- Elites and Ilustrados in Philippine Culture by Caroline S. Hau
Elites and Ilustrados in Philippine Culture
Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2017. 398 pages.
The 2016 presidential election brought back the spotlight on an age-old quandary that has inundated the Philippines: the social and political [End Page 122] predominance of the elite in a destitute country. Throughout the election period, politicians roused the Filipinos' imagination of the elite, as some were vilified while others disassociated themselves from this privileged segment of society. As candidates tried to establish themselves as representatives of the masses, the term "elite" became increasingly conflated with the opulence of rich businessmen, the extravagance of socialites, and even the detachment of middle-class intellectuals from impoverished Filipinos, who end up victims of their economic and intellectual dominance. Caroline Hau's Elites and Ilustrados in Philippine Culture addresses this perplexity as she explores the complex relationship of this favored group with Philippine history and society.
One might describe Caroline Hau as constituting the very elite that she examines in this book. Her multicultural background as a Chinese Filipino academic based in Kyoto University's Center for Southeast Asian Studies exemplifies the privileged intellectual elite. Like José Rizal, Hau represents the modern ilustrado who is open to foreign ideas to produce works that contribute to national progress. She is best known for Necessary Fictions: Philippine Literature and the Nation, 1946–1980 (Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2000) and more recently The Chinese Question: Ethnicity, Nation, and Region in and beyond the Philippines (Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2014). For more than twenty years, Hau has been navigating privileged intellectual spaces all over the globe in an effort to understand the intricate tapestry that is Philippine society. In Elites and Ilustrados, Hau specifically scrutinizes the threads that both strengthen and weaken the elite's ties to the Philippine nation.
Given that Hau dedicates this book to Southeast Asian scholar Benedict Anderson, traces of the latter's work can be seen in how she unpacks the Filipino elite's imagined identity. The book maps out the social imagination of this group through the imprints they have left in our history. In the first chapter, she captures the convoluted imagination of the Filipino elite, which conflates their wealth with their intellectualism, as seen through the nineteenth-century ilustrado who came from well-to-do families and learned liberal ideas overseas. Rather than adhere to this popular notion, Hau unravels the elite's intricate social ties to highlight their fluid identity that extended beyond riches, race, knowledge, and nation. Thus, she interrogates the popular imagination of the Filipino elite throughout the book. [End Page 123]
The first four chapters focus on Philippine literature, specifically Rizal's Noli me tangere (1887) and El filibusterismo (1891), Ninotchka Rosca's State of War (1988), Nick Joaquin's The Woman Who Had Two Navels (1961), and Miguel Syjuco's Ilustrado (2010), where Hau gathers different pieces that create the Filipino elite. Hau offers a fascinating notion of the elite that builds upon the transnational character of the ilustrado, a person substantially transformed abroad upon embracing new values and practices. As she thoroughly analyzes the fictional ilustrados depicted in these works within their historical contexts, she manages to tie their imagined identities to Philippine realities. By establishing the links between them and Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs), she highlights the fluidity of ilustrado identity, which struggles to settle its roots in one place. Neither here nor there, the ilustrados are often displaced in national politics and discourse due to their distance and complicated identity politics. Hau adds that the ilustrado's dilemma becomes increasingly complex especially for those who come from multicultural households.
Hau's thorough analysis of Chinese Filipinos and Filipinos who live abroad in the later part of the book strengthens her imagination of the transnational Filipino elite. These two chapters are particularly important given contemporary discourses that question the loyalties of these transnational, if not, transracial, Filipinos. While her analysis of the Chinese elite focuses on the racial politics that emerged during the NBN-ZTE corruption scandal in 2007, similar racial arguments have also...