Transpacific Femininities: The Making of the Modern Filipina
Transpacific Femininities: The Making of the Modern Filipina

Transpacific Femininities: The Making of the Modern Filipina

by Denise Cruz


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In this groundbreaking study, Denise Cruz investigates the importance of the figure she terms the "transpacific Filipina" to Philippine nationalism, women's suffrage, and constructions of modernity. Her analysis illuminates connections between the rise in the number of Philippine works produced in English and the emergence of new social classes of transpacific women during the early to mid-twentieth century.

Through a careful study of multiple texts produced by Filipina and Filipino writers in the Philippines and the United States—including novels and short stories, newspaper and magazine articles, conduct manuals, and editorial cartoons—Cruz provides a new archive and fresh perspectives for understanding Philippine literature and culture. She demonstrates that the modern Filipina did not emerge as a simple byproduct of American and Spanish colonial regimes, but rather was the result of political, economic, and cultural interactions among the Philippines, Spain, the United States, and Japan. Cruz shows how the complex interplay of feminism, nationalism, empire, and modernity helped to shape, and were shaped by, conceptions of the transpacific Filipina.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780822353003
Publisher: Duke University Press Books
Publication date: 11/19/2012
Pages: 320
Product dimensions: 6.12(w) x 9.25(h) x (d)

About the Author

Denise Cruz is Assistant Professor of English and American Studies at Indiana University. She is the editor of Yay Panlilio's The Crucible: An Autobiography by Colonel Yay, Filipina American Guerrilla.

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By Denise Cruz

Duke University Press

Copyright © 2012 Duke University Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8223-5316-4

Chapter One


In 1915, when the author Emma Sarepta Yule needed a metaphor to describe the early twentieth-century Filipina, she turned to a map. In "The Woman Question in the Philippines," an article that identifies potential comparisons and contrasts between Filipinas and other Asian women, Yule locates Filipina femininity "midway geographically between the dainty kimono maiden of Japan and the veiled lady of India and alongside the 'lily-footed' dame of China." The "woman of the Philippines," she observes, is "unique in the orient. A woman in whose development there has been neither seclusion, nor oppression, nor servitude. A woman who is not and has never been in the category of 'oriental woman' as popularly and fairly correctly conceived." Although she first situates the Filipina at the midpoint of a transpacific cartography that sweeps over Japan, India, and China, for Yule the similarities between the Filipina and other "Oriental" women stop at this intersection of longitudinal and latitudinal lines. She does not question the popular conception of Asian women as being servile, oppressed, secluded, and delicate. Instead, she contends that the Filipina has been wrongfully included in this categorization. The rest of Yule's article transfers her symbolic mapping of the Filipina in transpacific space to a theoretical imagining of transpacific femininity as drawn from and as a response to the lingering traces of Spanish influence, the results of new contact with the United States, and perceptions about other Asian femininities.

"The Woman Question in the Philippines" circulated in two venues: the Philippines Monthly, a magazine produced in Manila for English-speaking Filipinas and Filipinos and U.S. expatriates, and, a year later, in Manuel Quezon's The Filipino People, a circular produced in the United States. The essay was reprinted in Scribner's in 1920 under the title "Filipino Feminism." Yule, a white American woman who moved to the Philippines during the first years of the U.S. occupation and was on the faculty of the University of the Philippines, intended her observations on feminism to reach a transpacific audience. Her careful construction of the Filipina is a springboard for this chapter's exploration of the entwined development of Philippine literature in English and the emergence of transpacific femininities. I trace a route that originates in the American metropole and travels to the occupied Philippines, a path that illuminates the absolute importance of Filipina femininity to how Filipina and Filipino elites responded to changes in a geopolitical web that stretched from the Philippines to the United States, Japan, China, and other nations in Asia. The resulting tensions and conflicts emerged in documentation of the Philippines and its peoples produced in the United States during the early twentieth century, figures of transpacific women imagined by Filipina and white female authors, early conversations over the state of English literature carried on in print in the Philippines during the 1930s, and the uncertain status of women writers in Manila's predominantly male publishing climate.

My decision to use mapping as a metaphor complicates the relationship between imperial cartography as a method for producing knowledge about and control of colonial subjects. During the occupation of the Philippines, maps were part of the widespread visual circulation of materials consumed by an American public. "Maps," contends David Brody, "facilitate the course of empire. By creating imagined landscapes, which, readers believe, arise out of a desire to represent the truth, maps epitomize an imperial logic." As Amy Ku'leialoha Stillman reminds us, however, although cartography uses visual representation to imagine a landscape for imperial consumption and discipline, one might rethink the meaning of a map and the kind of knowledge it charts, for "the conceptual power of maps is useful for plotting not only locations, but directions of movements and relationships across space as well. These resources allow us to consider interactions of people spatially, and to track how such relationships then continue to move and circulate. Nor are the movements unidirectional, or even simply bidirectional."

Mapping the complex interactions and relationships that informed transpacific femininities during the initial decades of the occupation, my cartography crisscrosses the Pacific to investigate byways and midways, the terms I use to encapsulate the methodology developed in this chapter and employed in the book as a whole. I examine untraveled byways—primarily works written by Filipinas and Filipinos in English that are little known and unstudied—and situate these texts amid their intersecting midways, a combination of transpacific literary history and feminist analysis. Indeed, Yule's choice of the term midway in the early twentieth century speaks to the historical and cultural specificities of how Filipinas were represented in multiple forms of media, from the independent and popular press to the public and private circulation of photographs to well-attended exhibitions and fairs. While a midway refers to the middle, the halfway point that bisects a geographical distance, in North America in the 1890s and 1900s midway became associated specifically with the exhibits that were becoming increasingly popular as large public entertainments, such as the St. Louis World's Fair in 1904. A midway, often carrying proper noun significance (as in the Midway), was "a central avenue along which the chief exhibits or amusements are placed; any area of sideshows or amusements; (slang) a hall." Referring to the middle, too, in terms of state or course, a midway also signifies the in-betweens of space, time, or process and encapsulates the geopolitical shifts that are crucial to transpacific femininities. The term has limitations in that truly exact middles are impossible and even undesirable. Yet through these midways in the territories of literary production, practices of representation, and authorial strategies, I underscore how the making of transpacific femininities was entwined with attempts by an elite fluent in English to reinforce their importance amid the transition from Spanish to U.S. empires in the early years of the twentieth century and again from the U.S. occupation to the Philippine commonwealth in the 1930s.

Celebrations of transpacific femininity like Yule's and the complicated development of Filipina and Filipino authorship in English are both vexed by their connections to long-standing tensions in the creation and maintenance of an English-speaking bourgeoisie. As the terms Filipina and Filipino shifted and coalesced into identities different from their nineteenth-century Spanish meaning of "creoles," elites in both the Philippines and the United States wanted to represent themselves in a way that would circumvent their association with those seen as uncivilized, especially the non-Christian, animist Igorots and Negritos of Luzon, the island on which Manila is located; the Muslim Moros of the southern Philippines; the non-English-speaking masses of Manila; Chinese populations in the Philippines; and rural peoples living in the provinces. Similarly, those Filipina authors who, along with Yule, wrote against the popularized and Orientalist representation of Japanese and Chinese women as veiled and exotic, or weak and oppressed, also questioned not only the characterization of other Asian women in this vein but also their own inclusion in such assessments.

Soon after the United States annexed the Philippines, newspapers, periodicals, and American publishers began circulating a large volume of material debating the validity and morality of the occupation and documenting the islands and its peoples for an American public. English texts written by elites who were involved in the anti-imperialist movement or participants in study-abroad programs in the United States appeared in the early 1900s: some works were written originally in English while others were produced in translation. These authors had to contend with the shifting perceptions in the United States of both Japan and China, as the American public responded to the perceived rise of Japan as an imperial power, the threat this expansion posed, and the influx of Chinese and Japanese laborers. Such developments fueled widespread fears of yellow peril and invading hordes of Asian bodies. These anxieties existed alongside a lingering Orientalist fascination with Asian women as the romantic geisha girl or butterfly figure, popularized by romances, plays, opera, and film.

While a feminist observer like Yule noticed these shifts, elite Filipinas similarly mapped this crossroads in early twentieth-century articles and essays published in American newspapers and periodicals, and their work too strikes an unsteady balance between fears of savage, uncontrollable Asian bodies and the fascination with exotic Orientals. Their texts counter the modes of exhibition and display that persistently held up the islands and its people as objects of consumption for a curious American viewing and reading public, and they call into question the characterization of Philippine peoples as uncivilized and unprepared for the benefits of democracy. They also maneuver in and around competing representations of Filipina women and their connections to exotic yet oppressed Japanese and Chinese women. They contest the benevolent narratives of empire associated with education in the United States and the promotion of white, liberated American femininity as a model. Instead, the authors emphasize that elite Filipinas embody a unique form of transpacific femininity, a combination of the conservative and the modern, and the best elements of Philippine culture with the benefits brought by educational opportunities imported from the West. While they resist notions of Filipinas as unquestioning, desiring colonial subjects, they form fragile and fraught alliances with the West. Ultimately, the women define transpacific Filipinas as resisting discrete and containable identities. This emphasis on malleability, as we will see, informs later reactions to transpacific Filipinas from the early to the mid-twentieth century, as such instability fuels attempts to manage and control uncontainable women.

Moving from the first decade of the occupation to the late 1930s, when the Philippines went from unincorporated territory to transitional commonwealth, the second half of the chapter turns to yet another literary byway. Across the Pacific a rapidly increasing number of Filipina and Filipino authors would choose English literature as a venue for the imagination of new national identities. Intersections between the production of Philippine literature in English and the elite's tenuous connections to notions of Philippine nationalism would be crucial to this moment. Once the Tydings-McDuffie Act paved the road for the establishment of a Philippine commonwealth, authors found themselves in an especially difficult position, as the status of English as an official language was called into question. Male authors responded by vehemently defending their role as architects of a nationalist literary tradition in English and fiercely debating the purposes and end results of literary production. A series of articles published in Manila during the late 1930s and early 1940s illustrates the contours of this debate. In these essays, Filipino authors uniformly defend the importance of English literature to the Philippines' past and future. These discussions about the continued relevance of a nationalist literary tradition in English reveal elite male writers' desire to insulate themselves and perceptions of their work from competing Tagalog authors and their appeal to the masses.

But this debate, which has long been read in terms of a conversation that pitted aesthetics over politics, was entwined with a concurrent conflict between men and women. While male authors argued about the purposes of English literature, women writers used the occasion to reflect on the challenges of the publishing world in Manila. Periodicals featured sniping back-and-forth between men who dismissed Filipina literary production, and women who defended their merits and criticized the difficulties faced by female authors. Moving to the gendered borders that defined the capital's literary world, the final section charts this friction and explores Filipina authors' strategic responses as they sought alternative formations to counter fraternities of elite male nationalism.

Colonial Displays of the Filipina and the Road to American Benevolence

In the early years of the twentieth century Filipina authors contended with various methods of colonial display that circulated in the United States. The policing of Filipina bodies was crucial to these endeavors, and constructions of Filipina and Asian women in the United States were especially important to Filipina writers during the early decades of the occupation. On one hand, cultural productions of people in the Philippines centered on racist taxonomies that classed the islands' inhabitants as savage and uncivilized. In the space of a single sentence, Nerissa Balce astutely sums up the preoccupation with naked brown bodies: "In colonial documents, savage breasts were signs of conquest." The Filipina woman was a key figure in the raced, sexed, and classed hierarchies that justified the U.S. occupation. At first she emerged in visual and print discourse as emblematic of native inscrutability, a sexualized other who flouted imperial control and discipline. The figure of the "Filipina savage" was central to what Balce calls the "erotics of empire," which depended on "the play of earlier racialized and gendered discourses that constructed the Filipina as a new nonwhite other whose alterity incorporated the ideas, images, and vocabularies of the conquests of the New World, the frontier, and the legacies of slavery."

Despite the dominance of the Filipina savage, not all Filipinas were represented in the same way. While erotically charged representations of Filipina indias were crucial to the circulation of an imperial archive, elite Filipinas were praised for their remarkable potential to benefit from U.S. involvement in the islands, ostensibly because of their eager imitation of American femininity. Elite women were frequently imagined as desiring subjects who were not only able to mimic the teachings of their colonizers but who were also eager to acquire the symbolic trappings of benevolence. This desire was manifested in their participation in U.S. educational programs, their consumption of Western goods, and their supposedly Western behavior, often identified in opposition to Orientalist notions of femininity. On one hand, the bodies of Filipina indias were circulated in the pages of newspapers, in reprinted photographs in books, and in large exhibitions as desirable objects to be consumed by the curious reader or viewer. On the other hand, these media forms represented elite Filipinas as desiring consumers of imperial ideology and Western capital.

The print, photographic, and staged productions that cast Filipinas as either the inscrutable or threatening native or the willing, desiring imperial subject were widespread and varied. Almost immediately after the acquisition of the Philippines, the U.S. public was bombarded with the large-scale representational production of the islands as the country's newest territorial possessions, including book-length studies devoted to the islands and its peoples, flora, fauna, resources, customs, and folk tales; correspondence from eyewitness observers published in newspapers and periodicals; the results of the first Philippine census; and memoirs by soldiers, wives, U.S. officials, educators, and others who had journeyed to the Philippines and written of their experience. By far the largest of the efforts to introduce the American people to their new island possessions was the Philippine exhibit at the St. Louis World's Fair, which included a replica of a village inhabited by representatives of various ethnic groups and examples of model citizens such as the Philippine Scouts, who, because of their involvement with the U.S. regime, were presumably marching steadfastly forward on the road to civilization.


Excerpted from TRANSPACIFIC FEMININITIES by Denise Cruz Copyright © 2012 by Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission of Duke University Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix

Introduction. Transpacific Filipinas, Made and Remade 1

1. Cartographies of the Transpacific Filipina 31

2. Nationalism, Modernity, and Feminism's Haunted Intersections 67

3. Plotting a Transpacific Filipina's Destiny: Romances of Elite Exceptionalism 111

4. New Order Practicality and Guerrilla Domesticity: The Pacific War's Filipina 149

5. "Pointing to the Heart": Cold War Makings of the Transpacific Filipina 185

Epilogue. Transpacific Femininities, Multimedia Archives, and the Global Marketplace 219

Notes 237

Bibliography 261

Index 283

What People are Saying About This

Imagine Otherwise: On Asian Americanist Critique - Kandice Chuh

Transpacific Femininities is really quite extraordinary. By sustained critical attention on the figure of the transpacific Filipina, Denise Cruz tells a story that not only returns deep and irreducible complexity to the women and women writers whose lives and work create a network of affiliations and intimacies across the Pacific, but that also shows us how vital gender was and is to apprehending the incredibly complicated interrelations among the histories, cultures, and politics of the Philippines, the United States, and Japan. Where many are apt to declare the significance of empire, race, nation, and gender, Cruz *shows* their linked importance. Amazingly, she does so by taking her readers through as varied grounds as the emergence of English-language literary cultures in the Philippines, to the shifting deployments and meanings of femininity across the writings of authors who are sometimes conservative, sometimes transgressive, and always illuminating, without confining the Filipina to a singular narrative. We learn a great deal about the circuits of signification, desire, and empire that constitute twentieth century histories of the Pacific."

Global Divas: Filipino Gay Men in the Diaspora - Martin F. Manalansan IV

"Offering elegantly written, provocatively framed, and meticulously analyzed historical and cultural accounts of Filipino modern feminine formations between the early twentieth century and the years immediately after the Second World War, Denise Cruz fills a gap in the scholarly literature by boldly asserting the primacy of transnational connections."

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