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Filipino American Lives across Cultures, Communities, and Countries
By Yen Le Espiritu
UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESSCopyright © 2003 the Regents of the University of California
All rights reserved.
It is one of the unhappiest characteristics of the [contemporary] age to have produced more refugees, migrants, displaced persons, and exiles than ever before in history, most of them as accompaniment to and, ironically enough, as afterthoughts of great postcolonial and imperial conflicts. Edward Said, Culture and Imperialism
We [Filipinos] are now a quasi-wandering people, pilgrims or prospectors staking our lives and futures all over the world—in the Middle East, Africa, Europe, North and South America, Australia and all of Asia; in every nook and cranny of this seemingly godforsaken earth. E. San Juan, Jr., Beyond Postcolonial Theory
The relationship between the Philippines and the United States has its origins in a history of conquest, occupation, and exploitation. A study of Filipino migration to the United States must begin with this history. Without starting here, we risk reducing Filipino migration to just another immigrant stream. Extending Michael Omi and Howard Winant's notion that "racial formation" is the changing product of the negotiations between social movements and the U.S. state, this book contends that Filipino American racial formation is determined not only by the social, economic, and political forces in the United States but also by U.S. (neo)colonialism in the Philippines and capital investment in Asia. The Filipino case thus foregrounds the ways in which immigrants from previously colonized nations are not exclusively formed as racialized minorities within the United States but also as colonized nationals while in their "homeland"—one that is deeply affected by U.S. influences and modes of social organization. Placing the study of immigration within an "agency-oriented theoretical perspective," I examine in this book how Filipino women and men—as simultaneously colonized national, immigrant, and racialized minority—are transformed through the experience of colonialism and migration and how they in turn transform and remake the social world around them.
Attentive to both the local and global structures of inequality, I argue that Filipino Americans confront U.S. domestic racism and the global racial order by leading lives stretched across borders—shaped as much by memories of and ties to the Philippines as by the social, economic, and political contexts in their new home in the United States.
Focusing on the experiences of Filipinos in San Diego, California, I maintain that the process of migration is not only about arrival and settlement but, crucially, also about home orientation and return. In focusing on the power and appeal of both "here" and "there," I hope to show that immigrants—in this age of transnational flow of labor, capital, and cultural forms—are both spatially mobile and spatially bounded. Immigrants are mobile in that they can physically live across (unequal) borders or return home through the imagination. At the same time, they are bounded by force of law, economic and political power, and regulating and regularizing institutions in the site(s) in which they find themselves. Given that immigrants are multiply located and placed, this book is about how home is both an imagined and an actual geography; or more specifically, it is about how home is both connected to and disconnected from the physical space in which one lives. Home is defined here both as a private domestic space and as a larger geographic place where one belongs, such as one's community, village, city, and country. I am especially interested in understanding how immigrants use memory of homeland to construct their new lives in the country to which they have migrated.
To explain better the conceptual relations between home as an imagined and home as an actual geography, I will focus on home making—the processes by which diverse subjects imagine and make themselves at home in various geographic locations. Because home making is most often a way of establishing difference and a means of jostling for power, homes are as much about inclusions and open doors as they are about exclusions and closed borders. At the interpersonal level, homes are simultaneously places of nurturing and sites of conflict between family members who occupy different positions of power. At the national communal level, homes are places carved out of repressive state, labor, and cultural practices designed to keep outsiders—in this case, Filipinos—from becoming "rooted." Amid this enforced "homelessness," many immigrants articulate their sense of home by overemphasizing ties of biology and geography and/or by building political coalitions across class, regional, national, and racial boundaries. I will pay particular attention to the problematic relationship that women have to home—as immigrant wives, as second-generation daughters, and as women of color in a white patriarchal society. In so doing, I heed Grewal and Kaplan's call to be attentive to "scattered hegemonies"—to the multiple, overlapping, and intersecting sources of power—as opposed to hegemonic power.
TOWARD A CRITICAL TRANSNATIONAL PERSPECTIVE
The globalization of labor, capital, and culture, the restructuring of world politics, and the expansion of new technologies of communication and transportation: all have driven people and products across the globe at a dizzying pace. In the last decade, reflecting the current saliency of transnational processes, scholars have shifted from the dualism inherent in the classic models of migration—the assumption that migrants move through bipolar spaces in a progressive time frame—to nonbinary theoretical perspectives that are not predicated on modernist assumptions about space and time. Recent writings on "transnational sociocultural system," "the transnational community," "transmigrants," the "deterritorialized nation-state," and "transnational grassroots politics" have challenged our notions of place, reminding us to think about places not only as specific geographic and physical sites but also as circuits and networks. These writings also have contradicted localized and bounded social science concepts such as community and culture, calling attention instead to the transnational relations and linkages among overseas communities and between them and their homeland.
Transnational migration studies form a highly fragmented field; there continues to be much disagreement about the scope of the field and the outcome of the transnational processes under observation. I engage transnationalism in this book not because I expect that transnational lifestyles—the back-and-forth flow of people, ideas, material resources, and multisited projects—will become the rule in the near future. Indeed, I suspect that the literature on transnationalism has overemphasized transnational circuits and understated the permanency of immigrant settlement. Like Pierette Hondagneu-Sotelo and Ernestine Avila and others, I believe that most immigrants in the United States are here to stay, regardless of their initial intentions and their continuing involvement in the political, social, and economic lives of their countries of origin. At the same time, it is precisely because of the "permanent" status of Filipino immigrants in the United States that I find their ongoing social and emotional connections to the Philippines most surprising and thus in need of study. I am interested in understanding not only how but also why Filipino immigrants who have settled permanently in the United States would continue to maintain transnational families, social networks, and communities.
From an epistemological stance, I find transnationalism to be a valuable conceptual tool, one that disrupts the narrow emphasis on "modes of incorporation" characteristic of much of the published work in the field of U.S. immigration studies. While no longer bound by a simplistic assimilationist paradigm, the field has remained "America-centric," with an overwhelming emphasis on the process of "becoming American." The concept of transnationalism, used as a heuristic device, highlights instead the range and depth of migrants' lived experience in multinational social fields. It is important to note that transnational activities are not new. As early as 1916, Randolph Bourne, in his classic essay "Transnational America," argued that the nation might have to accept "dual citizenship" and "free and mobile passage of the immigrant between America and his native land." Given the notoriety of Bourne's essay, we must ask why the concept of transnationalism never really did enter the lexicon of political and scholarly debates on immigration. Instead, pluralism, melting pot, and assimilation—terms that presumed (and prescribed) unidirectional migration flows—dominated our discussion. Following Barry Goldberg,161 contend that scholars and policy experts cast aside the idea of transnationalism because it poses too much of a challenge to the "mythistory" of the United States—one that valorizes the linear narratives of immigration, assimilation, and nationhood. Going against these linear narratives, this book (re)presents Filipino migration as multifaceted movements across borders.
A critical transnational perspective also provokes us to think beyond the limits of the nation-state, that is, to be attentive to the global relations that set the context for immigration and immigrant life. In this age of increasing worldwide interconnection, the boundaries of the nation-state seldom correspond to the transnational social, cultural, economic, and political spaces of daily life. At the same time, today's global world is not just some glorious hybrid, complex, mixity; it is systematically divided. As Doreen Massey reminds us, these deep ruptures and inequalities are not mere "geographical differences" but are produced and maintained within the very process of globalization. A vision of the world as an unstructured and free unbounded space obscures the asymmetrical links between First and Third World nations forged by colonization, decolonization, and the globalization of late capitalism. Calling attention to global structures of inequality, recent social theorists have linked migration processes with the global penetration of Western economic systems, technological infrastructures, and popular cultures into non-Western countries. Although the details vary, these works posit that the internationalization of capitalistic economic system to Third World countries has produced imbalances in their internal social and economic structures and subsequently has spurred emigration. Indeed, all the nation-states from which the largest number of U.S. immigrants originate—Mexico, China (including Taiwan and Hong Kong), the Philippines, El Salvador, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, South Korea, Guatemala, Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia—have had sustained and sometimes intimate social, political, and economic relations with the United States.
A transnational approach that stresses the global structures of inequality is critical for understanding Asian immigration and Asian American lives in the United States. Linking global economic development with global histories of colonialism, Edna Bonacich and Lucie Cheng argue that the pre-World War II immigration of Asians to the United States has to be understood within the context of the development of capitalism in Europe and the United States and the emergence of imperialism, especially in relation to Asia. From World War II onward, as the world economy has become much more globally integrated, Asia has been a site of U.S. expansion. As a result, contemporary immigrants from the Philippines, South Vietnam, South Korea, Cambodia, and Laos come from countries that have been deeply disrupted by U.S. colonialism, war, and neocolonial capitalism. Since contemporary immigration and modern imperialism are "two sides of a single global phenomenon," contemporary Asian immigration to the United States can be better understood as "the 'return' of Asian immigrants to the imperial center." In this sense, contemporary Asian immigration erodes the spatial structure of colonialism by interspersing the "colonial self" and the "colonized other" in interpenetrating spaces.
The history of U.S. imperialism in Asia suggests that Asian American "racial formation" has been determined not exclusively by events in the United States but also by U.S. colonialism and neocolonialism in Asia. But the process of Asian American racial formation has been neither singular nor unified. Owing to the multiple contexts of colonialism and its various extensions into the development of global capitalism, Asians in the United States have experienced different processes of racialization specific to each group's historical and material conditions. In the case of Filipinos, who come from a homeland that was a U.S. colony for more than half a century and that continues to persist as "virtually an appendage of the U.S. corporate power elite," their formation as a racialized minority does not begin in the United States but rather in the homeland already affected by U.S. economic, social, and cultural influences. The prior flow of population, armies, goods, capital, and culture—moving primarily from the United States to the Philippines—profoundly dislocated many Filipinos from their home and subsequently spurred their migration to the United States and elsewhere.
The history of U.S. colonialism in the Philippines reminds us that immigrant lives are shaped not only by the social location of their group within the host country but also by the position of their home country within the global racial order. Writing on the marginal status of immigrants of color in North American society, M. G. Vassanji proposes that "the marginalization of the non-European immigrant is concomitant to the marginalization of the world he or she comes from—a country and culture viewed as alien, backward, poor, and unhappy." With "civilization" constructed as implicitly white, nation-states such as the Philippines continue to be subordinated and defined as racially different and hence inferior and without history or culture. As such, U.S. racism against Filipino immigrants—misrepresented variously as the little brown brothers, the monkeys, the prostitutes, the mail-order brides—is not only a contemporary backlash against the influx of recent Filipino immigrants but is also part of a continuum that goes back to U.S. racism in and colonialization of the Philippines. It is the convergence of these multiple historical trajectories—their location in the United States, in the Philippines, and in the space between—that is the focus of this book.
ABOUT MYTHS: IMMIGRANT SUCCESS AND IMMIGRANT MENACE STORIES
The abundant literature on immigration—both popular and academic— tends to begin with the premise that immigrants are a "problem." It is striking how this literature locates the problem not in the political and economic oppression or violence that produces massive displacements and movements of people, but within the bodies and minds of the migrants themselves. Developed during the peak years of mass immigration from Europe, the sociology of immigration, particularly that of the Chicago School, approached the study of immigrants and their absorption into U.S. society as a social problem requiring specialized correctives and interventions. Today, when more than 80 percent of the "newer" immigrants are from Asia and Latin America, immigration is regularly presented in public debates and popular images as a problem to be solved and a flow to be stopped. Contemporary research on immigration has likewise produced numerous cost-benefit analyses of immigrants' impact on the economy, on the labor market, and on local, state, and federal treasuries.
Among all contemporary U.S. immigrants, Mexicans are singled out as especially problematic. According to Leo Chavez, the media have consistently represented Mexican immigration using alarmist imagery. In his provocative study of magazine covers on immigration since 1965, Chavez finds that "Mexicans are imaged as low-income, low-skilled people whose threat of 'invasion' derives from their numbers, reproductive capacities, and competition for jobs with low-educated, low-skilled U.S. citizens." Along the same line, Hondagneu-Sotelo argues that in the early 1990s, with the Proposition 187 campaign in California, the dominant anti-Mexican immigration narrative characterized Mexican immigrants and their children as a growing underclass class who drained the government treasuries fed by U.S. citizen-taxpayers.
In contrast, media images of and stories about Asian immigrants generally celebrate their purported economic assimilation, pronouncing that many Asian immigrants "do not fit the stereotype of the huddled masses" and that "they are educated and middle class, ready and eager to prosper in America." Many scholars have disputed this claim, emphasizing instead the economic diversity among Asian Americans, especially the persistent poverty experienced by Southeast Asian refugees. Even so, the socioeconomic status of certain Asian groups exceeded that of whites, fueling the characterization of Asian Americans as the model minority. Overall, the post-1965 Filipino immigrants constitute a relatively affluent group: in 1990, more than half joined the ranks of managers and professionals; their median household income exceeded that of all Americans and even that of whites; and their percentage of college graduates was twice that of all Americans.
Excerpted from Home Bound by Yen Le Espiritu. Copyright © 2003 the Regents of the University of California. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESS.
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