- Interventions of Memory and Visibility:Recovering and Reclaiming Filipino American History
Over the past twenty years, the field of Filipino American studies has exploded, from just a handful of scholarly books on the subject to more than three dozen titles and countless essays. The field’s notable progress is not surprising given the growing population of Filipinos in the United States: estimated at 3.4 million by the 2010 US Census Bureau, the Filipino American population grew by nearly half within the last decade alone, to become the second largest Asian group in the United States. Yet despite this demographic support, the emergence of Fil-Am studies has been no easy task. In addition to the epistemological challenges involved in conceiving a field from such a heterogeneity of disciplines, combined with the practical challenges involved in institutionalizing a field that remains largely underrepresented in academe, Fil-Am studies scholars have also had to write themselves into existence—writing against decades of imperial amnesia that have maneuvered to erase the historical record that exposes the United States’ forfeitures of democracy in favor of empire building. The ways in which Filipinos have become forgotten and made invisible despite their long-standing presence in the United States have been well documented by early scholars in the field, such as Fred Cordova and Oscar Campomanes. [End Page 211] More recent scholarship has since worked to the counter the cultural aphasia surrounding Fil-Am studies, recovering historical memory and reclaiming visibility for Filipinos in the United States.
Rick Baldoz’s Third Asiatic Invasion (2011), Denise Cruz’s Transpacific Femininities (2012), and Lucy Burns’s Puro Arte (2013) each add new dimensions to Fil-Am studies. Baldoz’s strength lies in the details: his meticulously researched work provides the most exhaustive account of early twentieth-century Filipino immigration, labor, and contested citizenship to date. Providing an abundance of documentation, he recovers a valuable historical record that complicates the US perspective on Philippine independence. Cruz’s narrative is essential for the ways in which it contests the early twentieth-century figure of the male migrant laborer as the sole representative of Filipinos during this period; her study of the “transpacific” Filipina brings new attention to the representations of women in the Philippine Question. Finally, Burns’s narrative analyzes deeply the historical representations of Filipino men and women, theorizing the Filipino/a performing body at sites such as the St. Louis World’s Fair exhibition and taxi dance halls (both also thoroughly documented by Baldoz), as often overlooked sites of resistance. Together, these three complementary texts recover and illuminate—even as they complicate Filipino American history, literature, and politics.
Baldoz’s Third Asiatic Invasion provides a nuanced reading of US political history surrounding the Philippine Question. Minimizing the efficacy of anti-imperialist ideologues in the fight for Philippine independence, Baldoz redirects attention to struggles between increasingly violent nativist groups, American agribusiness and plantation interests, US diplomatic officials, and Filipino nationalist leaders over questions of citizenship and sovereignty. In his comprehensive study of the domestic ramifications of the US occupation of the Philippines, Baldoz exposes how US racial formation is both informed by and works to inform the path of empire. His detailed, lucid portrait of the mutually constitutive practices of empire, immigration, and race establishes clear links between Filipinos’ status as American colonial subjects and the organization of racial boundaries in American society. Moving beyond the now widely accepted sociological premise that race is a social construction, Baldoz asks, “who is doing the assigning, and to what end?” (8). He begins by situating the uniqueness of Filipino immigration amid the waves of Asian immigration to the United States since the...