detail from Labels for Hair Ribbons by Manuel Ocampo a delectable selection of oriental appetizers
Monday, May 14, 2001

: . The pleasures and perils of diasporic identification:

Benedict Anderson: Today’s long-distance nationalism strikes one as a probably menacing portent for the future. First of all, it is the product of capitalism’s remorseless, accelerating transformation of all human societies. Second, it creates a serious politics that is at the same time radically unaccountable. The participant rarely pays taxes in the country in which he does his politics; he is not answerable to its judicial system; he probably does not cast even an absentee ballot in its elections because he is a citizen in a different place; he need not fear prison, torture, or death, nor need his immediate family. But, well and safely positioned in the First World, he can send money and guns, circulate propaganda, and build intercontinental computer information circuits, all of which can have incalculable consequences in the zones of their ultimate destinations. Third, his politics, unlike those of activists for global human rights or environmental causes, are neither intermittent nor serendipitous. They are deeply rooted in a consciousness that his exile is self-chosen and that the nationalism he claims on e-mail is also the ground on which an embattled ethnic identity is to be fashioned in the ethnicized nation-state that he remains determined to inhabit. That same metropole that marginalizes and stigmatizes him simultaneously enables him to play, in a flash, on the other side of the planet, national hero.

Vicente Rafael: The history of Filipino nationalism shows it to be inhabited and strangely enabled by the very forces it has sought to distinguish and expel from itself. Seeking to repossess and expropriate colonialism’s legacies, nationalism also finds itself possessed by its spectral returns. Thus the fundamental irony of Filipino nationalism. It has engendered militant resistance and remarkable acts of sacrifice and courage, just as it has provided an alibi for self-serving collaboration with new regimes and the systematic repression of those opposed to them. In an era marked by diaspora, nationalism has provided a language for organizing and mobilizing overseas and immigrant communities in response to racial and sexual discrimination and often in alliance with other similarly marginalized groups, both in the host country and in the Philippines. Still, it has also functioned to reify identities, freeze the past, and encourage the commodification of ethnicity that situates Filipinos abroad in a touristic—that is to say, neocolonial—relationship with the Filipinos at home.

Caroline Hau: If one’s experience of nationness bears the ineluctable traces of other ‘nations,’ other loyalties, what does it mean to claim that one ‘belongs’ to any given nation? What does it mean to immerse oneself in a ‘collectivity,’ to call oneself one of the ‘people’ when this ‘national self’ is not unitary, but rather irreducibly marked by something ‘foreign’? Can one have a claim to a nation other than her own? Can this claim be recognized by the people of that other nation even if the person, a ‘foreigner’ whose presence poses the ‘intolerable question’ that puts into question the conceptual foundations of our notions of Filipino nationness, does not or chooses not to lay any claim?

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