Sakun (Casualty) (1997) by Antipas Delotavo. Reprinted in Vestiges of War: The Philippine-American War and the Aftermath of an Imperial Dream, 1899-1999
Here at Fil Am Funk aka Hip Hop Lives, we love the classroom. After working as a teaching assistant for a class entitled "Asian American Popular Culture" (here is their final project...lovely), I have had time to reflect on the meaning of the term "Asian American Popular Culture." I guess one of the most illuminating things coming out of the class is students' tendencies to separate "Asian" from "American."
For example, when we talked about hip hop, some students remarked on how "Asian culture" is so different from hip hop, that Asian American rappers act like a bridge between Asian culture and (African) American culture. In other words, this can be read as Asian and Black functioning as polar opposites.
This binary is somewhat troubling. First of all, it assumes a pure origin of what is considered "Asian." That is a huge blunder, especially when colonized countries in Southeast Asia are thoroughly mixed culturally in language, art, religion, etc. and claims to a pure "Asian" culture are laughable. In fact, any claim to a true "Asian" culture (if one should be made) is kind of chauvinistic.
Dwelling on this topic, it was kind of a coincidence that I stumbled upon a question asked on Hyphen Magazine's "InterrogAsian" question and answer section. One questioner asks:
"Are Filipinos the 'black' Asians?"
Now, the meanings of this question can be taken a number of ways. Is the questioner referring to skin color? Social class? Global labor position? Cultural expressions of Filipinos and blacks?
You can read the answer Hyphen chose to give (it's kind of funny), but the question itself--one I'm sure many of us have asked or have heard asked--reveals a broader curiosity that seems to afflict the minds of more than the InterrogAsian questioner. Back to the class, then, I wonder how the topic of Asian American rappers would be looked at differently if someone also asked the question "Are Filipinos the 'black' Asians?" especially given that a silent consensus agreed Asian culture and (African) American culture were so different?
I'm sure this topic is eternally debatable. After looking at some visual art by Filipinos and Filipino Americans these past few weeks, I was pleasantly surprised to witness the creativity with which artists address the topic of Filipino and Filipino American identity.
The picture above, Sakuna (Casualty), is one example of how artists portray Filipino identity and its struggle with making sense with U.S. cultural influence in the Philippines. The painting reminds me of The Roots song "Don't See Us" where Black Thought raps with an imagery reminiscent of noted African American scholar W.E.B. DuBois's "veil" metaphor:
"You Don't See Us, but we see you
You stuck on sleep, get on your P's and Q's
Cuz you will get crept, wit no discrept
You know the rep, we keep the flows in check"
The legendary Roots crew and DuBois (image on left) suggest the "double consciousness" of blacks in the United States: they live under a "veil" in which they see and know (white) American culture and people, but yet because of the mainstream marginalization of black life, people on the outside get an obscured view of black people. DuBois argues that blacks in the U.S. know at least two lives: "mainstream" American life and black life, thus the double consciousness under the veil.
Sakuna (Casualty) paints the same metaphor for Filipinos with a literal veil covering two Filipino boys and an American flag-themed hat obscuring the face of another. You don't see them, but they see you. For the artist, the 1899 moment is one not to be forgotten.
When we look to Asia, just how "other" is Asia from the white (and black) West?
In the field of Asian culture, where do Filipinos position themselves? (We gotta go beyond lumpia shanghai and pancit canton!)
For Filipinos and Filipino Americans making music and culture, even under the veil they keep the "flows in check," hittin you with fluency in all kinds of P's and Q's. If you slept, guaranteed, you will get crept.