Annotation: Tolentino, Roland. 1996. Bodies, Letters, Catalogs

Tolentino, Roland. 1996. Bodies, Letters, Catalogs: Filipinas in Transnational Space. Social Text, 48 (Autumn): 49-76.

Tolentino looks at the mail-order bride phenomenon within what he calls the “geopolitics of place and location.” While the author does not substantiate his arguments with ethnographic data, as, according to him, women do not easily reveal their past, he provides an insightful analysis of the mail-order bride phenomenon as connected to the colonial, militarist and capitalist histories of the US and the Philippines (49). The demand for Filipina brides, he writes, is linked to the 1) nuclear family fantasies and 2) colonialist fantasies of conquest and rescue (51) of white American men. Western feminist literature, as exemplified by Donna Haraway’s statement that “Bodies are maps of power and identity,” is critiqued by Tolentino for its tendency to imagine the power (of the woman) as realizable, but which eventually remains only “potential.” He asks, “Where… is the real body of the Third World woman in transnational space positioned?”. The author proceeds to situate Filipinas’ bodies within the spaces of the multinational and the transnational. Both spaces employ tactics to control the class struggle (54), and both spaces generate “a political economy marked by a highly sexualized division of labor” (53). Multinational work spaces merely “reconstitute” the traditional modes of oppression for the “economic and cultural prerogatives” of women (55). Filipinas then become “anchored in dreams of modernity,” thus producing a “reserve army of available global labour sites and bodies” (55-56). Transnationalism, he writes, is a new mode of translating neocolonialism, in which control over the bodies of the colonized is wielded through the organizational layers of businesses (e.g. the collection of passports by business owners). Tolentino also implicates the education system forged during the American colonial period as designed to produce graduates ready to serve the needs of other nations (59). Gender shifts (feminization of migration; men’s acceptance of their feminization by taking formerly gendered occupations such as nursing), meanwhile, are tolerated due to the promise of economic/dollar gains.

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