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Journal of Asian American Studies 4.3 (2001) 300-305

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Book Review

White Love and Other Events in Filipino History

Locating Filipino Americans: Ethnicity and the Cultural Politics of Space

White Love and Other Events in Filipino History. By Vicente Rafael. Durham: Duke University Press, 2000.

Locating Filipino Americans: Ethnicity and the Cultural Politics of Space.By Rick Bonus. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2000.

Globalization is on the minds of most Asian American scholars today. In contrasting fashion, Vicente Rafael and Rick Bonus offer bold new perspectives on global economic changes, transnational migration, and the agency of Asian Americans.

Vicente Rafael's sophisticated historicization of colonial culture will provide a crucial starting place for re-thinking Asian Americans and transnational processes. His White Love brings together eight previously published essays on United States cultural imperialism and nationalism in the Philippines in the twentieth century. The collection musters an impressive array of theoretical perspectives, archival sources, and secondary literature. What holds the book together is Rafael's interest in "the languages of rule, resistance, and collaboration," with a particular emphasis on the role of visual culture, or what he calls "technologies of imagery." (2) With respect to his approach, Rafael has thought long and hard about irony (blending conventional literary meanings with Paul de Man and Tagalog versions). He approaches his subject in a "playful," "episodic" style that contrasts with the sentimental and "epic" tone that often infuses nationalist discourse. In a context where "facts" are often "messy and unstable" and "[resistant] to any single political will," especially as a result of colonial manipulations, such a pose proves effective. (4, 230)

And so in ironic fashion, Rafael begins his book with the observation (citing his mentor, Benedict Anderson), that the context of twentieth century Filipino history derives from the virtual "lobotomy" that U. S. imperialism and Filipino nationalism have performed on Filipino minds, which (by imposing English), [End Page 300] divorced Filipinos from Castilian Spanish and four centuries of Filipino history under Spain. Such ironies pervade the rest of these essays. From my reading, there are two areas of exploration, which roughly proceed on a chronological basis. The first three are connected by the idea of "white love" and explore the period of United States colonialism from 1898 to the 1930s. The second five explore post-colonial nationalist discourse from the period of World War II to the 1990s. It is impossible to provide an accurate synopsis of all that Rafael covers in these wide-ranging, bristling explorations. These essays will infect readers with the kind of "epistemological vertigo" that the author uses to demystify his Filipino subjects. Nonetheless, there are dialectical contrasts that ground these explorations.

The first three essays describe the strange relations between American colonizers and Filipino colonized during the early decades of U. S. colonial rule. "White Love" explores the work of the census as a mode of surveying and disciplining Filipino bodies into acceptance of racial ideologies. This contrasts with the performance of underground "Tagalog" plays that limited the reaches of colonial ideologies through allegories of American rapacity and symbolic systems that affirmed Filipino history and subjectivity. "Colonial Domesticity" focuses on the tensions between white women in the empire and the brown men who made up the vast majority of domestic workers in the colony. Finally, "The Undead" explores the uncanny photographs taken of "unmourned" Filipino war dead by American officials and contrasts these with the "call" that seems to issue from the self-portraits of the colonized bourgeoisie.

In the next five essays, Rafael explores the languages of "official nationalism" and their ironic displacement by new discourses impelled by post-war capitalism. In "Anticipating Nationhood," an essay on World War II, Rafael contrasts two modes of "anticipating" the nation's future after colonialism. One was the rhetoric of self-interested Filipino elites collaborating with the Japanese and the other the circulation of popular rumors that cushion the shocks of Japanese brutality and instill the hope for national life after colonial rule...


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