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  • Transnationalism and Filipino American Historiography
  • Augusto Espiritu

In the last few years, filipino american historical studies seems to have emerged, propelled by the growing influence of post-colonial, Empire, and transnational studies upon this subfield.1 Indeed, there has been a great deal of talk about such influences. My own personal predilections are exactly in that direction, although I am careful that the field does not lose sight of the racial, multicultural, and social conditions from which "Asian American" history emerged. Indeed, this paper shows that it is perhaps premature to ascertain the direction the field has taken and that the labels "transnational" and "post-colonial" might have been applied a little too hastily to Filipino American historical works. Indeed, it is clear from the foregoing examination that though most historians of Filipino Americans are mindful of such developments, not everyone has adopted these paradigms. Many are continuing to draw from more traditional approaches to race, gender, and class in the American context. I argue that this is not necessarily a disadvantage so long as there is an evolving dialogue, exchange, and understanding between "old" and "new" methodologies that fosters intellectual growth.

For a long time, professional historians of Filipino America were few and far between. Without counting the works of Ronald Takaki, Sucheng Chan, and other "generalists,"2 the only professionally trained historian in the field was Barbara Posadas of Northern Illinois University, whose [End Page 171] landmark studies of Filipino labor, immigration, student life, cross-racial sex, and mixed race in Chicago paved the way for many of us future historians.3 Posadas has not yet gathered these essays, published in various journals, into book form. Particularly in her studies of pensionados, students sponsored by the colonial government, it is clear that Posadas was aware of the importance of transnationality and did her research in both U.S. as well as Philippine archives, especially in English-language sources. Nonetheless, Posadas's work is concerned with explicating the emergence of Filipino American identity, and as such, her approach was typical of social historians who utilized a race, class, and gender analysis and generally saw Philippine developments in light of U.S. labor and immigration history.

In the last decade, we have had the emergence of a new generation of professionally trained historians who have published important works on Filipino Americans. It might be presumptuous to say the field has attained "critical mass," but in the twenty-first century, more books have been published on Filipino American history than in the last three decades combined. These include Catherine Ceniza Choy's Empire of Care and Dorothy B. Fujita-Rony's American Workers, Colonial Power, both published in 2003. They also include my book, Five Faces of Exile, published in 2005, followed by Linda Maram's Creating Masculinity in Los Angeles' Little Manila, published in 2006. There is also Unbending Cane, a lesser-known but no less important book on Pablo Manlapit written by University of Hawaii scholar Melinda Tria-Kerkvliet (2002).4 Finally, Asian Americanists, non-specialists in Filipino American histories, have also produced works on domestic race relations and U.S. imperialism that directly address Filipino American history.5 I will focus most of my attention on the published books on Filipino American history thus far and address these "external" interventions towards the end of the paper.

There are two very clear perspectives that emerge among these works, vis-à-vis the question of space and time—what has been called a simultaneous "two-shores" approach and a social historical, immigration perspective centered on Filipino America, with emphasis on the American experience. Tria-Kerkvliet's Unbending Cane, Choy's Empire of Care and my Five Faces of Exile fall into the former category, and Fujita-Rony's [End Page 172] American Workers and Maram's Creating Masculinity fall into the latter category. Since one might assume the more familiar social history approaches, I will begin with the latter first and then examine the "two-shores" approach. It should be noted here that these are heuristic divisions, not absolute ones, and indeed there are some overlapping concerns in both groups. I do not presume that one approach is greater than the...


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