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Discourse 23.3 (2001) 52-74

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Interrogating Transmigrancy, Remapping Diaspora:
The Globalization of Laboring Filipinos/as

E. San Juan, Jr.

Contemporary cultural studies posit the demise of the nation as an unquestioned assumption, almost a doctrinal point of departure for speculations on the nature of the globalization process. Are concepts such as the nation-state, national sovereignty, or nationalities, and their referents obsolete and useless? Whatever the rumors about the demise of the nation-state, or the obsolescence of nationalism in the wake of September 11, 2001, agencies that assume its healthy existence are busy: not only the members of the United Nations, but also the metropolitan powers, with the United States as its military spearhead, have all reaffirmed their civilizing nationalism with a vengeance.

In this epoch of counter-terrorism we have entered, the local and the global find a meeting ground in the transactions among nation-states and diverse nationalities while global hegemony is negotiated among the metropolitan powers. Their instrumentalities—the World Trade Organization, NATO, the World Bank and IMF, and other consortia—are all exerting pressures and influence everywhere. Citizenship cards, passports, customs gatekeepers, and border patrols are still mundane regularities. Saskia Sassen has described the advent of the global city as a sign of the "incipient unbundling of the exclusive territoriality of the nation-state." At the [End Page 52] same time, however, she adds that what we see looming in the horizon is the "transnational geography of centrality . . . consisting of multiple linkages and strategic concentrations of material infrastructure," a "grid of sites and linkages" (214) between North and South still comprised of nation-states.

With WTO and finance capital in the saddle, the buying and selling of labor-power moves center stage once more. What has not escaped the most pachydermous epigones of free-market apologists who have not been distracted by the Gulf War, the carnage in Bosnia and Kosovo, and now in Afghanistan, are the frequency and volume of labor migration, flows of bodies of color (including mail-order brides, children, and the syndicated traffic in prostitutes and other commodified bodies), in consonance with the flight of labor-intensive industries to far-flung industrial zones in Mexico, Thailand, the Philipines, Haiti, China, and other dependent formations. These regularities defy postmodernist concepts of contingency, ambivalence, and indeterminacy. Such bodies are of course not the performative parodists of Judith Butler in quest of pleasure or the aesthetically fashioned selves idealized by Micheal Foucault and the pragmatic patriot, Richard Rorty.

Culture wars are being conducted by other means through the transport and exchange of bodies of color in the international bazaars. And the scaling of bodies proceeds according to corporeal differences (sex, race, age, physical capacity, etc.). Other diasporas—in addition to the historic ones of the Jews, Africans, Chinese, Irish, Palestinians, and so on—are in the making. The editors of The South Atlantic Quarterly special issue on "diaspora and immigration" celebrate the political and cultural experiences of these nomadic cohorts who can "teach us how to think about our destiny and how to articulate the unity of science with the diversity of knowledges as we confront the politics of difference" (Mudimbe and Engel 6). Unity, diversity, politics of difference—the contours and direction of diasporas are conceived as the arena of conflict among disparate philosophical/ideological standpoints. Paul Gilroy, contesting the European discourse on modernity and pleading for the "inescapability and legitimate value of mutation, hybridity, and intermixture" (Gilroy 223), has drawn up the trope of the "Black Atlantic" on the basis of the "temporal and ontological rupture of the middle passage." Neither the Jewish nor the African diasporas can of course be held up as inviolable archetypes if we want to pursue an "infinite process of identity construction." My interest here is historically focused: to inquire into how the specific geopolitical contingencies of the Filipino diaspora-in-the-making can problematize this infinitude of identity formation in the context of "third world" principles [End Page 53] of national liberation, given the persistent neocolonial, not postcolonial, predicament of the Philippines today (See...


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