- The Historical Condition of Filipino America
Ever since the United States purchased the Philippine Islands from Spain at the turn of the twentieth century, the status of Filipinos in relation to the United States has dynamically reflected America's anxiety with race and empire. Oscar V. Campomanes points to this unease in his pivotal 1995 essay on representations of Filipinos in American discourse by arguing that Filipinos suffered from an inherent "unrepresentability" and "unassimilability" because of the absence of discussions of American empire in American academic and cultural discourses.1 Similarly, Luis H. Francia observed the enfolding complexity of the "Filipino condition" in his exhibition essay for the 1997 visual art exhibition, "Memories of Overdevelopment":
True children of the electronic age, objects of America's Asiatic thrusts, we know all about America even before we come. Remembering the future, we arrive here strangers in a familiar land, revisiting places we had never set foot on, renewing friendships that had never begun.2
Both Campomanes and Francia describe the logic of strangeness that structures Filipinos' epistemological framework as a recursive matrix that defines the Filipino condition in relation to an imagined and deferred [End Page 155] America. Suspended Apocalypse extends Campomanes's argument about the epistemological condition of Filipinos to a broader ontological inquiry. Dylan Rodríguez's text addresses the underlying alienation identified in Francia's observation through a theoretically engaged and critical genealogy of Filipino American discourse. Arguing that previous analyses of "the Filipino condition" neglect a broader theoretical approach, Rodríguez's central argument is that "the production of the 'Filipino American' is defined— essentially and fundamentally—by a complex, largely disavowed, and almost entirely undertheorized relation to a nexus of profound racial and white supremacist violence" (11). Rodríguez's intent is to provide precisely this broader theoretical engagement.3 He shifts our attention away from the characterization of the Filipino condition as residing solely within a binary of Philippine and US historical experience to a broader concern for disparities of power that are transhistorical and global, from benevolent assimilation to white supremacist genocide. Interdisciplinary and wide-ranging, Rodríguez's polemical text deepens our understanding of the ontological status of "the Filipino" and, more broadly, the reproduction of epistemologies of dominant ideologies against and within those of the oppressed.
In each chapter, Rodríguez engages with insightful examples of the Filipino condition to illustrate the ways that Filipinos have confronted and addressed the pervasive power of white supremacist genocide. Chapter 1 explains Rodríguez's key concern about the ways that the production of the Filipino condition disenables engagement against the very ideological discourses that create the Filipino condition. Rodríguez juxtaposes Pilipino Cultural Night, the popular cultural performance and event held annually by students on many campuses, with a student-led protest by the Third World Liberation Front at University of California-Berkeley against Proposition 209, California's 1996 anti-affirmative action measure. For Rodríguez, Filipino American students' conscious practice of Filipino Americanism was a form of identity politics that illustrates the normative Filipino condition. Rodríguez asserts that the individual subjectivity and shared community that Pilipino Cultural Night offered is inherently aligned with state power and, consequently, Filipino Americanism negates the possibility of engaging in critical political practices.
Chapter 2 elaborates on Filipino Americans' conflicting affiliation with America. Focusing on Antonio Gramsci and Stuart Hall's theorization of common sense as the ideological battleground for social dominance, Rodríguez argues that Filipino American common sense produces a "deformed nationalism" [End Page 156] that fosters the "arrested raciality" of Filipinos in the United States. To illustrate how this common sense is produced, Rodríguez examines academic studies of Filipinos and mass media by Filipinos, such as Yen Le Espiritu's ethnographies of Filipinos in San Diego and the widely distributed Philippine News. Rodríguez critiques both as representative examples of a Filipino Americanist discourse that supports a Filipino American common sense that "not only refrains from sustained critique...