Hyphenated identity and literature

17 May

“Hagedorn transcends social strata, gender, culture, and politics in this exuberant, witty, and telling portrait (of  the Philippine society).” Penguin\’s Women Studies

Since the Filipino diaspora began in the first half of the 20th century, uprooted Filipinos have not only gone abroad in search of greener pastures and have helped the country through their foreign exchange remittances. They have also created a Philippine diasporic culture that addresses the concerns –both bodily and spiritually—of a community that is thousands of kilometers away from its home country.

One of the features of this culture is the body of literary works that have been written by Filipinos who moved abroad or who were even born and raised overseas, but who share Filipino-ness with those who have remained in the Philippines. Authors like Carlos Bulosan, Bienvenido Santos and Jose Garcia Villa began an artistic tradition that still continues in the writings of Ninotchka Rosca, Jessica Hagedorn and Peter Bacho. Like many non-white writers, their identity is hyphenated, i.e. Filipino-American. This hyphenated way of referring to the author’s nationality indicates the dual roots of their identity. Instead of a deterrent to artistic production, this double consciousness has contributed to the writing of brilliant works of literature.

The artists I just cited are children of the Filipino diaspora to the U.S. But the phenomenon of Philippine migration overseas has become worldwide. Destinations range from nearby Hong Kong to the driest part of Southern Africa. Europe is, of course, a popular destination. If I’m not mistaken, it has been thirty years since we started filling the ranks of foreign workers in Europe, especially in Italy and Spain. I remember taking a bus in the center of Rome on a Thursday some years back, and seeing that the only Italian person on the bus was the driver. The rest of the passengers were Filipinos. I’ve also seen Filipino children in Italy who speak Italian like any other native citizen of the country. I’m quite sure the same thing happens in Spain, especially in Barcelona and Madrid. This means that there are Filipinos here whose identity has already come to adopt Spanish or Italian quality. I’m convinced that this dual consciousness has begun working its influence to inspire thoughts about life in our adopted Europe and about art as a space to channel migrant longings. So here’s to the future of Filipino-European artists!

The discrimination and unhealthy working conditions Carlos had experienced in many of his workplaces encouraged him to participate in union organizing with other Filipinos and various workers. Carlos become a self-educated and prolific writer determined to voice the struggles he had undergone as a Filipino coming to America and the struggles he had witnessed of other people.   Carlos Bulosan\’s biography

Grace Concepcion

One Response to “Hyphenated identity and literature”

  1. lakambiningmanlalakbay May 17, 2010 at 8:24 pm #

    I read Dogeaters many years ago and thought it gave an exciting perspective on Philippine (contemporary) history and society from both sides of the Pacific. Definitely a richer interpretation of our culture. What makes it more impressive though is the fact that it has been made into a play (off-broadway, New York), shown all over the US, and even back in the Philippines (2007)! It would be quite interesting to see how our hyphenated artists of the Filipino diaspora (present and future) could influence the evolution of our own culture and identity back home.

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