Friday, December 18, 2009

You don't see us, but we see you: Filipinos under the veil

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.



Word said...

DuBois, Pinoys & Hip Hop. It's only right.

boogaleo said...

great post homie. goin back to the classroom, whats the student's background where they claim "asian culture"? putting on our own asian american-"identity" claiming college days, "Asian culture", could just mean their parents' ways no? So then the conflict can be viewed more generational differences between parents and the hiphop generation. They themselves are separating their Asian and American-selves.

or. from the political/marketing standpoint. model minorities and exotic asian culture should never be down with hiphops blackness. the polarization is just an extension of the myth and our generation consuming the shit, sleepin while the oppressor creepin.

yes i know i convoluted Dubois veil, i havent written in awhile ok!

boo said...

on where do Pilipinos position themselves of Asian culture..hmmm, i ain't buying to even being a part of the category.

what i've learned out here. korea is the new cultural elite commensurate to its national development and business influence both in Viet Nam and Philippines.

on the US academic/research institution level, at best the Philippines is vying for place amongst Southeast Asian studies, which the field always seems to marginalize itself from Eastern Asia superpowers.

fecitious point: 2012 movie, let's look at the "world leaders" who decided the fate of humanity: US. Russia. Japan. China. sucks to be South America, Africa and Southeast Asia! (and insert other non-superpower).

so thats a long-winded answer saying cultural position is tied to national development and political will.

boogaleo said...

sorry, haven't spoken too much english lately. I meant to say "Southeast Asian studies field is always marginalized from East Asia"