detail from Labels for Hair Ribbons by Manuel Ocampo a delectable selection of oriental appetizers
Thursday, May 02, 2002


: . On the Filipino Soul in Filipino Time:

...to desire is to err, but to err necessarily --Judith Butler


In an article entitled Lost Souls, published three weeks ago in the Inquirer, Conrado de Quiros once again bemoaned the state of Philippine nationalism. This time however, he has come up with a sly argument for a deeper sense of country by playing into Philippine colonial mentality. For de Quiros, Filipino parents, in the Philippines and elsewhere, are doing their children a disservice when they discourage them from learning about their so-called heritage. So enamored of America, these parents think that knowledge of Philippine history and culture is nothing but worthless baggage that could only weigh them and their children down in their path to American-ness. But if these parents believe that America is indeed a paradise, a place of ease and plenty that all should strive to reach, then, de Quiros argues, they should raise their children not as good Americans but as good Filipinos.
For de Quiros, a developed sense of country could in fact ease the process of assimilation. The classic immigrant strategy of scrubbing away all traces of cultural distinctiveness in order to blend in with the American crowd no longer works in multicultural America. Standing out is now a virtue. It is in fact the very basis for acceptance into the now more enlightened crowd. This may seem counterintuitive, but to prove his point de Quiros cites an old adage from Creative Writing: write what you know. It is only by tapping into one’s specific knowledge that one could communicate general themes regarding the human condition. This holds true for all acts of creation, in the writing of literature as well as in the cultivation of selves:
    People who wrote for posterity and for a universal audience…were promptly forgotten, if not completely ignored. It was people who wrote about their particular time and their particular place -- like John Steinbeck and Nick Joaquin -- who were long remembered. Paradoxically, it was stories bounded by time that lived on for all time. Paradoxically, it was stories about very distinct experiences that spoke to all peoples.
    It's the same thing here. People who obliterate their past, or their cultural distinctiveness, to be assimilated into another society or culture are promptly forgotten and ignored.
    It's the people who have a very keen sense of their ethnic and cultural distinctiveness who get to be listened to and taken seriously. They have something to contribute. The power of America precisely is that it is a melting pot. You have no ingredient to add to the melting pot other than imitation salt, you will be thrown away. It is no accident that the Asians who have gotten ahead in the United States are the Chinese and Indians, or closer to home, from Southeast Asia, the Vietnamese and Thais.

Filipinos who keep their native souls alive are therefore assured entry into the paradise on earth that is America. Filipinos who are intent on exorcising their native souls will only suffer torment in what de Quiros calls a ‘limbo’ of rootlessness and unbelonging. Neither here nor there, these Filipinos are therefore lost in the bland cultural confusion perfectly emblematized, as de Quiros would have it, by the Jollibee hamburger -- a Filipino ‘imitation’ of an American original.
There is nothing novel in de Quiros’ argument. It has long been a mainstay of nationalist thought since the nineteenth century. In an 1897 essay entitled ‘The Conservation of the Races’ W. E. B. Du Bois, one of the founding fathers of Pan-Africanism, argued that ‘the history of the world is the history not of individuals, but of groups, not of nations, but of races.’ Du Bois, of course did not propose to dispense with nationalism all together. Despite what may be implied in his literary flourishes, Du Bois believed that races are in fact nations, each ‘striving…in its own way, to develop for civilization its particular message.’ De Quiros’ ‘distinctive ingredient’ therefore was drawn from the same nationalist wellspring as Du Bois’ ‘particular message.’
Leaving aside debates regarding cultural ‘authenticity’ and the exoticism that underlies American multiculturalism, de Quiros’ argument has a strange appeal. But why should the ‘particular’ be bound by the ‘national’? Has de Quiros simply substituted the universal with a national universal rather than with the particular? The nation after all is hardly the custodian of difference. Rather, it often promotes the flattening of differences. The nationalist slogans Unity in Diversity or E Pluribus Unum may have a nice ring to them but they also imply the subsuming of particular interests for the greater good, a goodness often defined by narrow interests. (to be continued…)

: . Tensions of Empire

Three essays that place US colonial rule in the Philippines within a broader context:

All three essays stress the need for a more dynamic trans-national framework in the study of Philippine history. Kramer's essay for example examines the relationships between two imperial powers -- the United States and Great Britain -- and the conflicting roles that notions of American exceptionalism and Anglo-Saxonism played in shaping American colonial policy in the Philippines. Salman's essay charts the ways in which 19th century American anti-slavery attitudes were mobilized to justify the extension of American colonial rule in the Philippines. He also probes into how these anti-slavery attitudes clashed with the various definitions of slavery that Filipino nationalists developed as a response to American colonial scholars. Finally, Hoganson's essay discusses the patriarchal attitudes that underpinned American Anti-Imperialism and how this frustrated the possible coalitions Anti-Imperialists could have formed with the emerging Women's Suffragist Movement, the racial attitudes of whose members, in turn, impeded the formation of alliances between American and Filipino women.

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