Subscribe to Christianity Today
John Wilson, Editor
Stranger in a Strange Land
I'm reading a book called From Exile to Diaspora: Versions of the Filipino Experience in the United States, by E. San Juan, Jr. (Westview Press, 244 pp.; $39). San Juan reminds us that 1998 (the year in which his book was published) "marks the centenary of the founding of the first Philippine Republic and also the intervention of the United States with the outbreak of the Spanish-American War." As a result of that intervention, one of the most unsavory episodes in our history, "the Philippines became a colonial possession of the United States, with its people subjugated and 'Americanized' for almost a century." And the consequences of that history, in turn, have harshly shaped the experience of Filipinos in the United States.
San Juan is angry—angry at the "invisibility" and "forgottenness" of Filipinos in the U.S., angry at the "persisting subjugation of Filipino bodies and psyches"—but his prescription for change is not likely to help, unless you have faith in "a politics of counterhegemonic struggle … a struggle between imperial-transnational powers and insurgent subalterns around the world … a popular-democratic politics of contestation to dispute the dominant logic of representation, the scenarios of hegemonic interpellation that constitute subjectivity, identity, and agency, inflected by class, race, gender, sexuality, and so on."
I remain unpersuaded. But what San Juan's book brought home to me again is the enormous value of seeing familiar history from an unfamiliar perspective. That's a theme that tends to get lost in the debates between advocates of Traditional History ("the Eurocentric master-narrative," their opponents call it) and the Multiculturalists. The history of Filipinos in the United States is not a trivial subject. Its claims on us are both moral and intellectual—the two can't be neatly separated—and it deepens our understanding, but not when presented as San Juan (and many "diversity requirements") would have ...