This paper examines notions of the “alien” and the “citizen” or the outsider and insider based on the Chinese Filipino experience as portrayed in Charlson Ong’s novel Banyaga: The Song of War (2006). Although the Chinese have lived in the Philippine archipelago since the twelfth century, they have always been considered banyaga (alien or foreigner) by Filipino “natives.” I argue that the marginalization of the Chinese has led them to specialization in trade and commerce, which in turn has steered them, paradoxically, towards exceptionalism. As such, I correlate Ong’s banyaga with Georg Simmel’s concept of the stranger and argue that “strangeness” positions the Chinese to become the “triumphant capitalist” and “flexible citizen” as personified by the Chinese tycoon in Banyaga. Historically, the Chinese in the Philippines have been situated in the margins of society. The socio-political alienation of the Chinese in Philippine society is not only due to their race and their legal designation as aliens during various colonial and postcolonial regimes, but also from their historic role as trader, middleman, mercantilist, and capitalist. The sojourning practices and transnational connections of the Chinese have also contributed to the native’s perception of the Chinese as alien and foreign. As such, this paper also investigates how transnationalism complicates issue of citizenship, nation-making, and national formation, and how these very same transnational linkages of the Chinese have poised them to become the flexible citizens of the twenty-first century. As a counterpoint to Banyaga, Ong’s earlier novel, The Embarrassment of Riches (2000), is also briefly examined in this paper. Embarrassment is a literary intervention that allows us to explore the multiple strands of national identity and the complex, even predatory, transnational processes that impact the nation-state due to increasing migration and global expansion of capitalism.


Chinese Filipino Literature, Cultural Studies, Diaspora Studies, Migration, Philippine Literature, Transnationalism

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

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Jan Baetens
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)

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
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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)