E. San Juan’s TOWARD FILIPINO SELF-DETERMINATION–review by Michael Viola


Toward Filipino Self-Determination: Beyond Transnational Globalization. By Epifanio San Juan Jr. (Albany, New York: State University of New York Press, 2009. 184 pp. hardcover, $65).

Reviewed by Michael Viola, University of California, Los Angeles

The term globalization has several definitions associated with the accelerated social, economic, and political shifts in late 20th century capitalism. In a United Nations report, globalization has winners and losers. This report explains, “A rising tide of wealth is supposed to lift all boats, but some are more seaworthy than others. The yachts and ocean liners are rising in response to new opportunities, but many rafts and rowboats are taking on water – and some are sinking” (United Nations Report, 1997). While the definition of globalization is often debated, for the majority of people in the Philippines the process of globalization can be more accurately described as “gobble-ization” (McLaren and Farahmandpur, 2001).

Similar to the mass destruction caused at the wake of Hurricane Ondoy, the mechanisms of corporate globalization has enabled an international ruling class to pillage the resources of the Philippines leaving behind an entire populations submerged in the swollen overflows of structural adjustment, debt, and privatization. The rule of the high water is the doctrine of neoliberalism where every layer of the nation’s social fabric is a site of looting, as the market has become the organizing logic of an entire social sphere. Global conditions set in motion by the tides of production have influenced the domains of culture for Filipinos in a global diaspora.

In his latest book, Toward Filipino Self-Determination: Beyond Transnational Globalization, Epifanio San Juan Jr. uncovers the concealed operations of power and the underlying social relations that have impacted social life (language, culture, work, and identity) for Filipinos in an age of global crisis and contradiction.

This book, a compilation of essays written after 9/11 serves as a sequel to his influential writings, in particular, From Exile to Diaspoa (1998) and After Postcolonialism (2000). Much like these earlier works, E. San Juan’s methodology is a method of dissent that captures the complex social relations and constant motion of the Philippine Diaspora. With such a method, tension is present throughout his analysis engaging more commonly accepted theoretical frames promoted by postcolonial, postmodern, and post-Marxist scholars.

For those familiar with E. San Juan’s important earlier works, there is recognizable overlap in the astute critiques that he makes, however, for a reader not exposed to the conditions and history of the Philippines or to Marxist social theory, E. San Juan’s reiterations are valuable as they help clarify arguments that are complicated and theoretically rigorous.

The chapters “Imperial Terror in the Homeland” and “In the Belly of the Beast” are invaluable historical supplements for youth involved in organizing the very popular Philippine Culture Nights (PCN); scholars of Ethnic and Asian American Studies; as well as community organizers interested in furthering political projects that counter the injustices of racism, patriarchy, and other social injustices.

Throughout these chapters E. San Juan shows how seemingly disconnected events are in fact connected through a systemic logic of exploitation and an international division of labor necessitated by the current global economic order. Such writings serve as a constant reminder that ecological disasters, racist anti-immigrant sentiments, and the escalating violence against women (delegated “the servants of globalization”) are intimately linked to the motions of capitalist development.

San Juan’s essay titled “Subaltern Silence” is especially invigorating for university students as they witness the privatization of their public education, the exorbitant increases in tuition fees, and the reduction of courses offered in the humanities and languages. Even though Filipinos have become one the largest groups in the Asian American ethnic category the languages of Filipinos in the academy is sparse.

E. San Juan argues that the struggle over language in our schools is a struggle over Filipino identity – an identity that must be rooted in the ideas of liberation, democracy, and justice for Filipinos throughout the world. He states, “literacy must be based on the reality of the subaltern life if it is to be effective in any strategy of real empowerment, in the decolonization of schooling for a start” (50).

However, the struggle for Filipino languages cannot be confined solely within institutions of higher learning. E. San Juan argues, the struggle for Filipino languages “cannot be achieved except as part of the collective democratic struggles of other people of color and the vast majority of working citizens oppressed by a class-divided, racialized, and gendered order” (51).

It is this social order that Carlos Bulosan confronted in his books of literature and work as a labor organizer at the beginning of the 20th century. The influential writings of Carlos Bulosan are widely available due in large part to the research of E. San Juan. More significantly, the author builds upon Bulosan’s analysis in an assessment of the irrational conditions that continue to plague Filipinos in America. In the chapter titled, “Revisiting Carlos Bulosan” E. San Juan requests that the reader not examine Bulosan’s writing as a sacred or finished text.

Rather, he invites us to resume the unfinished project of Bulosan and the countless “others” who have worked to understand the challenges that confront racialized and subjugated peoples of America in order to prepare for a more humane and just tomorrow. The examination of Bulosan’s life and legacy is a dialectical endeavor. The author highlights Bulosan’s life experiences that undoubtedly has influenced many, however the author reminds us that individuals do not impose such an influence alone but by generations building on the labor of those who come before.

The last chapter, “Tracking the Exile’s Flight: Mapping a Rendezvous” E. San Juan reproduces a speech he delivered to alumni of the Philippine Studies Program, a program that enabled university students from around the United States to gain college credit for their summer studies in the Philippines. E. San Juan maintains that through critical travel experiences or “exposure trips” one can gain a critical standpoint of neoliberal globalization not provided by corporate media and mainstream academic textbooks.

The author argues that these personal experience can provide critical points of analysis especially when widened beyond the personal to problematize conditions that entire groups of people (Filipinos) are situated. Throughout this chapter, E. San Juan’s use of historical materialism provides the reader with an important lens to examine the social contradictions of the Philippine Diaspora in connection with the underlying social forces of class struggle and racist as well as gendered oppression.

Toward Filipino Self-Determination maintains that Filipinos throughout the diapsora have passed on a rich legacy dedicated to the projects of democracy, justice, and self-determination. A new generation of culture workers, scholars, activists, and radical feminists is emerging with their own adapted strategies to bring forth a new society from the vestiges of the old.

Throughout this book E. San Juan reminds us that, “we are faced with a new arena of battle, one between humanity and barbarism, between oppressed third world peoples fighting for survival and the rule of a dehumanized global capital” (166). He is astute in his analysis that in this new arena of battle new ideas, imaginations, and strategies are needed that enables us to transform the world we live. Such transformation takes place with proper understanding and such understanding is furnished with theory.

About philcsc

E.SAN JUAN, Jr. directs the Philippines Cultural Studies Center, Washington DC, USA and lectures at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines, Manila, Philippines.
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