PROBLEMATIZING THE NAME “FILIPINX”: A Colloquy
by Delia D. Aguilar & E. San Juan, Jr.
With Freedom Siyam, May Penuela, Charlie Samuya Veric, Jeffrey Cabusao, Michael Viola, and Delia Aguilar, initiated by Delia D. Aguilar with the collaboration of E. San Juan, Jr.
Controversies over the use of names or classifying rubrics for groups of people are rarely amusing, some even dull and soporific. However, if it is a matter of life and death for some cases, as in the conflict between the Tutsis and Hutus in Rwanda, or the fate of Jews and Armenians in times of intense racial conflict. In those instances, the name one chooses for one’s group may signal either danger or safety.
What’s in a name? Shakespeare’s character seems to ignore circumstances and occasions where a name spells doom or salvation. He may be an essentialist, one who shrugs off the surface particularities of humans—skin color, facial features, hair, etc.—for the core substance that constitutes the unique physiognomy of the person or group.
The problem is not puzzling or enigmatic. This has been argued in ongoing conversations about race, ethnicity, nationality, and so on. But what really is the core substance of African Americans, Native Americans, Latinos or Asians (including Filipinos, now branded by some as Filipinx?) Among Native Americans, arguments will be made for the singularities of each tribe, whether Navajo, Sioux, Kiowa, etc. The same goes for Asians—“Asianx,” anyone?
Each taxonomic label betrays a plurality or heterogeneity within it. Will a new label capture the denied or negated essence of the group, whatever that may be? From American Negroes to Afro-Americans to African Americans to Black Lives—the changes seem to reflect not an unchanging essence. They in fact capture the distinctive impact of historical changes, both the socioeconomic and political events involving those groups and the responses of the communities. The same goes with the invention of “Pinoys” and “Pinays” to designate Filipinos abroad, in the United States and elsewhere. These changes register the groups’ need to identify themselves as a distinctive community for economic, political and cultural adaptation and survival.
What’s the historical specificity of Filipinos here and in the Philippines? When President McKinley decided to annex the Philippines at the end of the Spanish-American War (1898-99), he had no clue where those islands were. The Filipino revolutionary government established a republic, but U.S. superior arms won and colonized the country. Due to the need for labor, the colonized Filipinos were recruited for the Hawaiian sugar plantations as “nationals,” in short, colonial subalterns, not immigrants. The “Manilla men” who fled the Spanish galleons in the 18th century were not “Filipinos,” strictly speaking, but “Indios,” so these Mayflower “wannabes” cannot yet be accepted into ‘the melting pot”—“e pluribus unum” is just an aspirational come-on.
In 1908, the Grove Farm Plantation in Kauai, Hawaii listed “Filipinos” after “fertilizer” as one of the commodities ordered (Ronald Takaki, Strangers from a Different Shore, 1989, p. 25). The “Manongs”—Filipino farmworkers—spread from Hawaii to Alaska until the “little brown brother” bore the violence of the white vigilantes in Watsonville, California, in 1929 for mixing with white women. Filipinos were called
“Flips.” They were classified as “Mongolians,” not Malays, until Salvador Roldan challenged the court so he could marry his white fiancee. When the U.S. troops slaughtered Filipino soldiers of the Republic during the Filipino-American War (1899-1913), the natives were called “Niggers,” “khaki ladrones,” and other colorful epithets. More horrendous were the massacres of Muslim Filipinos, whom we now call BangsaMoro, in Mindanao and Sulu that Mark Twain bewailed as barbaric piratical adventures. Are these tendentious names just symptoms of paranoia, the hostile imagination of the warrior psyche? Part of the strategy to dehumanize the enemy, these modes of stigmatizing by name-calling aim to exonerate the agents of genocide from guilt or blame—after all, you are fighting for democracy and Christian civilization.
Toward Dialogue and Colloquy
But let us for now cut short this historical background and jump into our topic: the controversy over the use of “Filipinx” among Filipinos everywhere—over ten million Overseas Filipino Workers constitute a growing diasporic population. An article in the online webside of INTERAKSYON (June 2, 2020) released a barrage of animosity toward this neologism. Catalina Madarang summed up the exchanges in Twitter, mircroblogger platforms and Reddit Philippines.
“Filipinx” is obviously a copy of “Latinx,” introduced mainly by academics and students in social media around 2004. Activists began to use it “to advocate for individuals living on the borderline of gender identity. But most Hispanic and Latino Americans prefer ‘Hispanic’ and ‘Latino/Latina’ to describe themselves, only 2 to 3 percent use Latinx” (Wikipedia 2020). The Hispanic commentators, while acknowledging the impulse to sound non-binary, gender-neutral or inclusive, reject the term because it is ungrammatical, difficult to pronounce, and disrespectful toward conventional Spanish—in short, “a bulldozing of Spanish.” Is this a case of linguistic imperialism on both sides? The term “Latino/Latina” designates anyone of Latin-American origin or ancestry, while “Hispanic” refers to native speakers of Spanish, whatever nation they originated. Likewise, “Filipino” refers to anyone of Philippine origin or ancestry, regardless of province or linguistic cohort. But unlike Spanish, Philippine languages have neither gender attribution nor gender-specific pronouns.
“Filipinx” is thus a bastard term mimicking its original, ignoring linguistic specificities and historical contingencies. Whatever the other motives are, the intention is honorable: namely, to acknowledge genderqueer (LGBTQIA) members of the Filipino diaspora in whitecentric, binary places. It seeks to decolonize the identity of Filipinos in westerncentric societies, not just in U.S. or Europe, but also in the neocolony itself, the Philippines, which has been profoundly distorted by 300 years of Spanish colonial rule and over a hundred years of U.S. domination. Perhaps this is a tactical reformist move, but are the effects positive? As endorsement, Twitter-user Jenika Cruz, senior associate editor of The Atlantic, wrote recently: “Filipinx friends, I made rly good chicken adobo….pls clap.” Is this a sign that everyone is now joining the bandwagon for a new christening? Are we on the way to decolonizing Filipinos claiming, to quote Carlos Bulosan, that “America is in the heart”?
It was an article critiquing the use of “Filipinx” in Bulatlat by Prof. John Toledo of the University of the Philippines, Los Banos that piqued Delia D. Aguilar’s interest in pursuing the matter. She had wrongly assumed that Filipinos in the Philippines would accede to this modification that, after all, signified solidarity with another US community of color. Instead, Toledo urged his readers to “resist such adverse essentializing of our identity.” He ends his criticism with a plea: “We, the Filipino virtual community, have to resist this Western hype and empower our languages in the Philippines. We are all Filipinos. Isn’t it much more important today to battle the rhetoric that our mother nation is a province of another nation?”
Encouraged by Toledo’s rejection–speaking truth to power in a time of national and global crisis–and curious about how others might respond, Aguilar reached out to a handful of friends and colleagues for their opinions. What resulted was a spirited conversation that everyone involved later agreed might be useful to share publicly. What follows are the candid responses of Filipinos in the U.S., Canada and the Philippines involved in community organizing, teaching, and scholarly work. Aguilar’s comments are interspersed in the back-and-forth exchange as they occurred.
A Veteran Filipino-American Activist’s Response
First to offer his view is Freedom Siyam, principal of Balboa High School in San Francisco, who has been active in organizing and teaching in the Filipino community for a long time now. We reproduce the preface he wrote for a district document celebrating Filipino American History Month:
Why Do We Use ‘Filipinx”
A recent phenomenon to acknowledge the systematic oppression of Black, Indigenous, People of Color through the history of over 500 years of colonization and imperialism transpired when progressive members of the Latinx community replaced the “A” and “O” with the “X” to emphasize gender neutrality and inclusivity of people in the community who are gender non-conforming.
Filipinxs also share a similar history as Spain began colonial conquest of the Philippine archipelago in 1521 and as colonization almost completely eradicated indigenous cultural practices, spirituality, and language and replaced indigenous practices with Spanish patriarchy, Christianity, and sweepingly gendered relations throughout the islands.
To this point, Spanish gendered prescriptions manifested in many words, whereas native dialects had no gender markers, and pronouns were siya or sila (essentially they/them). The adoption of the “x” by members in the Filipino American community is an attempt at inclusivity and breaking past the binary of gendered markers imposed by colonization. It is also important to note that this is a very specific characteristic of conscious Filipino American communities and not necessarily adopted by Filipinos in the Philippines, nor broadly in the United States. Thus Filipinx should be seen as synonymous with Filipina or Filipino, without the gendered prescription, and we should not try to play “woke” olympics with each other.
Purist may resist this attempt to problematize the Filipinx identity with an X, and while the writers acknowledge shifting language helps continue to sharpen our understanding of inequities therefore facilitate a clearer path to genuine equity, we also know that a change in nomenclature is just that, an empty change in terminology, unless genuine liberation of the oppressed is obtained and equity and justice is systematized institutionally, and in the context of Filipinx history, including genuine liberation of the Philippines from uneven neocolonial political, economic and military policies.
Furthermore, those who identify with the X should be aware that Filipinos from the Philippines may not identify with the term and consider that this is a Filipinx American and a product of US multiculturalism (Reference: “Choose Filipino or Filipinx”).
After Freedom Siyam’s public pronouncement, Delia Aguilar’s reflection reminds us of the need for historicizing discourse. She explains: Free, you are spot-on in saying that none of these attempts to change labels alter material conditions, but neither should we deny the impact of culture on material life. To hold Philippine Cultural Night and, more important, Filipino American History Month, are of great significance. I would guess that up to now Fil-Am students are not getting information about Philippine history from their parents who are simply too busy to survive in a society that absolutely requires consumerism in order to acquire a measure of self-assurance.
Context is key, in my opinion. I completely understand the desire to go with Filipinx because you’re in the US attempting to express solidarity with Latinx and Blacks. (Blacks are not calling themselves Blackx, are they? This x business is confined to immigrants, I assume?) I would ask that you not forget to emphasize vigorously that the Philippine situation is entirely different. The Philippine nation is living under the heels of US domination–and resisting trendy, even purportedly progressive stuff in the US is part of that–and Filipinos have no obligation whatsoever to accept this presumed expression of solidarity. There have been many a time when I’ve felt that Filipinos today (yes, in Manila, California’s suburb) have voluntarily and completely submerged themselves in US culture that I feel like raising my hands in surrender. This is why I was very pleasantly surprised by Toledo’s Bulatlat article.
Qualifications from a Filipino resident in Canada
We were able to solicit reflections from May Penuela, a Filipina educator living in Canada, whose thoughts recall for us the turmoil of the current conjuncture:
I think it’s ironic how little use Filipinx is politically given Laude’s murder back in 2014 and Duterte’s pardon of Pemberton this summer. I mentioned this case in a diversity discussion for a staff meeting in ‘14 on transgender issues. The mention of US militarism in the Philippines was outside the scope of using the correct terms originating in the US for marginalized communities. The discussion closed as if it was too political and off topic bringing that up. Let alone talking about the responses from Gabriela and women’s organizations in the Philippines who clearly had a more advanced analysis and strident support of Laude as a woman. There was little virtue signalling, if I could use that phrase, in the Philippine context from what I read at the time. I agree with Toledo’s main point in the article. The flow of political direction in the U.S. is seldom informed outside its solipsistic national context. And this goes to the heart of critiquing Ensler and the history of neocolonial feminism she branded globally, the flow of political exchange and influence is one way. Which begs the question of the ethics for that term politically — whose self-determination is one referring by Filipinx in 2020?
May commends Freedom’s “sharp emotionally attuned and integrative approach” in his formal and organizational duties.” She confesses that she gets “emotionally reactive” with identity politics acting like “McCathyist thought police.”
Delia Aguilar’s response to May Penuela: I am very much impressed with what you write. I especially like your bringing up the brutal murder of Jennifer Laude in 2014 and the recent exoneration of Joseph Pemberton, her murderer. It’s a case that, and I hate to say this but I will, seems to ridicule the presumed linguistic resistance of Filipinx. (Never mind that the adoption of the term also is but another symptom of our aping, gaya-gaya puto-maya tendency.) This, along with your reminder about Eve Ensler, speak volumes to me. Because wasn’t Ensler denounced by feminists of color in the US and Canada for being racist? And yet it was precisely her being the white feminist savior that she is that catapulted her into the warm embrace of GABRIELA. What does this tell us?
Intervention from a Scholar in Quezon City, Philippines
Meanwhile, let us hear from a Filipino academic in the Philippines, Charlie Samuya Veric, professor of English at Ateneo de Manila University, who holds a Ph.D. in American Studies from Yale University. Veric has written several books of poetry and a pioneering work on postcolonial studies in the Philippines entitled Children of the Postcolony. He wrote in FB:
Filipino and Filipinx are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they both need to flourish. But if one cancels the other, then that’s where the problem begins. Filipino is founded on identification with the Philippine nation whereas Filipinx dis-identify themselves from the heteronormative and white supremacist American state. There’s a crucial difference between identifying with a young Philippine nation and distancing oneself from the long imperial history of the US. So if we force Filipinx on Filipinos in the Philippines, that creates more trouble than needed. Give the Filipino nation its time in the sun. Let it grow and mature first. Then we can start denying it. One cannot deconstruct what is not fully constructed.
Veric’s remarks provoked May Penuela’s wide-ranging comment:
I greatly appreciate Charlie’s comments, Delia. His distinction of the two forms of identification struck me, where the unity between what I see as a positive and negative identification is possible.
Using Charlie’s distinctions, Filipino as identification with the Philippine nation is a positive identification in the proactive sense, for and with an emerging Philippine nation. Whereas, “Filipinx dis-identify with the heteronormative, white supremacist American state,” “distancing oneself from the long imperial history of the U.S.” “Filipinx” is a negative identification in the sense that is not yet for a specified project. It is an ambiguous identity, except in its proclamation against heteronormativity and white supremacy. What is it for? Is it for statelessness? For a multinational state? For a non-white settler state? In solidarity with BIPOC and LGBTQI liberation, what U.S. state is required? That’s not to say that there is or should be a pre-determined, specified construction. But, what is the political consciousness that makes up an anti- or “negative “ construction and what are its tendencies moving forward?
What does it mean to “distance oneself from the long imperial history of the U.S.?” To recognize that it’s messed up? But then what? Does Filipinx identify an alternative project to imperialism? What is the project? Does it serve to cancel imperialism? Because the Filipina/o positive identification, moving towards national autonomy in its self-determined construction, requires the end of the U.S. state as an imperial project. Imperial negation is necessary for Filipinos to construct their own national destiny. Are Filipinx folx up to the task of fully negating U.S. imperialism?
As Charlie rightly points out, trouble begins if one identification development cancels the other. Radicalization, however it emerges, is a positive and important development in such different contexts. But I think it’s fair to say that Filipinx as a political project requires more maturation in its development and requires rigorous scrutiny through this fundamental contradiction. I don’t mean to be too cheeky, but x has greater potential to negate the a’s and o’s. So, how to move in a mutually affirming way? Where are the possibilities for mutual political exchange?
Jennifer Laude’s brutal murder is a repeat offense of the heteronormative, white supremacist state on Philippine soil. U.S. Imperialism in real time, running the course of its 122 year history in the Philippines with distinctive consequences means that in 2014 a 19 year old man/child turned into a Marine by the U. S. state, has impunity to negate the life and development of a 26 year old transgender Filipina expressing her full humanity. Their hook up in anticipation for some mutual human pleasure ended in its complete opposite, horrid outcome — Jennifer’s violent death at the hands of the American man/child experiencing a psychotic and emotional crisis of the racial, sexual, gender, class, and national contradictions all integrated in one fateful intimate moment between the two.
With the support of both the Philippine and mighty U.S. state, Pemberton gets a restart at life six years later. He’s now the same age as Jennifer when she was killed. He can go home.
Perhaps gender non-conforming and cis gender Filipinx struggling with the historical meaning of Filipina/o can find solidarity and grasp this case as a concrete access point to consider the stronghold of U.S. influence on Filipino lives, or reconsider it if they’re already aware of this case. Because of BLM, the pandemic, and everything going as it is, U.S. based activists might fully grasp how this case resonates with many other negations: Breonna Taylor’s, Berta Caceres, MMIW, etc, etc., to respond in similar scale and synchronous timing in national and global outrage, amplifying (to use that trendy word) the brutalities of imperialism for the people in the belly of the beast to evaluate and reconcile with U.S. militarism. That’s an affirmative direction that Filipinx might reflect upon.
Delia Aguilar responds to May: Your situating the discussion in the context of BLM and the pandemic is also significant because, as many progressives today have observed, we are at a critical moment in history where race and capitalism are being publicly questioned in ways that never happened before. People are now talking about racism as systemic. And look, even Bob Woodward, interviewing Trump, raises the issue of their shared “white privilege.” This was unthinkable before this time! In other words, you remind us that the adoption of Filipinx has to be contextualized in history and current events.
Exchanging with Two Filipino-American Academics
From the groves of U.S academe, we asked Prof Jeffrey Cabusao of Bryant University what his take is on this new “Filipinx” fad. He hails from San Diego, California, holds a Ph.D. in English from the University of Michigan, and currently teaches at Bryant University in Rhode Island. He asks if Filipinx is seriously challenging the heteronormatic and white-supremacist state, and if so, what have these so-called Filipinxs contributed to challenging the U.S. Marine killer Pemberton’s pardon? He agrees with Charlle Samuya Veric’s distinction of the neologism as a Fil-Am concept and “Filipino” as a term designating the long history of mass struggle for national sovereignty in the neocolony. He thanks Freedom Siyam for his insightful reflections. Here is his concluding observation:
I’d like to suggest that “Filipinx” itself is a term that has yet to mature—a term that signals that we live in “new times = new politics.” While the term “Filipino” is rooted in a very long history of mass struggle against U.S. imperialism (an “old” mode of political engagement), “Filipinx” is quite recent and rooted in contemporary U.S. identity politics… an intersectional politics of diversity and inclusion… a contemporary queer politics that oftentimes privilege trans visibility over a systemic critique of racism, militarism, and materialism (the three evils critiqued by MLK).
For example, how is Chelsea Manning celebrated at Pride? Whether locked up or released, she remains a marginalized voice — a pariah (given her politics) — within the LGBTQ community and the larger U.S. society. For Manning, the struggle for trans rights are interconnected with the struggle to dismantle the prison system. Also, “Filipinx” seems to be inspired by the shift to “Latinx.” The eagerness of Fil-Ams to adopt the “Filipinx” identity/category (to copy our Latino/as/x sisters and brothers) is symptomatic of a deep (and painful) desperation among many Fil-Ams to be “seen” and “heard” in the United States (among U.S. BIPOC activists, within the U.S. academy and its publishing venues, within mass media)… so much energy around the “x” just to get a slice of the pie.
For his appraisal of this colloquy, let us hear from Prof Michael Viola, a veteran teacher/scholar of social justice and multiethnic education at St Mary’s College, California, and author of the award-winning book, Hip-Hop(e): The Cultural Practice and Critical Pedagogy of International Hip-Hop. He took time out from his many duties and commitments to provide us his insights:
I agree with Charlie Samuya Veric’s insights and the poignant ways that May, Free and Jeff built upon them around how names enable important pathways to identify with historic and persistent struggles against U.S. imperialism. May’s point, which she was quite clear in BOLD honestly builds on the important critiques that Tita Delia and Uncle Sonny have made for decades in the way that U.S academics have contributed greatly to the benign identity politics that make various nuanced moves yet are ultimately devoid of a class analysis and a critique of global capitalism. Such critiques are important to remember as their work have shown how dominant strands of Filipno American studies has cut ties to a wider struggle against U.S. imperialism and its barbaric manifestations in the Philippines (via “post-al analytics). Such an analysis that Jeff has been at the forefront within Asian Am studies more broadly to recuperate is so crucial in understanding the asymmetrical relationship between the Philippines and the United States. Thank you all for showing the ways that FILIPINX driven predominately by immigrant academics in the corporate academy are fashioning new trends that are culpable in also reproducing this unjust neocolonial relationship.
I’ve been re-reading Manning Marable and he points to the two global currents post 9/11 world: 1) a liberal democratic tendency: still dominant in the US that broadly has been driven by a project for human rights, welcoming a public discourse around issues of identity and difference yet is assimilative to global capital and (2) a radical egalitarian tendency most strongly offered by movements of the Global South that refuse incorporation to the capitalist world order and seek the abolition of capitalist relations in its various manifestations. For me, Marable’s insights are important in this time – especially as we see the rise of rightist / authoritarian forces in the US, the Philippines, and throughout the world. Ultimately, he poses a wonder question: is it possible to build a broader front to unite these two tendencies? How can we offer a consistent yet dialogical critique of FILIPINX that enables a recognition of the struggle that younger generations of youth are identifying yet invites them to “intersect” their struggles with a project for liberation from the barbarism of global capital that is at the heart of why our world is literally burning.
Rejecting the FILIPINX tout court, especially for the reasons that Free points out (as a younger generation of students and youth are connected with other immigrant youth where the term Latinx has become much more commonplace) may further isolate us from the kind of consciousness raising and community organizing we have been committed to. Yet, it is important to point out who is naming the term FILIPINX (neoliberal academics??) and how such a term may problematically be a “cut and paste” job or ahistorically imported from its Latinx communities and struggles. What happens when our communities do that? What happens to our ability to historicize and make connections to the ongoing neocolonial conditions in the Philippines and the dispersal of Filipinos all over the world? May is sharp in stating that “Perhaps gender non-conforming and cis gender Filipinx struggling with the historical meaning of Filipina/o can find solidarity and grasp this case [Laude murder] as a concrete access point to consider the stronghold of U.S. influence on Filipino lives, or reconsider it if they’re already aware of this case.” That’s exactly what academics, activists, cultural workers need to be doing, helping to create those “access point(s)” and to help intersect those struggles as opposed to “intersectional identity work” that has led us nowhere.
Delia Aguilar wraps up the exchange with the following observations: Thank you, Mike, for your thoughtful contribution. When I first reached out to you all, what I had in mind was simply to get your reactions to John Toledo’s article. I had no thought of getting anything printed. Since then, Tito Sonny called my attention to an online discussion of Filipinx among Filipinos in the Philippines who more or less scoffed at the tag. You can just imagine what a relief–and sense of hope!–this gave me, because at times I feel our subalternity to be sedimented and sempiternal. “Tumigil na kayo diyan,” someone said in exasperation. Another had to explain that Filipinos belong to the Philippines, a nation–one still fighting for genuine independence, it is true, but a nation nevertheless. Is there a Latino nation? No.
In the early 80s when the women’s movement was just beginning to assert itself within the revolution (“broader struggle,” we used to say), a Filipina feminist cited the authority of “The Second Stage” in which Betty Friedan wrote that “we have gone too far.” This woman was quoting Friedan to warn Filipino women, who’d only barely begun, that we’d gone too far already. Remember the apocryphal tale of the Lone Ranger and his sidekick Tonto (Spanish for dolt or imbecile)? “We are going to get killed!” cries the Lone Ranger, facing an imminent attack by Indians. “Who’s the ‘we,’ white boy?” was Tonto’s retort. If only we had Tonto’s smarts.
I could be wrong, Mike. But wasn’t Manning Marable writing about a very different moment in history? Latinx belongs to that moment. Times have changed since. The seismic shift in public consciousness about race brought on by BLM-led protests amidst the ongoing pandemic and its continuing mismanagement has radically altered the sociopolitical landscape of the US. This will necessarily have an impact on academic puerility (allow me to dream here) of which I take preoccupation with identity politics to be a symptom. Let’s not forget that the plague and those BLM protest marches, the massiveness and composition of which have heretofore been unseen in this country, have opened a gateway for progressives, as Arundhati Roy aptly put it, hopefully to another world, assuming we have an alternative vision. No movement in the US has ever created or produced international reverberations the way that this one did. There were solidarity marches all over the world! Remember those? Surely we can acknowledge that the marches and clamor have resulted in a radically revised public outlook. Shouldn’t we seize the moment and work with this palpable change in popular consciousness instead of trailing behind in the caboose?
A Provisional Summing-Up
There appears to be a consensus in all the participants that it is important to grapple with the implications of ethnic labels and other taxonomic devices with grave political ramifications. The use of “Filipinx” foregrounds the need to elucidate what is involved in its use and application, where and when, for whom, etc. While “Flip” and other offensive tags have disappeared, there’s a feeling that “Filipino” has become a term of rejection or marginalization. Is this true for everyone? So is “Filipinx” the new feasible gateway to acceptance, if not assimilation? Would this tweaking of the old label facilitate better access to the larger community of Filipinos residing in the U.S. (most of whom are likely to vote for Trump in this November 2020 election), and thus acceptance by the EuroAmerican majority? Who is being served by this new category, whose interests are enabled by this new terminology?
We can rehearse the crucial arguments for further assaying. There is consensus that this neologism is a psychological/semantic response to the dominance of a white-supremacist, heteronormative, patriarchal culture, a climate aggravated by the current regime of a flagrantly white-supremacist U.S. administration. No harm in that symptomatic reflex of a new discovery or awareness. What is contentious is its resonance or implication. Does it invigorate or paralyze movements for racial equality? More important, does it subordinate the struggle for genuine national sovereignty to the paramount goal of gender-neutrality? Does it obscure the asymmetry between the imperial hegemonic United States and its virtual neocolony, the Philippines? To push further, which cause would advance a systemic solution to racist, sexist global capitalism? Intersectionatlonal measures have been tried; but after Obama, we got Trump and its virulent racist-sexist program of destroying all that has been gained from past Civil Rights struggles of LGBTQIA and diverse ethnic communities..
The Philippines is still a U.S. dependency, whatever claims may be made about Filipino adobo, Miss Universe this and that, growing incomes of Filipino-Americans, increasing popularity of Filipino films, singers, etc. We are one of Trump’s “shitholes,” let us not demur, whose chief export and dollar-earners are Overseas Filipino Workers around the planet. From 1946 when nominal independence was granted up to now, the Philippine military and police establishments have been wholly dependent on U.S, support, advice, training, logistics, etc. While direct U.S. investments have declined, the unchallenged stranglehold of U.S. culture—its music, films, lifestyle, ideology of free-market liberalism, anticommunist/antisocialist mentality of individualism, etc.—shows no signs of waning or disappearing.
The final caveat is whether gender-neutrality and anti-heteronormativity (LGBTQIA) would free the homeland from dependency and backwardness. More crucial, we are in a time of huge mass policization as a response to Trump’s racist policies toward immigration, ecological degradation, the pandemic/health care crisis, warmongering, etc. Should we miss this moment in history as part of this great wave of mass mobilizations, here and in the homeland, to fight for social justice and economic emancipation which would lay the groundwork for all other freedoms? Or should we subordinate that to the principle of getting the right name to insure that everyone is acknowledged, whatever their situation is? Do we repeat the old saw, “pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will,” to settle this issue of legitimizing “Filipinx” if “Filipino” still hangs in the balance?—###
DELIA D. AGUILAR, previously a fellow of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University, was professor of Women’s Studies at Hamilton College, Washington State University, and the University of Connecticut. Her books include The Feminist Challenge, Filipino Housewives Speak, Toward a Nationalist Feminism; and edited the anthology Women and Globalization (Humanity Books).
E. SAN JUAN, Jr., 2009 fellow of W.E.B. Du Bois Institute, Harvard University, was chair of the Dept of Comparative American Cultures, Washington State University; and emeritus professor of Ethnic Studies and Comparative Culture. He was recently visiting professor of English, University of the Philippines. His recent books include U.S. Imperialism and Revolution in the Philippines, Between Empire and Insurgency, Faustino Aguilar, and Peirce/Marx.