" mainstream public culture-- from the "dancing inmates" (Lorenzo Perillo of our Filipino Soul Aesthetics Working Group writes a mean article on these talented Cebuano prisoners), to Charice Pempengco, JabbaWockeez, and even DJ Neil Armstrong touring with Jay-Z and Mary J. Blige (any other examples?). Gathering from this very visible manifestation of Pin@y talent in the "mainstream", I have a couple of questions for you:
Kiwi and Bambu of the
former Native Guns

QUESTION ONE: What ethnic/racial group do you think Pin@ys most closely resemble? [Among popular choices are Asian or Pacific Islander (as seen in Myspace profiles), but many others (as we know) gravitate towards Latino and African American cultural expressions.]

QUESTION TWO: Why do you think there is a gravitation towards Black American cultural art forms among Pin@ys?*

*This probably applies more to second-generation Fil Ams.


Wesley said...

wuddup mr. mark v? first of all my friend, you've skewed the answers you're going to get by giving the background info you gave...(intentionally perhaps)

then to prove my ignorance (because i'm stupid and curious), let me ask you the most stupid, uninformed, privileged, white-washed, fourth generation japanese american question i can ask....

What will you accomplish by continually educating your reader on the ways in which the Filipino people have been done more harm than (or even perpetrated by) other Asians? I think it's important that we know about the inhumanities that occurred and the subjugation of a people but how does the gap get bridged? How does our generation put out the fire started by past generations acting in hate against one another? At first glance, there are two main effects of keeping this topic of conversation in active discussion. Firstly, it educates Filipinos on their heritage and the ways in which their ancestors were victimized by the people who may be their most willing allies in the fight for social justice today--which might possibly lead to some mistrust and anger. Secondly, it places guilt at the feet of the privileged (i.e. a fourth generation japanese american such as yours truly) who might somehow be related to the events of past wrongs and who certainly have had a different history of immigration and social mobility. Both of these effects drive a wedge between the already tenuous coalitions in place.

Certainly, the suggestion is not simply to hold hands, sing campfire songs and pretend shit never happened. Unthinkable. Untenable.

But the question raised by this post, and every other identity politics history lesson is, how do we move forward if we're always looking back? Is it a catch-22? How do we have move forward if we don't know what we're fighting for?

Wesley said...

and most importantly, where do we find the common ground?

O.W. said...

What good does an ignorance of history do?

As a second gen Chinese American, I'm well aware that China was f---ed over by Japan (not to mention a numerous assortment of Western nations) in the decades leading up to WWII but that knowledge doesn't bias me against Japanese people from being allies (not to mention my wife is JA).

Why? Because I know how to use history critically.

History is just a tool, like any other kind of knowledge. You can use it constructively or destructively but that's not inherent in the thing itself.

I'd also add - the only people who seem to have a problem with the history of oppression tends to be the oppressors. I'm not directing this at you, Wesley, it's just a general observation.

Wesley said...

Mr. OW I couldn't agree with you more in terms of oppressors not liking the revealing of the history of oppression. and I think your comment was directed at me and I acknowledged as much in my question because I recognized it in myself when i was constructing my response. so i will certainly come clean on that tip. don't worry, i won't be offended if u call me an oppressor. mark probably thinks i am all the time. And of course, more education is better than less education. But my question was not regarding facts, it was regarding the tone.

i feel like in some sense i get tagged by association to a non-immigrant life, to a japanese-american history, and to an east asian stereotype. maybe it's not even by association. maybe it's just the marginalized voices of my friends, mark and brian, directing their spot-on criticisms at my unearned east asian ancestral privilege. but then what? where does this road lead? that's my question. Does mark want to be partners with me? Someone who never knew what it was like to be marginalized in a marginalized community.

Because in this post, mark has raised the idea of filipino identity and its closeness to other cultures, both expected and unexpected. He weaves a narrative of colonialism and immigration and leaves it at our doorstep to interpret as we may. And yet, I, someone who isn't Filipino, can't help but feel alienated by a small snippet of the post. Maybe that's okay, maybe I don't need to feel included and maybe I shouldn't be included (not being filipino and all). But mark says "What is important to understand is that these influences in Filipino expressions/social positions are closely linked to the intense history of Spanish and US colonization, a unique history other Asian nations do not have (yes it goes beyond the chopsticks thing)." (I dunno if you count vietnam, japan, okinawa, hong kong, india or afganistan among asian nations colonized, but maybe not because they were not colonized by the spanish.) Even if you don't count those other countries, my point resides here in this passage. What is the relevance of other nation's non-colonization to this sentence? The sentence takes a swipe at other Asian nations, and perhaps at its descendants, for reasons that I question. Not only that, I don't even associate myself with an Asian nation. Japan and its history are as foreign to me as Panama and its history.

"What is important to understand is that these influences in Filipino expressions/social positions are closely linked to the intense history of Spanish and US colonization. So considering this how would you classify Filipinos culturally/racially/ethnically?" If this were the original work, it'd be much different. I am more in favor of this version, so I wanted to explore two things:

1. why did mark include the aside? ("a unique history other asian nations do not have (yes it goes beyond the chopstick thing)")

2. Why would i prefer it without the nod towards "other Asian nations?"

I don't want to speak for mark but some of the wording and the timing is out of place in the post to be exactly relevant. At that point, it's "we are not like all the other Asians" which is a stance that skews the possible answers to the question. If you're interested in really finding out what your readers think then give them a chance to answer. If not, that's cool too because it's not bad to make that point. But then what comes next? It's left as a chasm (between Filipino and not Filipino) too big to cross in this blog and I wish it weren't left that way.

Leo said...

"What is important to understand is that these influences in Filipino expressions/social positions are closely linked to the intense history of Spanish and US colonization, a unique history other Asian nations do not have (yes it goes beyond the chopsticks thing)."

I didn't see this posts as an attempt to sever any relationships with other Asians. It's just a statement of fact and uncovering history. We cannot blindly submit to a monolithic Asian experience and deny each of our historic, unique trajectories in our migrations. I can argue it is the lack of understanding each of our culturally-relevant issues that can make our APA Activism ineffective.

We solve the injustices that have been done in the past by naming them, understanding them and painting an accurate picture of where our community is at today. The next step is to identify concrete solutions that may or may not include collaborations.

I know that is answer is vague, but you can't solve something as big as oppression without giving context to each of our situations and acknowledging our assets/places of power.

For example, Filipino descendants in the US and elsewhere have found strength especially in Black expressions. So in understanding that talent applied to cultural organizing or moving specific policies or establishing cultural spaces that link black-filipino-asian-latino dialogue can be real powerful...

but we all would have to go through a process of politicizing one another, naming our oppressors, becoming agents of our own community and work with everyone toward whatever goal..

Mark V said...

So, initially i wanted to just let people respond to the re-direction this post had went. But I guess folks are mute or too busy for this subject (i know yall are reading, i see the hit #s!)!

Basically, all I wanted to know was "who you think Filipinos are." The "other Asian" topic is very important one, but that is a whole different thing I'd like to address some other time. Funny how it got sidetracked. Wes, fool, you owe me Goldilocks or a Wii session.

So I still haven't had a response on who Filipinos most closely resemble?

My choice is PUERTO RICAN! Our island colonial cousins!

But i just found out that Tsamporado (Chocolate rice) is actually Mexican (Champurrado), and not "really" Filipino. Chocolate is the gifts of the Aztecs, yall! This whole time, i thought chocolate rice was inherently Pinoy. Regardless, goes good with salted fish.

Leo said...

to the original question,
we actually had a discussion on related topic over-dinner, my specs:

in terms of military enrollment, relationship to US Military, our matriarchal society--our Pacific Island brethren

in terms of our Catholic Filipino inspired rituals (commemoration of Mary, honoring 100s of saints, honoring 30-day for our dead), I say it's a tie with Vietnamese Catholics and our South American folks

in terms of our rate of export of human labor I say we are Mexicans

our language vocab makes us Spanish, and for folks who speak Visayan, we are Muslim

and for the love of balut, we are Vietnamese!