- Empire’s Trail of BodiesA Review Essay
Body Parts of Empire: Visual Abjection, Filipino Images, and the American Archive
Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2017. 223 pages.
Metroimperial Intimacies: Fantasy, Racial-Sexual Governance, and the Philippines in U.S. Imperialism, 1899–1913
Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press, 2015. 286 pages.
Racism and the Filipino Diaspora: Essays in Cultural Politics
Naga City: Ateneo de Naga University Press, 2017. 79 pages.
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“History has moving, inexhaustible frontiers,” writes historian and cultural critic Resil Mojares (1981, 178). His remark refers to an earlier body of works on Philippine historiography that witnessed the rise of new methodologies in the study of local and national history. Yet Mojares’s words may aptly echo an urgency among contemporary Filipino American scholars whose efforts at demythicizing the US empire have led to groundbreaking works.
Three recently published books—Nerissa Balce’s Body Parts of Empire, Victor Roman Mendoza’s Metroimperial Intimacies, and Epifanio San Juan Jr.’s Racism and the Filipino Diaspora—locate history’s “inexhaustible frontiers” in the archives that have largely been the source of so-called official historical narratives. For these authors, to read the US colonial archives anew is to illumine the violence of empire if Philippine history were to retrieve bodies that had been ravaged and whose stories had been silenced on account of imperial modernity.
The works are the outcome of the authors’ long engagement in the academe and advocacy to disclose the US empire’s machinations as it ceaselessly impacts on the Filipino global diaspora. Nerissa Balce is an associate professor of Asian and American studies at the State University of New York at Stony Brook; Victor Roman Mendoza holds an appointment as associate professor of women’s studies and English at the University of Michigan; while Epifanio San Juan Jr. is a multi-awarded academic and staunch public intellectual on Philippine–American relations and the Filipino diaspora, who carved his career teaching at key American universities.
The three books rupture the munificent veneer of the US empire. They expose the “cracks in the façade” (Fast and Francisco 1974, 350) through methodologies that are cognizant of the self-serving knowledge produced by colonial functionaries and orthodox historians. The books’ arsenal of interdisciplinary critical tools is wide-ranging—postcolonialism, literary studies, cultural studies, area studies, historical materialism, feminism, ethnic studies, gender studies, and queer studies. The concomitant use of these critical tools highlights how complex the undertaking is to categorically unmask the American colonial legacy for what it really was—brute force and rhetoric. To do so is vital in putting into perspective the invasion of the Philippines not as a discrete historical occurrence in the name of a noble mission but one in the same expansionist spirit as the conquest of the Native [End Page 518] Americans, Africans, and Mexicans (San Juan 2017, 5). The three books thus foreground the genocidal nature of these imperial subjugations to assert that the Philippine conquest is a major period in US imperial history and one that is unique in the Asia-Pacific, whose aftermath is still evident in the phenomenon of Filipino migration and diaspora to the US.
Body Parts of Empire, which won the 2018 Best Book award in Cultural Studies from the Filipino Section of the Association for Asian American Studies, unravels the “complicity of culture in historical violence” (Balce 2017, 15). It consists of five chapters that stand for an inventory of the colonial cultural products teeming with literary and cultural tropes through which the Filipino native body has been vilified. Each chapter analyzes the particular rhetoric that produced the tropes of abjection of body parts which Balce (ibid., 17) catalogues in the following pairings: face (colonial photographs), skin (newspapers), bile (women travel writings), and blood and bones (race romances and ethnographic images). Metroimperial Intimacies, Mendoza’s landmark work, shares Balce’s stance of delving into culture but this time “to look for the queer in the colonial” (Claudio 2016). Mendoza reexamines the colonial archives to dissect the menace of same-sex intimacies between the Filipino male native...