Proudly Local: Crafts in the Midst of Filipino Overseas Migration

For the 2017 Canadian Association for the Study of International Development, Toronto, Canada

During my dissertation fieldwork in my hometown called Nabua (Philippines), I revived my grandparents’ defunct cottage bamboo crafts business. My initiation into the world of family business, while undoubtedly a capitalist enterprise that starkly contrasts with non-profit academic work, has led me to relationships and networks that predate my research, and which eventually had an impact on my research direction. As I became embedded deeper into the business, a different face of Nabua is revealed to me, often bringing confounding moments of introspection about my privilege both as a returning resident and anthropologist. The Nabua that I knew was close to how it is being imagined by its retirees, vacationing residents, friends and informants who like me come from the town’s centre. The bamboo basketmakers-farmers, residing in the outskirts of the town, introduced my fieldsite’s “other” face. I write about the accounts on basketmakers who are affected by receding livelihood support from the local government. While my fieldsite is regarded by its residents as the “Town of Dollars,” it is still home for many non-migrating rural poor — the kanagtitios (barely surviving) — who struggle everyday within the midst of the slow death of their main sources of livelihood: crafts and farming. Theirs is a remarkably different story of rural life in the age of heightened aspirations for overseas migration.

The End of a Generation: Stories from Branch 127 of the Fleet Reserve Association, Town of Dollars, Philippines

For the 2016 University of British Columbia Southeast Asia Graduate Student Conference, Vancouver, B.C., Canada

In his pioneering historiography of the U.S. Navy, James M. Morris (1984) observes that the Philippines was an important participant in the expansion of US seapower. Filipinos began to be recruited to the US Navy in 1901, after US President William McKinley signed an executive order allowing the enlistment of the first 500 Filipinos as part of the insular force. Their recruitment occurred during the height of the Philippine-American War, the war which followed the handover of the country from Spain to the US, after more than 300 years of Spanish rule.

Nabua, a.k.a. The Town of Dollars, is a landlocked agricultural town located more than 360 miles from the nearest US naval base in the Philippines, and yet Nabuenos (people from Nabua) found ways to join the US Navy. Generations of Nabuenos have been shaped by the initial migration of these young men, and by the stories brought home of the “American dream.” The members of Branch 127 (retired US navymen) are among the last of their generation, since the U.S. Bases was dismantled in 1991, also ending recruitment in the Philippines. They are “a dying

breed, near-extinct, endangered species,” as the former president of their organization told me during one home visit. This presentation problematises the ambivalences immanent in these retired navymen’s discourses of intimacy with their “mother ship” (the US), in relation to Nabua as their ginikanan — motherland. With critical awareness of the effects of American interventionism in Philippine sovereignty, and the colonial condition that enabled the recruitment of Filipino subjects for the US military project, while also keeping in mind the generally

favourable views of the American presence in the Philippines expressed by the members of Branch 127, I present an ethnographic record of a markedly local impact of Philippine-American relations on one of the Philippines’ “peripheral” towns.

Performing Naturalness: Intersections of Conceptual Art and Anthropology In Ethnographic Filmmaking

The policing of difference in Tokyo can be seen as one of Japan’s strategies for immigration control. Exasperated with the “random” interrogations by Japanese police, I conducted a one-time experiment with the following hypothesis: that without doing anything out of the ordinary, I will be singled out by the police as an “other” from the large commuting crowd at one of Tokyo’s busiest train stations within three minutes – the length of the single roll of 8mm film, which was used to document the experiment. The performance borrows from the Fluxus group the idea of producing brief happenings that can be called anything but spectacular. Thus, “performance” here does not refer to rehearsed theatrical acts, but to actions of the everyday, particularly by migrants, who un/consciously stage or exert their own identities in the international migration context. For this work, I also build on Jean Rouch’s idea of the unmediated mise-en-scene (i.e. the train station) as a stage on which to hold this experiment. The work likewise explores the practice of observation in anthropology: the anthropologist moves to the research field to perform; the cameraman follows to document the pending encounter; the immigration police officers attempt to spot the other; and finally, at the event of confrontation, the rest of the crowd looks away. “Performing Naturalness” (2008, 3mins) is the product of this methodological experiment, which serves to engage with the viewer, and to provoke discussions of visual scrutiny in migration situations in Japan and elsewhere. Watch Performing Naturalness at http://vimeo.com/4452050.

The Un/Natural State of Things

 

 

Artist statement:

Our family home in the province rings with silence – piled up in several nooks are stacks of boxes sent from overseas as gifts to the few who have been left behind; toys once owned by my cousins are left unattended, broken; the once lively factory for weaving baskets, which for us kids was a playground during our summer holidays, has become musty, and is now the subject of ghost stories.

It seemed inevitable. Like the rest of my family members, I had to leave, too. Like them, I had to sift through my belongings and decide which objects to take and which to leave. Indeed, packing can be a torture, for you can only take with you a fraction of the memories you would like to have handy. It was even more heartbreaking this (third) time, for I took on the task to weed out those objects, damaged by nature and time, ignored and forgotten all these years by others who had left before me.

The Un/Natural State of Things is a series of photographs of decomposing books, which were once owned by my family members. I focus my lens/attention on old, neglected possessions – objects that provide glimpses of my family’s history. Now bug-infested and severely damaged by frequent flooding, these books are among our souvenirs from a long time ago, from before we all got caught in this complex world of international migration.

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Exhibited at: Du Mois Gallery, New Orleans, from November 11-December 3, 2010

http://ethnographicterminalia.org/

 

Anthropologifs Statement

One wonders about the seriousness of anthropology in giving weight to alternative approaches, or whether art and creative practices that depart from the ethnographic representations of the “real” could be seen as valid epistemological investigations. In The Artlessness of Anthropology (1992), anthropologists reflect on Joseph Kosuth’s (2008) model for anthropologized art and lament anthropology’s continued “allegiance to the abstract” and love for “discovering its potential strictness,” which make it difficult for the “anthropologist as artist” paradigm to be accepted. Experimentation continues to clash with canonical ethnographic representation, and there is arguably a rift between the practitioners of the ethnographic and experimental genres in visual anthropology. Efforts to expand the conversation continue. The Society of Visual Anthropology Film and Media Festival, for example, now encourage the submission of films under five minutes – quite a bold move after Jay Ruby’s series of critiques on and expressions of frustrations about the lack of ethnographicness of works emerging from visual anthropology and ethnographic film practice.

ANTHROPOLOGIFS begin with: animated .gif from fieldwork, mundane, spectacular + annotation. From there, the possibilities are endless. ANTHROPOLOGIFS seeks to participate in the continuing conversation about ethnography, ethnographic representation and knowledge production. ANTHROPOLOGIFS respond to Ruby’s claims that ethnographic film is dead, and therefore, .gif. ANTHROPOLOGIFS present possibilities for anthropologists to engage more intimately even with a few seconds from their many of hours of footage gathered from the field. ANTHROPOLOGIFS encourage ethnographies to leap from our texts, and escape the walls of our classrooms and it hopes to expand discourse by engaging with the online public. More than Jean Rouch’s concept of shared anthropology (anthropologie partagée), ANTHROPOLOGIFS want to share anthropology.

 

Hiratsuka — film in progress

Yet untitled, this film is about Filipino family and community life in Japan.

ProjectDox Productions, a documentary by Dada Docot

Acknowledgements:
Manoy Gerald, Ate Mia, Mylene and Manami
Hiratsuka Filipino Community
Deyan Denchev

Sunday (e)Scapes

Sunday (E)scapes (to be released in 2010, approximately 30 min.), appropriates Appadurai’s (1990) concept of ethnoscapes, particularly the domestic workers in Hong Kong. The film shows images from several Sundays in Hong Kong when female Filipino domestic workers are temporarily able to transform the urbanity of Hong Kong’s business district into their own private spaces similar to home. Akin to fiestas or festivals, events by Filipinos in Hong Kong during Sundays are not random, and, in fact, if one observes closely, from the “chaos” emerges a blueprint of the rituals, intricacies and performances of the self and citizenship/nationhood.

Languages: Filipino and Bicol.
Duration: 30 mins
Expected Date of Release: June 2010

Selected Screenings (previews):

Upcoming: as Video installation in Nothing to Declare. Curated exhibition at the Yuchengco Museum, Makati City, Philippines. Sept 2011

As video installation, Heima, Cubao X, Philippines. Aug 2010

Screening and Discussion, Asian Research Institute, National University of Singapore. Feb 2010.

Screening and Discussion, The Red House Center for Culture and Debate, Sofia, Bulgaria. Feb. 1, 2010. http://www.redhouse-sofia.org/Event.aspx?id=4750

Talk and Screening, The Visual as Research Material: Documenting Spaces andEveryday Performances in Filipino International Migration. Special Seminar, University of Tokyo , Komaba Campus. September 2009.

Talk and Screening, STAC-J Graduate Research Forum. Tokyo International Exchange Center, September 2009.

Baad ng Pauno

Baad ng Pauno (Restless)
30mins
Statement: One of my great-aunts has been refused an American tourist visa five times. Auntie Ding, my mother’s sister — three times. My mother — once. I have a five-year U.S. visa, which I received in Japan while studying at the University of Tokyo. In this film, my mother, accompanied by Auntie Ding, travels to Manila, 400 kilometers west of our hometown. She comes, however, not for mere leisure, but to fulfill a dream — to receive a visa that will allow her to visit her newly born first grandson in the United States. Shot only in two days using a camcorder, the documentary follows my mother as she gets ready for the big interview, preparing to perform a “legitimate identity” that will enable her to cross national borders. This film is a part of an ongoing multi-media project that discusses issues on identity and space in relation to international mobility.

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