Dancing Into Oblivion: The Pilipino Cultural Night and the Narration of Contemporary Filipina/o America

DOI: https://dx.doi.org/

Abstract

How have performances developed by Filipino Americans over the twentieth century conveyed important lessons about culture, nation, and community? In other words, what do Filipino American cultural performances have to say about the formation of “national identity” and “community”? I select three contexts to highlight these changes: the postindustrialization of the US economy; the reaction to race, taxes and education in the Bakke vs. UC Board of Regents decision; and the political realignment of the Rea- gan democrats. We see the continued immigration of Filipino so-called “professional” families to the United States. Their children seek senses of themselves amidst attacks on ethnic studies, affirmative action, and the presence of im- migrants in California. And here the Pilipino Cultural Night (PCN) as a performance genre emerges. For the thousands of young Filipino Americans who have taken to the stage or for those who felt more comfortable in the wings, partici- pating in these shows has been some of the only history lessons available about the Philippine revolution of 1896, the literary politics of Carlos Bulosan, the struggle of Ilocano and Visayan farm workers in Hawaii, the back-breaking labor in Salinas, Delano, Spokane, or Chicago. They also turn their attention to the Philippines and to the outer diaspora, learning of the plight of overseas workers like Flor Contemplacion and the devastation of the archipelago’s natural resources. At the end of the twen- tieth century, performing a play or choreographing dances offers not only the possibility of entertainment, but also the chance to tell stories about the past, to call a community into being, to convey youthful insecurities, or to raise oblique and ambivalent critiques of the America they provisionally call home. Cultural performances such as the PCN assume the burden of providing a “performative transcript” of who Filipino Americans are. With the dominant historical record so heavily biased toward professionals’ and elites’ ac- counts of the past, ordinary folks have often turned to the field of culture to symbolically enact what would not be possible elsewhere. But ordinary folks are not the only ones to recognize the power and dynamism of the terrain of culture. We already know that the powerful remind the rest of us of who they are, what they supposedly do, and why they deserve such an elevation station. In that alternative to the dominant historiography, we find oblique and some- times parallel responses to the existing and oftentimes unquestioned written record.

Keywords

cultural performances, Filipino American Studies, Filipino diaspora, national identity and communities

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Kritika Kultura
Department of English
School of Humanities
Ateneo de Manila University

The Philippine Commission on Higher Education (CHED) declares Kritika Kultura as a CHED-recognized journal under the Journal Challenge Category of its Journal Incentive Program.

International Board of Editors

Jan Baetens
Professor
Faculty of Arts
Katholieke Universiteit te Leuven (Belgium)

Joel David
Professor of Cultural Studies
Inha University (South Korea)

Michael Denning
Professor of American Studies and English
Department of English
Yale University (US)

Faruk
Faculty of Cultural Sciences
Universitas Gadjah Mada (Indonesia)

Regenia Gagnier
Professor of English
University of Exeter (UK)

Leela Gandhi
John Hawkes Professor of the Humanities and English
Brown University (US)

Inderpal Grewal
Professor of Women's Gender and Sexuality Studies
Professor of South Asian Studies, Ethnicity, Race and Migration Studies
Yale University (US)

Peter Horn
Professor Emeritus and Honorary Lifetime Fellow
University of Cape Town (South Africa)
Honorary Professor and Research Associate in German Studies
University of the Witwatersrand (South Africa)

Anette Horn
Professor of German Studies
University of the Witwatersrand (South Africa)

David Lloyd
Distinguished Professor of English
University of California, Riverside (US)

Bienvenido Lumbera
National Artist for Literature
Professor Emeritus
University of the Philippines

Rajeev S. Patke
Director of the Division of Humanities
Professor of Humanities
Yale NUS College (Singapore)

Vicente L. Rafael
Giovanni and Amne Costigan Endowed Professor of History
University of Washington (US)

Vaidehi Ramanathan
Department of Linguistics
University of California, Davis (US)

Temario Rivera
Professorial Lecturer
Department of Political Science
University of the Philippines

E. San Juan, Jr.
Philippines Studies Center (US)

Neferti X.M. Tadiar
Professor of Women’s, Gender, & Sexuality Studies
Barnard College (US)
Director of the Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race
Columbia University (US)

Antony Tatlow
Honorary Professor of Drama
Trinity College Dublin (Ireland)