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.