Thursday, November 27, 2008

Jivin' turkey (real) talk: Filipinizing the holiday

"Dear God, are those douche bag heathens crashing our shit again?"

Happy Thanksgiving! Here is a good article, "Thanksgiving: A Native American View", that gives light to a more accurate truth to why we celebrate the holiday.

I love Thanksgiving. Most of all, I love Thanksgiving food: stuffing, sweet potatoes, ham, syrup, gravy, green beans, etc. Yes, its a good excuse to eat carbs and fatty foods.

But I'm writing today not to exalt the holiday. Rather, today is an appropriate opportunity to address the realness the holiday represents, a realness which is masked, erased, and obscured by our glorification of the food, shopping, and gathering with family members you don't want to see (but not MY family. Maybe yours).

I did the lecture for our Asian American History class Tuesday, and I argued that we are able to shop and eat during holidays like Thanksgiving and Columbus Day because we "forget" about U.S. and European colonization and violence that underpin these celebrations. The title of my presentation was "Yes! The Rhythm, The Rebel! Filipino Funky Hybridity and the 'Magic Trick of U.S. Empire." Sadly (and embarrassingly), no one in the 200 student audience caught the reference to Public Enemy's "Rebel Without a Pause" (did you?).

This is the explanation of my weird title:

The Rhythm: The syncretism of "Western" musical rhythmic timing (3/4 and 4/4) in Filipino musicality. But it is also a reference to the "rhythmic" pattern of U.S. colonialism- it's cyclical and even predictable!

The Rebel: The resistance of Filipino and Black Buffalo Soldiers against U.S. violence. I talked about David Fagen and the mythology of Black and Filipino cultural and political coalition.

Filipino Funky Hybridity: The "mixedness" of Filipino culture with U.S. influences. Not only are there "rhythmic" syncretism in Filipino culture, but more important to acknowledge is the political-consciousness alliances Filipinos made with Blacks, and vice versa. Carter G. Woodson, the "Father of Black History", learned about the deceit behind American "tutelage" from his excursion as Supervisor of Schools in the archipelago, and later wrote "The Miseducation of the Negro." Renato Constantino would write "The Miseducation of the Filipino" about 30 years later. Political resonance? Yes.

The "Magic Trick" of U.S. Empire: "If they hit once, they can hit twice" (no one in the audience got that reference either, sigh). Why don't we know about the U.S. war in the Philippines? After watching the film Savage Acts, I asked my class what was most surprising about the film. One student commented on the amount of violence the U.S. inflicted on Filipinos. Why is this so surprising? Why don't we learn/commemorate the Philippine-American War (often called the Spanish-American War)? The "disappearance" of U.S. violence in the Philippines (or against the Indians in the continental U.S. or against Pacific Islanders) allows for the U.S. to do it again...and again.

And so here we are today, Thanksgiving, consuming all those sweets, carbs, and fatty foods (unless you're a tofurky fan). Let us have fun with family and friends. But also, let us remember the historical conditions that allow us to celebrate this day.

Some books on the topic of "invisible" U.S. Empire in the Philippines:
Anarchy of Empire by Amy Kaplan
American Tropics by Allan Punzalan Isaac
Model Minority Imperialism by Victor Bascara


Morose said...

yah at Thanksgiving mass, the priest's homily consisted of telling the congregation we have to be thankful for what we have ... look at the Pilgrims, they were running away from oppression, landed here, "claimed the land" and struggled to provide for their families. i was so pissed about the calm one liner "claimed the land" ... anyway, feel ya and sounds like it was a good lecture.

did you tie in anything about how celebration in u.s. capitalism equates to furthering us capitalism and consumerism?

Leo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Leo said...

great. article, i would have loved to hear the lecture (hint hint: upcoming podcasts?!)

In you response to the rhetorical question, "why is this (US genocide in PI) so surprising/why don't we learn commemorate the Philippine/American War" ?

Lets face it, as boring as delivering a history lesson can be, the oppressor will never teach the oppressed how they got oppressed.

It will never be a priority and even at its maximum commemoration, e.g. the Viet Nam war, the U.S. is viewed as the liberator and the assimilation of displaced families to US society leaves our families who still can't reconcile the violence they've seen in the war.

Shoot. my mom won't even acknowledge the Philippine American war, and she ridicules my aunts who still believe America and Spain faked the victory battle.

So after all the facts, pictures, past violence acknowledged, it leaves a big "where do we go from here?"

In exposing the magic trick, we have to make it real as possible. We can't talk about Philippine American War without the connections of McKinley and naming Bush in Iraq.

We can't talk about "the miseducation of the filipino" without examining the current state of Native American Reservations and the schools.

and cannot examine state violence without having a dialogue on the amount of US bases set up in PI and the Pacific Islands and tracking the enrollment/displacement of our families

that's how we expose the magic, it is a critical reflection of ourselves: that we are the ones distracted and continue to participate and to participate and to vote and consume and not question.

and at times, its hard to unpack all this knowledge to my fam & friends when all they want to do is earn a livin, pay the mortgage.

Ivan said...

"Without a Pause I'm Lowering my level"

Right on Mark!

I didn't know that about Carter G. Woodson. I remember learning about him in my African Studies class and my professor mentioning that he worked with the Thomasites. Other than that I didn't know he "learned about the deceit behind American tutelage".

good stuff.