- Filipino Crosscurrents: Oceanographies of Seafaring, Masculinities, and Globalization by Kale Bantigue Fajardo
Kale Fajardo’s Filipino Crosscurrents is a study of contemporary patterns of transnational movement through the figure of the Filipino maritime transportation worker. Responding to Saskia Sassen’s observation that most scholarship on globalization focuses on capital to the detriment of labor, Fajardo directs our attention to working-class seamen, of whom 20 percent worldwide are Filipino, in order to ground insightful claims about the complex interplay of gender, work, and nation at the turn of the twenty-first century. Filipino Crosscurrents is an ambitious work of cultural-studies-based ethnography conducted in the Philippines, in the United States, and on a container ship on the open seas—merging method with methodology in its transnational commitments.
As much of the scholarship on decolonization has shown, normative masculinities are often upheld as a means of asserting and claiming a viable agency for the nation as it struggles to shed the effects of imperialism. The Philippines, having endured multiple histories of colonialism and occupation, is a sovereign nation today, but this freedom is a measured one. The Philippines’ debt to the International Monetary Fund and World Bank (manufactured by the workings of neocolonial neoliberalisms) continues to constrain the nation’s economy and track its citizen-laborers into transnational industries that offer little security. These overseas workers send remittances back to family residing in the Philippines, which are eventually used to pay down the national debt.
This flexible labor is largely a feminized one, as emblemized in the domestic workers who tend to be female and/or relegated to tasks associated with women. To distance itself from this feminization, the Philippine state advanced the figure of the Filipino seaman, which it conceived as normatively masculine, in order to signal its imminent entrance into a robust capitalist modernity. However, this exercise in image management did not elicit its intended results. As Fajardo insightfully shows, the damaging effects of 1990s-era neoliberal policies, Filipino seamen’s own understanding of their gender performances, and the transhistorical links between past and present globalisms all troubled the gendered capitalist hopes expressed by conservative factions in the Philippines.
Chapter 1 focuses on the state and corporate sponsored “Race of the Century” regatta in 1998 that commemorated the Acapulco-Manila galleon trade during the time of Spanish Empire. The event’s celebration of Filipino seafaring attempted to generate visibility for the Philippines’ economic aspirations. However, these neoliberal policies ultimately displaced poor and working-class citizens. Tellingly, the yachts for the regatta were also raced by upper-class global elites. Chapter 2 juxtaposes a promotional video for an employment agency specializing in maritime labor with the words of Filipino [End Page 227] seamen themselves. While the video reifies normative concepts of gendered familial and patriotic responsibility that uphold colonial and neocolonial power, the seamen who refuse these interpellations—by jumping ship, for example—intervene by forging alternative and oppositional masculinities.
Chapters 3 and 4 delve more intimately into the affects and emotions surrounding hard labor at sea and Filipino seamen’s experience of their social location in the times and spaces of late capital. Among Fajardo’s informants, the abilities to withstand lengthy periods of homesickness and to endure the differential conditions of labor onboard the ship are crucial to how seafaring masculinities are constructed and understood. At the same time, the fleeting moments of pleasure scheduled in these workers’ short periods of leisure mitigate these hardships. Fajardo’s own positionality as a “self-identified Filipino American queer, transgender, tomboy, and immigrant researcher” (161) forms the basis of an extended self-referential meditation into the ethnographer’s work. Showing that U.S.-descended notions of sex and gender are inadequate for conceptualizing the nonbinary gender systems in the Philippines, Fajardo stakes a compelling claim for a decolonialist (trans)gender politics that can intervene in the normative masculinities imposed onto Filipino seamen by capitalist cultures.
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