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Journal of Asian American Studies 8.1 (2005) 93-102
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Placing Work, Home, and Empire in Filipino America:
A Review Essay of
Eric Estuar Reyes
In 2003, America's global endeavors have demonstrated that empire in its various guises is far from a closed chapter in human history. The year 2003 also brought us three noteworthy texts in Filipino American studies by, respectively, Catherine Ceniza Choy, Yen Le Espiritu, and Dorothy Fujita-Rony. While I am not suggesting that recent American war activities explicitly relate to the publication of Filipino American texts in 2003, these books help us see why it is important to understand the relationship between the history of U.S. imperialism and Filipino American history. America's empire building in Asia and the Pacific forms a fundamental chapter in Filipino American history. As many scholars (for example, E. San Juan, Jr., Amy Kaplan, and Lisa Lowe) working in various iterations of American studies have argued, the contradiction between the promises of American democratic ideals and their practice closely relates to the invisibility of U.S. imperialism. Choy, Espiritu, and Fujita-Rony work in, and extend, this tradition. Along these lines, I use the occasion of this review essay to remind us that just as we should not [End Page 93] mistake our current historical period as an aberration from an otherwise successfully operating developmentalist narrative toward the universal global equality and security promised by Modernity, neither should we forget the relevance of America's imperialist history in the Philippines to contemporary Filipino America and America in general.
Critically and insistently remembering U.S. imperialism highlights the deeply transnational, if not global, perspective that animates Filipino American studies' field imaginary. The history of U.S. imperialism and continued neocolonial relations between the Philippines and the United States form one of three critical parts of what I take to constitute that field imaginary. Nationalism and, in particular, Americanization – the wide-ranging social process that structures both the potential and actual conditions of Filipino American lives – is the second part. The third aspect is transnational capitalism and its pervasive logic of exchange, which underlies our social relations from the individual to the multinational. Together, these three aspects describe the politics of globalization that define the specificity of the situation of Filipinos in the United States. While not mutually exclusive, identifying these distinguishable aspects of Filipino American studies' field imaginary allows us to better understand Filipino American studies' underlying concerns and theoretical directions.
Choy, Espiritu, and Fujita-Rony's texts demonstrate the ways that Filipino American studies' ostensible central focus – "Filipino America" and Filipino American subjectivity – relates to what I have been calling the politics of globalization. The simplicity of this claim belies the diversity of perspectives in Filipino American studies and the complexity underlying the development of Filipino American communities and Filipino American experiences. Indeed, intellectual, community and cultural workers have debated on an ongoing basis and in explicit and indirect forms, what it means to be Filipino in the United States precisely because of the inadequacy of any single study or approach to address that complexity. The texts anchoring this review essay engage this debate by presenting us with historically grounded studies that foreground U.S. imperialism, document the struggles and successes of Filipinos in the United States with Americanization, and highlight the ways that transnational capitalism both enables and limits the possibilities of Filipino American subjectivity. In other words, these texts individually and collectively provide us with focused studies on Filipino American agency in the face of systemic power.
Catherine Ceniza Choy's study examines the development of nursing in the Philippines and...