- Cultures of Empire and International Solidarity
Shadows enable us to orient an object in the world, evidence its edges and contours, its mass and weave.—Keith Feldman, A Shadow over Palestine: The Imperial Life of Race in America
If you want to understand us, listen to what we are not allowed to say.—Political prisoners in the Philippines under the Marcos regime, Tibak Rising: Activism in the Days of Martial Law
Five recently released books in social movement and empire studies push us to better understand US Empire and anti-imperial mobilizations via the shadows and unspoken histories of international movement building. Through the analysis of novels, poetry, essays, public statements, newspapers, letters, [End Page 219] newsletters, scholarly writing, and compilations of activist biographies and memoirs, the authors and editors reveal the imbricated and relational dimensions of anti-imperial expressions. In her essay "Insufficient Difference," Lisa Lowe uses the term imbrication as an analytic alternative to "excavate what has been suppressed under the rubric of [comparative difference]."1 While sociologist Carlos Alamo-Pastrana explicitly builds on Lowe's conceptualization of the term in his study of race and radicalism in Puerto Rico and the United States in Seams of Empire, critical ethnic studies scholar Keith Feldman similarly deploys a method resistant to comparison in A Shadow over Palestine. Feldman explores the ways that questions of Israel and Palestine constitute racial meaning in the United States and how shifting ideas about race in the US informed material and symbolic relationships to Israel and Palestine. Processes of imbrication and relationality are similarly evident in the activist biographies and memoirs that compile Ferdinand Llanes's Tibak Rising, Mila De Guzman's Women against Marcos, and Rene Ciria Cruz, Bruce Occena, and Cindy Domingo's A Time to Rise. In these works we see how different political causes, undertaken from different political spaces, overlapped in the pursuit of opposition against the Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Movements for labor rights in the Philippines, immigrant rights in the United States, transnational women's rights, and many more efforts all coalesced around an anti-Marcos position while retaining their own specificities. Their anti-Marcos stances were rooted in a fierce critique of the United States' ongoing military, political, and economic relationships with the Philippines. In fact, opposition movements in the Philippines drew attention to this dynamic by referring to martial law rule as a "U.S.-Marcos dictatorship." Yet these movements operated imperfectly and sometimes contradictorily to their goals, pursuing liberatory futures while also troubled by fractured internal dynamics. The five books overall deliver multiple models of anticolonial movement history-writing that neither overly romanticize nor simplify activist efforts. Overall, the authors and editors capture what Feldman calls "thick cultural work" to demonstrate the dynamics of connection across distinct mobilizations.
The connections forged between activists in different spaces is the focus of Seams of Empire, where Alamo-Pastrana documents previously under-recognized exchanges between cultural and political figures in the United States and Puerto Rico. These exchanges illuminate how ideas about race and empire mutually informed cultural workers' attempts to reshape social and institutional arrangements in both places between 1940 and 1972. By describing how these social and political actors "worked against … simplistic comparative tropes [End Page 220] about race and colonialism" (10...