AAS Annual Meeting

Southeast Asia Session 110

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Session 110: Performing Contradictions: Cultural Production and the Negotiation of Ethno-National identity in the Filipino Diaspora - Sponsored by the Phillipines Studies Group

Organizer: Lily Ann B. Villaraza, Northern Illinois University, USA

Cultural production holds dual – and at times, contradictory – roles for diasporic communities in their country of origin and abroad. For Filipinos in the Philippines and elsewhere in the world, forms of cultural production such as theater, literature, and film provide dynamic spaces to articulate both the static conception of a Filipino ethno-national identity and the contestation of that very same notion. Questions concerning essentialism, authenticity, and the idea of “tradition” are deeply embedded in the articulation of who and what “Filipino” is even before Jose Rizal, the national hero of the Philippines, was marked “the First Filipino.” Each of the papers will explore the different ways cultural production provides an important vehicle to negotiate and challenge static notions of “Filipino” in seemingly comfortable and familiar ways. The stage, the screen, and the manuscript are favorite sites for these discussions often complicated by the economics of migration, cultural and religious norms that live easily with their contradictions (i.e. the acceptance of the “gays” but only in the context of performance and away from the Catholic conception of family), and the spectre of coloniality and nostalgia. The hope of this panel is to call attention to the importance of performance and cultural production in the past and present articulation of “Filipino” as an embraced yet contested colonial construction of ethno-national identity.

Power Plays and Colonial Politics: Seditious Sarsuwelas and the Sedition Act of 1901
Lily Ann B. Villaraza, Northern Illinois University, USA

The “seditious Sarsuwelas” produced in the Philippines between 1902 and 1906 are historically characterized as reactions to the United States’ colonization of the archipelago and policies implemented by the Philippine Commission. In 1901, the Commission passed Article 292, or the Sedition Act, which deemed that “every person who shall utter seditious words or speeches, write, publish, or circulate scurrilous libels against the government of the United States or the Insular Government of the Philippine Islands.” By July 1902, however, this statute was null and void through the passing of the Philippine Organic Act as it guaranteed the freedom of speech to the Filipinos. Thus, the prosecution of the playwrights of “seditious Sarsuwelas” after July 1902 was illegal. This paper will draw attention to the complex political conditions under which these playwrights produced their works, suggesting that a more nuanced discussion of the role of theater in the struggle for independence in the Philippines should be entertained. While the literature on the Philippine Revolution and Philippine American War speaks of theater as significant vehicles of resistance against colonialism, there is scant discussion of theater’s perceived impact on Filipinos as a viable threat to the legitimacy of the new American colonial government.

From Oral Storytelling to the written page: The woman Kuwentista as Binukot
Maria Josephine Barrios-Leblanc, University of California, Berkeley, USA

The paper focuses on women fictionists writing in Tagalog during the American colonial period, and investigates how the shift from orality to the written page, informed and influenced their narratives. Focus shall be given to less-anthologized works from the magazines Liwayway and Taliba. Among the questions that the paper shall address are the following: How did the conventions of romance factor in the works of these women writers and how did they deviate from these conventions? How did these women writers participate in discourses on labor, suffrage, peasant unrest, and nationalism? How can we read these works alongside popular culture forms of the period such as the sarswela, the emerging silent films, vaudeville, the carnival queens, and the new architectural styles of school houses and government buildings introduced during the American colonial period? How are these works framed by the magazines in which they are published? The paper argues that the spirit of the binukot, who is chosen from birth to be the storyteller of the epic in precolonial Philippines, and who tells tales of heroism, magic, bravery, and the community experience, is evident in the works of these women writers.

Moro-Moro US Style: Performing the Bayan
Nenita Pambid-Domingo, University of California, Los Angeles, USA

Moro-Moro or pretending to be Moors, is a traditional Filipino play that was instituted during Spanish colonization of the Philippines with the intent of proselytizing and converting the indios or Filipino natives to Christianity. Originally, the Moro-Moro or Komedya is about the battle between Christians and Moors, where the Moors or Moros are always vanquished and won over to the Christian faith. In the US, “San Dionisio sa Amerika,” an organization of ‘natives’ of Parañaque, Philippines has been performing the komedya for 10 years. The 2010 production is slated to be performed at The Barnsdall Art Park and Gallery Theater in Los Angeles. The paper will focus on the function of the yearly performance that is part of the towns’ religious festivities connected to the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar in the “Stateside.” The presentation analyzes the impact of Hollywood on the artistic production of this traditional form. It will also probe issues of audience reception and spectatorship as well as the aesthetics of performance to recreate the past on the part of the sponsors, Hermana Mayores, the performers themselves who are a mix of Filipinos from the Philippines and Filipino-Americans who hardly speak the Tagalog language but have committed the Tagalog lines of the play to memory, and the non-Filipino participants, as well as the general audience, not from Parañaque, who come to witness the event. Do these cultural products bridge historical and cultural divide between Fil-Fils and Fil-Ams? What do these works contribute to post-colonial historiography?

From Vaudeville to Bodabil: Adaptation, Subversion and Solidarity
Carolina L San Juan, University of California, Los Angeles, USA

Since the United States took possession of the Philippines in 1898, American entertainment has shaped much of Filipino popular culture. One example of this influence can be seen in Philippine Vaudeville, or Bodabil (from the Filipino pronunciation of ‘Vaudeville’). My project introduces Bodabil to American scholarship by providing a historical account of Vaudeville’s arrival in the Philippines during the turn of the 20th century, and its subsequent influence on Philippine contemporary theatre, cinema, radio and television. While early Bodabil seems to parallel American Vaudeville’s history, important distinctions must be made. Whereas Vaudeville grew out of minstrelsy that was based on white Americans ridiculing black Americans, Bodabil’s roots are based in western cultural imperialism functioning on a foreign site with its own rich history and values regarding performance and mimicry. Many Vaudeville traits can be seen in Bodabil yet Bodabil serves a specific function in Philippine society as a barometer and tool against oppression. Censorship often communicated to audiences that their liberty was in danger and Bodabil shows provided the means for audiences to theorize and communicate their experience with one another. By focusing on a transplanted African American performance genre as a site for analysis, I have set the stage for research into a complex and under-theorized performance genre that provides the means for citizens to ignite and sustain movements against oppressive regimes.

Philippine Gay Indie Cinema and the Politics of Performance in Neoliberalism
Roland B. Tolentino, University of the Philippines, Philippines

Gay indie (independent) cinema has become the dominant form of sex-oriented films in the Philippines. Adult heterosexual films have been banned from the major cinema complex, ceasing an end to this subgenre known as the “bomba film” (sex-themed or soft-porn films). Gay indie cinema has found a niche market in outlets in Metro Manila, thereby dominating the bomba films. The landscaping of Philippine neoliberalism with gay indie cinema points to another space in its experience in the global and sexual division of labor. If the Philippines’ migrant work directs to the feminized labor and the laboring of women, gay indie cinema alludes to the further queering of Philippine labor. This presentation examines the history of the gay indie cinema and its connection to the performance of a queer politics: as a cultural commodity that is marketable to an in-house local and global audience, and as symptomatic of Philippine neoliberalism that is exemplary of the privatization and marketization of desire for commercial profit. Within the context of an intensifying Philippine neoliberalism, gay indie cinema asserts a queer identity on the one hand, and also substantiates this identity under market demand and niche-making. Aside from gay indie cinema, I will also be analyzing the proliferation of new technologies that allow for a queering of the politics of performance, such as cell phone sex videos, viral sex sites, and HIV incidence in the call center industry, among others.