Sunday, August 1, 2010

You don’t look Filipino

While chatting with a Filipina woman in the Spanish consulate the other day, the topic of ethnicity came up, and when I said I was Filipina, she said, “You don’t look Filipina.” 

I wonder how mixed people are received in the Philippines.  I don’t think ethnicity is solely determined by how one looks.  For me participation in a culture, ancestry, and self-identification are all that are needed to consider one’s self Filipino, or whatever else ethnicity one is talking about.  I might not “look Filipina” but I also don’t look just white.  I guess I’m what you might call “ambiguous.” 

At another period, my mother said that I’m “More Filipina” and that my sister was just “American” because I like a traditional Filipino dish, dinuguan, which she refuses to eat.  I’ve noticed that, for myself, a big part of my Filipinaness comes from eating the food because to me it’s like tasting my other home.  As I was growing up my lola would cook for me when she watched us for our mother who worked a lot.  I remember the smells of her cooking and the sound of TV Patrol on the television when it came on for that one hour a day until the Chinese news program afterward.  This is about the time my mom got to the apartment which would then be filled with the sounds of Tagalog until my mom brought my sister and I home.

But this “more Filipino” thing, does that even make sense?  Do you have to like all the food to be more Filipino or not like it to be American?  I participate in the culture available to me here, but not looking Filipina is enough in some strangers’ eyes to declare me not Filipina.  On the one hand I want to be proud of where part of my heritage comes from, but on the other, it does hurt to be rejected by the people you identify with, and feel alienated when you’re surrounded by people of the other part of your heritage.  e.g. In a recent trip to Washington I was in a fairly conservative area that was, by majority, made up of white people with a couple of Latinos here and there.  It was almost like culture shock.  I didn’t realize how important it was to me to be surrounded by diverse peoples like I am in the bay area until I had to leave it.  I wonder how I’ll fare in a more homogenous place like Spain.  Hopefully I can try to surround myself with diverse and accepting people. 

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Filipino Post Colonial Inheritance

Some interesting quotes I found while reading random academic essays that pertain to my identity as Filipina American...

"This issue opens with Vince Gotera's personal essay, which charts the itinerary of a US-born Filipino's self-awareness and cultural awakening.  Gotera's process of learning about Filipino American history is constitutive of his own trajectory as a writer.  Interestingly, he writes of the identity he had to come into, as an inheritance due to him, but denied him until he learned the hidden histories of the early Filipinos in America." 

I'm still in this process.  I've barely even begun.

"A sense of discontinuous history and cultural hybridization produced by a palimpsestic journey of imperialism, cultural imposition, diasporic movement, and assimilation."

Hits the nail right on the head here.

From Relocation of Culture: Post Assimilation Paradigms in the Immigrant Writing of Contemporary America, an essay by Carl Jenkinson, in which he writes of the Filipino American author Carlos Bulosan's novel America is in the Heart (1946):

"...newcomers to the United States [are] first-generation immigrants.  They are the new wave of pioneers, who come to America in search of economic prosperity, or political freedom, or gender equality, or simply family reunification.  Their children are at once second-generation immigrants and first-generation Americans.  As this naming indicates, theirs is the most confused immigrant subject position of all: pulled by allegianes to both lands but belonging in neither, they endure perhaps the truest of in-between states."

A very poignant perception of some of the difficulties of being a biracial Filipino American. 

"...the first ambition of the colonized is to become equal to that splendid model and to resemble [the colonizer] to the point of disappearing in him." Albert Memmi

This quote appeared as an epigraph within the same essay.  English is still the language of education, and helps to assimilate Filipino identity to that of what Americans deem "more civilized"...

" also symbolizes the American occupation and comes with 'hidden costs.'  Representing the faux-benevolence of the colonizer, the possibility of prosperity through education seduces the colonized into complicity with the colonizer.  Ultimately, this complicity leads to cultural erasure.

'Interestingly, though the effects of this process are insidious, the American government was quite open about its aims with regard to education.  President William McKinley openly declared the mission of the United States in the Philippines as 'benevolent assimilation,' a concept which, of course, contradict the democratic tenets the Americans were seeking to export.  As McKinley stated in 1899, to a congregation of Methodist church leaders: '[T]here was nothing left for us to do but take them all, and to educate the Filipinos, and to uplift and civilize them, as our fellowmen for whom Christ also dies.'  This declaration bears an unnerving resemblance to the infamous, and perhaps more brutal civilizing mission of the British in Africa, which also invoked the will of God as a mandate for both expansion and exploitation.  McKinley's desire to indoctrinate the populace in order to subdue it was clearly similar in design."

I consider myself privileged that I know where to look and have free access to these academic journal articles.  I wonder how other Filipino Americans navigate their identity to a satisfactory understanding?  Everything I find out makes me more and more disgusted with American racist imperialism.  Where are the Filipinos who are not complicit to this assimilation?  Is it possible to do so when they are raised in an environment that values American myths that not even America adheres to?  Is the writer of this essay correct in saying that dissent itself is what Americanizes the dissenters?  Is the Philippines still feudalistic, but under different guises?

Monday, July 5, 2010

Horizontal Hostility in the Context of Race Pt. 2

In an earlier post I made about whether POC can be racist against each other, I think the problem was that my definition of racism was too narrow to account for other ways that racism is expressed.  Thus, I define racism as not only the power to withhold or grant benefits that are not earned, but also the power to keep powerful/powerless relationships the same.  In this case one good example I can think of that I wrote about for a final paper for my Asian Americans of Mixed Heritage class is whether Asian Americans using the word Hapa (a native Hawaiian word) to describe themselves is racist.  I came to the conclusion that it is, because (tl;dr version) it robs the autonomy of native Hawaiians to use their own words as part of their own identity and misappropriates that word to describe another people which reinforces colonizer/colonized relationship of Asians to native Hawaiians (since they also worked under whites in the plantations and had higher standing above the native Hawaiians, regardless of not being equal to the whites).

Therefore it is possible for POC to be racist against each other if they buy into the negative (or even positive e.g. smart Asian) stereotypes that originate from white ignorant perspectives in order to other POC.  This upholds the dominant paradigm of whites over POC.  However it is not possible for POC to be (systemically) racist against whites since whites already are in the dominant/powerful position.

Friday, July 2, 2010

A Filipino Quote

"Kapag nagsara ang isang pinto, may bubukas na iba pero kadalasan tinititigan natin at pinanghihinayangan ang pinto na nagsara kaya't hindi natin makita ang isa na bumukas para sa atin."

Translation: "When one door closes and another opens, we often look so long and regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us."

Monday, June 28, 2010

Children of Filipino Immigrants and Assimilation

It's not often that I find literature or studies specifically about the Filipino American experience, or in other words, the experiences of 1st generation U.S. America born children of (a) Filipino immigrant(s).  So it is a bit of a relief to see a lot of the stuff I've been feeling as part of my experience as a Filipino and white American be talked about in the article Paradox of Assimilation by Espiritu and Wolf.  The article examines the Filipino American population in San Diego, CA.  Some of the parts that resonate with me I'll quote here and comment on.

This first quote I thought was interesting because when my mother says I'm white maybe she's equating white not only with physical features but with nationality as well. Although, I think it may be poignant that white culture (and I'm not even sure there is a thing such as white culture as I understand it, but that's for my next post) and American culture are equivocated.

"In a qualitative study of Filipino Americans in San Diego County, Espiritu (1997) also found that most Filipinos rejected the assimilative American identity. Instead, they equated "American" with "white" and often used these two terms interchangeably. For example, a Filipina who is married to a white American referred to her husband as "American" but to her African American and Filipino American brothers-in-law as "black" and "Filipino" respectively. This practice--of equating American with white--reflects the racialized history of Filipinos and other Asians in the United States. Historically, U.S. immigration exclusion acts, naturalization laws, and national culture have simultaneously marked Asians as the inassimilable aliens and whites as the quintessential American (Lowe 1996). Excluded from the collective memory of who constitutes a "real" American, Asians in the United States, even as citizens, are expected to remain the "foreigner-within"--the "non-American." In the case of Filipinos, emigrants from a former U.S. colony, their formation as racialized minorities does not begin in the United States but rather in the "homeland" already affected by U.S. economic, social, and cultural influences (Lowe 1996, 8). Cognizant of the enduring significance of race, a Filipino man who has lived in the United States for thirty years explains why he still does not identify himself as American, "I don't see myself just as an American because I cannot hide the fact that my skin is brown. To me, American means white" (Espiritu 1997)..."

Not so much having to do with Filipino experience, but I quoted this for truth:

"…a European-non European distinction remains a central division in [U.S.] society" (Lieberson and Waters 1988, 248).

This belief in the promise of equal opportunity and the rousing endorsement of the United States--even in the face of racism--testifies to the enduring power of the ideology of the United States as the land of opportunity, fair play, and abundance."

Indeed, the American myth is very strong for Filipinos here and those aspiring to be here, even when many of my family members can recount at least once instance in which whites have done or said racist things toward them.

"Because they are proficient in English, Filipino parents may be less compelled to teach their children the Filipino language. As a Filipino immigrant parent explained, "We don't teach the children Tagalog because we're comfortable in English also. English comes out almost automatically when we speak to them. Even the grandparents speak English" (Espiritu 1994, 257)."

I once asked my mom why she never decided to teach my sister and I Tagalog, and she said at differing times that either she never thought about it, or we did not show any interest in learning. I have since asked her to only address me in Tagalog so that I can build off of the Tagalog I already know just from having been surrounded by it for many years, but she often forgets to do so. It seems to be more convenient for her to talk to me in English, even though after two decades, she continues to have trouble mastering the English language to the extent of a native speaker.

"Along the same lines, CILS data suggest that there is a lack of active cultural socialization--the deliberate teaching and practicing of the languages, traditions, and history of the Philippines--in Filipino American homes. Although close to three-quarters of the parents surveyed stated that it is very important for their child to know about the Philippines, over half (57%) reported that they seldom talked to their child about the Philippines and close to three quarters (72%) admitted that their family seldom celebrated special days connected with the Philippines. A Filipino American tells of the 'cultural void" in his family:

Not much was going on at my house. Nothing. It wasn't made explicit

that Filipino culture is something that we should retain, that we should hold

on to, as something that's valuable. There wasn't that much sense that we should

keep the language. So you don't really get taught, you know. And I found that to

be a real common experience among Filipinos my age. Our parents don't realize that

we don't know anything about the old country: who was the first president, when was

independence day, who was Jose Rizal? (Espiritu 1994, 258).

This perceived lack of cultural transmission in Filipino American homes can be attributed in part to the parents' long work hours and/or to the pressure that force immigrants to assimilate the mainstream culture. As a Filipina American stated, "We don't celebrate these holidays because growing up in my neighborhood, white-washed suburbia, we just couldn't" (Espiritu 1994, 259)."

Again, my mother never thought it necessary to teach about Filipino culture. I didn't know the day of independence or the first president until this article made me realize that I didn't, and I promptly looked it up. Similarly, I had no idea who Jose Rizal was until I first heard his name when we went to visit a few historical sites on my first trip to the Philippines when I was 16.

"First, as predicted by the pluralist model, second generation Filipinos, like others in the CILS sample, move toward an ethnic rather than an American identity over time. But they also conform to the forces of assimilation because they believe in the "American dream" and prefer English to their parents' native language. These data suggest that ethnic identification is a more dynamic and complex social process than has been predicted by either the assimilationist and pluralist perspectives."

For me, I had enough exposure to the Filipino culture through family that there are often times where I don't particularly identify as white so much as Filipina American. I'll never fit in as a Filipina because I don't look Filipina enough. However many Filipinos usually have three things to say when it comes to how I look: that I'm tall, and/or beautiful, and that I should go to the Philippines and be a movie star. I don't know too well since I don't have a large amount of knowledge of the Filipino attitude toward celebrities, but it seems that the more rich Filipinos in films that speak more English, the more "high class" they seem, compared to the poorer maids who work under them. There is also value placed on those who are of mixed blood (mestiza) that have Spanish blood as this is seen as a sign of being high class as well, along with the light skin that comes with it. I may be mistaken though, but this is just my impression from the attitudes and biases that I've been exposed to.

"...they are already part of the system as opposed to being marginalized by it compared with other immigrant groups. Another possibility is that our notion of "assimilation" is flawed in that it suggests more ease and integration than what may be occurring for some. Speaking English and owning one's home do tell us about economic integration, but not about socio-emotional matters. In other words, such measures cannot and do not elucidate the process and meaning of assimilation for those who live and experience it. Thus, our analysis underscores that rather than navigating a path towards a sense of ease and belonging, the process of assimilation is a complex one, ripe with contradictions and disrupture; indeed, this case encourages a critical rethinking of the notion of assimilation in and of itself."

The many years of first Spanish imperialist domination that is then replaced with U.S. American imperialist domination surely has done its job to try and erase Filipino culture to be replaced with more palatable, civilized values. Filipinos, though free from US colonization, are not yet free of its effects. It's telling that although Filipinos are the second largest Asian American population in the US, yet are rarely as visible or mentioned compared to other Asians such as Japanese, Chinese, or Korean Americans. It might be due to the Filipinos' ability to blend in well since the US has already planted its values and ideas in the Philippines many years ago when it claimed it as its own. Many Filipinos already speak English in the Philippines as it's the language used in higher education. We are also mistaken for being Mexican often (at least that is in California, I can't speak for other states). However, the Philippines itself is considered the melting pot of Asia with having so many diverse influences and cultures within its borders. I think I will try to take that fluidity and plurality as part of my heritage, and own it. I don't necessarily have to see things in a binary way as is often the case here in the U.S.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Horizontal Hostility in the Context of Race

 As I stated earlier, I am a Kemetic pagan.  In a Kemetic forum that I frequent, I posted about an argument I had with an Afrocentrist who did a lot of arguing by reference without citing any actual evidence in the bulk of the email we exchanged.  Since she didn't provide any evidence, I decided to ask others if they've heard of her arguments or have any evidence for or against those arguments.  What came up in the ensuing conversation is whether Black people can be racist against whites.  While that is not possibly from the fact that Whites have privilege that Blacks do not, another point of argument that came up is whether the word "racist" should be reserved for only white people, or whether POC can be racist against each other.

Trying to google examples of this myself, I tried searching Horizontal Hostility since one of the examples I gave was a quote from Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum in which she compared calling whites racist with calling men sexist.  While women can be bigoted against other women, the term sexist is reserved for men.

One of the articles I found on Horizontal Hostility is by Denise Thompson (I guess some random person?) found here. (pdf)  While I'm not sure how entirely relevant this is to what I was writing about on the forum, I found some parallels that I thought were reasonably relevant and helped me to articulate my argument a bit.  From Thompson's article:

"...horizontal hostility between and among women typically involves forms of power-over which spring from a position of weakness not strength."

This is the bite of the issue, I think.  While the person I was arguing with argued that POC can be racist against other POC as long as that "person's bigotry is supported by the dominant paradigm," is that really the same kind of dynamic in charging that whites are racist against POC?  I tried to differentiate between cultural racism and institutional racism which together make systemic racism.  Can it be that systemic racism has two categories within that are at odds with one another?  I would posit that POC do not have the power to affect institutional policy to favor POC over white people, which is the nature of their oppression. 

"...oppression was not only coerced or violently enforced, but that an oppressive social order required a certain degree of complicity for its continuing existence."

I disagree with this.  Placing culpability on the oppressed of not changing the system is a faulty argument because it assumes that those who are oppressed have the faculty to fight their oppression when the nature of the oppression is that they don't.  That is placing the blame on the victim for not having control over variables they do not have control over, which is the reason they are oppressed in the first place.

Could it be that the only viable example of one marginalized person being racist against another is only if the former is expressing their own internalized oppression?  What would that look like?  What POC accepts social stereotypes without not only any feeling of dissonance but enough congruence that they subsequently turn this attitude onto others of their ilk?  Are there really any Black people that require other Black people to "know their place," without being facetious?  While of course anything is possible, I see this as highly improbable.

I've read a definition of racism as power + privilege.  Even if we're talking about two different groups of POC like Blacks and Latinos, for example, being played off each other or buying into stereotypes that were created by or serve white interests, what's missing is the power and privilege.  The element that brings an action into the "racist" domain is the ability to either change or uphold racist stereotypes, and similarly, the ability to either grant or withhold benefits on the institutional level.  While POC may uphold the dominant paradigm, they are not on a par with whites to change it.  Much the same as I cannot view POC derailing each other as the same thing as "racist" behavior (having the power and privilege to back up or have cultural approval of silencing techniques).  And in that sense I couldn't use the word racist to describe bigoted behavior between racial groups and/or people of the same race.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

It begins / Multiracial Identity

So, here continues my journey into self-discovery.  As you can see from my profile description, I'm using this space to digest everything I learn about kyriarchy, and how that affects my way of thinking and how I identify.  This includes looking closely at how my race/ethnicity, gender, class, religion, sexual orientation, etc. shape how I view the world and the events that happen in it.  Much of the focus of this blog will be about posting either events or ideas and reflecting on them.  Instead of simply reading an article and forgetting about it, I see taking the time to respond as important to integrating new concepts and beliefs and renegotiating my identity.  

A lot of what I'm interested in right now stemmed from my first interest in feminism.  From there I noticed that some who write with a feminist focus in the blogosphere slip into ableism and cisexism, and I found that to be wrong.  It's important to use anger at sexism (or any other -ism) as a road to compassion and empathy for others.  This is keeping in Maat.

Maat is the Kemetic goddess of justice, truth, order, law and morality.  Doing that which is just is doing Maat, and living Maat.  This is part of my religious identity as a Kemetic pagan, and part of what fuels my passion to see social justice and put down any -isms that I come across.  However I am still growing and learning, so I will do my best to strive in Maat even when I fuck up.

I'll begin by laying out the most salient aspects of my identity.  I'm: 
  • Filipina American
  • "White" (I put this in quotations because I'm having trouble identifying what this is, more on that later)
  • mixed
  • Californian
  • heterosexual
  • female
  • middle class
  • progressive liberal
  • Kemetic pagan
  • introverted

I'm going to have to touch on the significance of my self-labeling of Filipina American.  As a person of mixed racial heritage,I find myself straddling the line between binary identities and not being able to fully assimilate into either. While on one hand most (Whites and Latinos) will identify me as white or Chicana (yes I speak Spanish) since I have olive skin and "White looking" features (my father has German and Welsh heritage), full blooded Filipinos see me as White, or Mestiza.  I personally identify as both, even though there are also problems with this.

Firstly, I know and understand how white privilege works, and what unearned privileges/benefits I have just from passing as fully white.  And although I have White ethnic heritages of German and Welsh, I have had no cultural interaction and was not brought up within those communities.  So even though racially I am German and Welsh, I am not culturally German and Welsh.  I am not sure that it is meaningful to identify with a nationality/culture that I am completely ignorant about. White privilege is exemplified in Peggy McIntosh's essay Unpacking the Knapsack.  These are all the privileges I benefit from as a White person.  However this does not give me a positive identity of Whiteness.  When I say positive I mean substantive.  Understanding White privilege gives me the duty of being anti-racist; to moving from victimizer to ally.  This is a prescriptive understanding, but not a full identity, like other cultures' identities as I understand them.  I am not going to equivocate American values such as individualism and meritocracy as White values because I think making American synonymous with White is itself racist.  So what does a culture/identity look like?

For an understanding of Filipino identity, I'll turn to a study done by a 1998 Filipino senator that detailed the strengths and weaknesses of the Filipino character, which I fact checked against my mom who immigrated here at age 27 from the Philippines where she was born and raised (thanks mom).  The strengths of Filipinos are:

  • Pakikipagkapwa-tao (a basic sense of justice and concern for others)
  • Family orientation
  • Joy and humor
  • Flexibility, adaptability and creativity
  • Hard work and industry
  • Faith and religiosity
  • Resiliency (or the ability to survive)
 Some weaknesses are:
  • extreme personalism
  • extreme family centeredness
  • lack of discipline
  • passivity
  • colonial mentality
  • kanya-kanya syndrome (selfishness or to each his own)
  • lack of analysis and self-reflection
A lot of those sound very familiar, having grown up in a dual language household and being taken care of after school by my lolo and lola (grandparents) and being surrounded with other family while I was a child and my parents were working.  Knowing these traits and the history of the country and its people to me is a strong base from which to foment an identity.  However I don't think Filipinos are as aware of the difficulties of being mixed race, as my family members and friends don't recognize me as Filipina, but will say I'm beautiful and should be an actress in the Philippines.  American culture is pervasive there, and I've noticed that Filipino culture is itself very mixed with Malaysian, Chinese, Spanish and American influences that much of the culture gets assimilated to.  In any case I'm trying to learn about being Filipina and have asked that my mom speak to me in only Tagalog in an effort to learn more.

So there you have it.  As an imposed identity that itself seems lacking in substance, I identify as White.  As a mixed race woman, I get acceptance from Filipinos, but only as an interesting American phenomenon that belongs on T.V.  I'm still trying to figure out what a White identity is supposed to be, hell, what a balanced perspective on having two races and identifying as both is like without wearing myself out.  I'm no stranger to polyvalent logic thanks to my religious identification, but in the meantime, I'll be keeping my cultural binoculars on in an effort to understand others' points of view while I build on my own.