- Filipino Americans: Transformation and Identity
This anthology covers many facets of Filipino American life. In nearly two dozen chapters, thirty authors write about literature, demography, history, racial mixing, mail-order brides, Pilipino Cultural Night, higher education, homosexuality, teenage pregnancy, drugs, psychology, ecology, politics, and religion. Since the chapters are not organized in any explicit fashion, the book seems to rely on identity—the idea of being Filipino American—as its connecting thread. At certain points this thread is not strong enough to hold the book together, leaving some chapters to contradict others.
The editor’s introduction frames Filipino American identity in terms of the trauma and victimization wrought by colonialism.
Spanning five centuries, colonization ravaged the souls and psyche of the indigenous people of the archipelago . . . . The traumas associated with colonization that lasted almost 400 years scarred us all, regardless of our nativity, language, class, or gender. Trauma fragments and fractures the essence of our being and self-knowledge; it disconnects us from each other.(p. xi)
The purpose of the book, then is to instigate a rehabilitation process. The editor suggests:
we may continue gradually healing ourselves, mitigating and eventually terminating the fractionalization and fragmentation that result from the divisive meanings applied to the economic, social, phenotypic, language, and nativity differences among us.(p. xi)
One other chapter also takes up the theme of trauma, but it is not clear whether it is actually possible to recover, or if recovery is an individual or a group activity. In Peter Bacho’s “The Tragic Sense of Filipino History,” doom and gloom propels Filipino literature. The dismal legacy of national oppression and subordination [End Page 201] evidently has inscribed itself directly onto Filipino and Filipino American fiction. Only the new, young writers have been able to escape this sensibility; Bacho cites M. Evelina Galang as an example. However, that escape is due largely to improved social conditions rather than to individual creativity or imagination.
The strongest chapters do not focus on trauma per se, but instead present scholarly versions of Filipino American history, pushing readers to think about “Filipino-Americanness” in terms of colonialism, racism, and community-building. For example, Antonio Pido’s “Macro/Micro Dimensions of Pilipino Immigration to the United States,” Nilda Rimonte’s “Colonialism’s Legacy: The Inferiorizing of the Filipino,” and Leny Strobel’s “Coming Full Circle: Narratives of Decolonization Among Post-1965 Filipino Americans” deliver powerful lessons about the impact of the past on today’s conceptions of “who we are” and “what we should do.” Pido shows that over time Filipino immigrants have become more assertive about their heritage and more invested in multicultural community-building. But without an historical awareness, Rimonte warns, Filipino Americans might languish in a state of self-estrangement—or even paralysis. (p. 57) That is true because learning history involves the daunting task of decolonization, a process Strobel defines as “reconnecting with the past to understand the present and be able to envision the future.” (p. 63) Taken together, these three chapters might serve well as the core readings for a course on Filipino American community-building or historiography (that is, the making of history).
Two chapters deserve mention because they explicitly ask what it means for Filipino Americans to put forth their own versions of history. In “The Day the Dancers Stayed,” Theodore Gonzalves focuses on Pilipino Cultural Night (PCN), a show regularly produced on several West Coast campuses involving thousands of college students. Gonzalves does not simply celebrate students’ efforts to get in touch with their cultural roots. By reflecting on his own experiences as a former PCN organizer and on his observations of many other shows, he suggests that the show often dictates what Filipino culture is—rather than encouraging an open-ended discussion about what that culture could, or should, be. For example, the repetition from year to year of familiar dance routines creates the effect that Filipino culture is static, fixed, and forever unchanging. Gonzalves calls for PCN to become less traditional and passive and instead more strategically engaged in a conversation...