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Building Diaspora: Filipino Cultural Community Formation on the Internet

Author: Emily Noelle Ignacio
Publisher: New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2005
Review Published: August 2005

 REVIEW 1: Marc W.D. Tyrrell
 REVIEW 2: Hilary Robertson-Hickling
 REVIEW 3: Christopher Helland
 AUTHOR RESPONSE: Emily Ignacio

The 21st century has seen and will continue to see an unprecedented level of migration across the world. One consequence of this migration is the development of diasporic communities in both the developed and developing world. The literature on transnationalism, which reflects increasing migration, global capitalism and the technological advances that make transnational networks possible, captures the permeability of national boundaries and the possibility of re-forming networks and understandings of political organizing (see Schiller and Blanc 1993).

Emily Noelle Ignacio has distilled the key concept of diaspora in Building Diaspora: Filipino Cultural Community Formation on the Internet, in which she studies the Filipino experience of Diaspora particularly in the United States of America in the context of the post 9/11/01 world. In this world, the question of who is an American, the impact of racism, and the issues of identity for people of color in America are carefully dissected. Reference is also made to the experiences of Philippinos in Hong Kong and Singapore.

Ignacio draws on the experiences of other minorities in the US and this is reflected in titles like "Ain't I a Filippina," as well as the impact of the Civil Rights Movement, affirmative action, and the ongoing racial project in the US. She notes the difficulties of Philippinos being subsumed under the Asian- American banner and the Hispanic banner when they are neither of the above. Finding a place in America has become even more difficult in the post-9/11 world where old divisions are again unmasked and old wounds reopened. This has meant that subsequent generations of Philippinos and other people of color have to continue to struggle in America. This represents an ongoing trauma which can create psychological and existential problems for those caught in the midst of this dilemma.

The analysis is both mediated by and constructed within the internet, which has provided a new transnational space to develop community. As a participant-observer, Ignacio employs George Psathas' symbolic interactionist "method of instances" (Psathas 1995; Denzin 1998) to uncover meaning from text using nethnography. The study is undertaken through newsgroup debates, listservs, and website postings. Hence, face-to-face contact is never made and the context is cyberspace. This could be both a limitation and an asset to arriving at the truths of Filipino experiences.

While the study grapples with essentialist notions of Filipino identity it delineates the issues that contribute to the development of a national identity in a colonial context. There is also the complications of Filipinos migrating to the US in large numbers since the 1960s as part of a government policy under the repressive Marcos regime which had been installed by the US government.

This book advances the notion of the "virtual homeland" and community formation on the net, a further development on the work of post-colonial scholars like Stuart Hall (1990, 1996) and Paul Gilroy (1987, 1993) about identity formation in diasporic communities. There is also an emerging literature on the impact of computer-mediated communication on identity formation.

The author's analysis of such dimensions as language, perceived differences between those residing in the Philippines and those residing overseas, the impact of Catholicism, values and the impact of racism at home and abroad are amply explored. In addition, issues of gender stereotypes of Filipina women particularly in terms of interracial relationships and the images promoted of the whore/Madonna complex provides a view of a complex reality. Ignacio analyzes this in the context of government policy in the 1940s, which promoted military bases for the US in the Philippines coupled with the organization of prostitution of some Filipina women for the US servicemen. The author also examines today's mail order industry in terms of the history of gender oppression.

A section on the use of humor to deal with the pain and contradictions examined in the study also provides valuable insights into Filipino culture. The work provides historic insights which make it possible to understand the present day situation in which the nation constructed of several ethnic groups influenced by periods of historical occupation by Spain, Japan, and the United States unmasks the complexity of the Filipino identity and nation.

Further, a chapter on the feeling of betrayal occasioned by those who have migrated returning on holidays or trying to contribute to the debate on the internet is a painful reminder of the deeply held feelings about the decision to migrate. Some of the Filipino Americans in the US and elsewhere are burdened with feelings of guilt and ambivalence about their decision or that of their parents to migrate to the USA.

This study provides important directions for all scholars, policy makers, and persons interested in understanding the formation and development of diasporas, especially in regards to new information and communication tools which result from globalization. Ignacio's methodological approach is novel and innovative, and I would hope to see this repeated in several other diasporic contexts. It might, however, be necessary for some face-to-face data collection methods to be used to deepen understanding of the subject.

With Building Diaspora: Filipino Cultural Community Formation on the Internet, Emily Noelle Ignacio has made a valuable contribution to sociology, cultural studies, and new media studies, as well as to students of migration and diaspora. The area of media studies and the development of web sites and other net-based structures take on additional significance in the study and more research will have to be undertaken regarding this medium. Her suggestion that home is not only a geographic space but also in space is profound.

Denzin, Norman K. 1992. Symbolic interactionism and cultural studies: The politics of interpretation. Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishers.

Gilroy, Paul. 1987. There ain't no black in the union jack. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

___. 1993. The black Atlantic: Modernity and Double consciousness. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Hall, Stuart. 1990. Cultural identity and disapora. In Identity: Community Culture and Difference, ed. J. Rutherford, 222-237. London: Lawrence and Wishart.

___. 1996. Introduction: Who needs "identity"? In Questions of cultural identity, ed. Stuart Hall and Paul du Gay, 1-17. London: Sage.

Psathas, George. 1995. Conversation analysis. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications

Schiller, Nina G., and Christina Szanton Blanc. 1993. Nations unbound: Transnational projects, postcolonial predicaments, and deterritorialized nation-states. New York: Gordon & Breach Publishing Group.

Hilary Robertson-Hickling:
Hilary Robertson Hickling is a Lecturer in the Department of Management Studies at the University of the West Indies in Mona, Jamaica. Her research interests are Caribbean migration and mental health and the Caribbean Diaspora. Her Ph.D. thesis was about the mental health of Caribbean migrants to England. She has presented at the Caribbean Studies Association and a special conference in honor of Stuart Hall, and she has published in Caribbean journals.   <hilary.robertsonhickling@uwimona.edu.jm>

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