Class Considerations in a Globalized Economic Order

Published on MR Zine/Monthly Review, by Delia D. Aguilar, May 29, 2007.

Excerpts of a long text: … In the first half of the twentieth century, Mexican immigrant workers and Filipino “nationals” found themselves together in the agribusiness farms of the West Coast and began to forge solidarity as workers exploited by capital. Here class emerged as primary, ethnic identity, secondary. This was clearly the case in the formation of the United Farm Workers led by Cesar Chavez in support of the grape strike of 1965 which was initiated by Filipino farm workers in Delano. Subsequent decades witnessed intensifying US domination of Mexico and the Philippines by way of the IMF/WB, wrecking both countries’ economies with the debt burden, causing great poverty, and forcing growing numbers to leave in search of employment. The responses of both governments have been remarkably similar, from the creation of special programs for returning migrants (Paisano for Mexico and Balikbayan for the Philippines, the better to extract remittances), to hailing them as “national heroes,” to granting of dual citizenship. In effect, US imperialism has made of both countries nations of migrants …

… A new book on the US conquest of the Philippines at the turn of the twentieth century demonstrates these very trends – in this example, a revision of history that effectively obscures capital’s expansionary imperatives, its search for new markets and raw materials. Titled The Blood of Government, Paul Kramer puts race at the heart of his argument: he maintains that prior accounts demonstrate the ways in which race serves empire, whereas he wants to make the case that it is race itself that constitutes empire. It is not an exaggeration to state that this book is cultural reductionist without apology, which is not to say that it is without virtue. The research the author undertakes is extensive, as is his documentation of the racialization of Filipinos; their characterization as childlike, savage, indolent, and superstitious is, without a doubt, common knowledge for Chicanos and other subordinated groups. But alas, he then proceeds to describe Filipinos as colonizers themselves! He labels them “nationalist colonialists” who would “demonstrate their capacity for independence precisely through their ability to conquer, rule, and uplift the savages [Muslims, animists, and non-Christian Filipinos] in their midst” (p.32). Ultimately the relationship between conqueror and colonized is conveniently wished away with the following statement: “The symmetry between imperial indigenism and nationalist colonialism suggests the ways in which the new racial formation was the product of intense contestation and dialogue, a joint American-Filipino venture situated inside a broader, evolving colonial project” (p.435). Imagine that. “Symmetry,” “intense contestation and dialogue,” “joint venture” — do not these suggest a relationship of equality, fraternity, even? …

… Continued indebtedness to the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank and faithful compliance with Structural Adjustment Programs have forced presidents after the dictator Marcos, who launched the practice, to resort to sending masses of unemployed abroad to ease tensions at home. With the country in a chronic state of crisis, the deployment of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) is the largest dollar earner ($12 billion in 2006) and has become a permanent fixture in the socioeconomic landscape. It is estimated that up to 12% of the population of 88 million is overseas, 75% of whom are women mostly destined for domestic and nanny work. President Arroyo has recommended skill-training to transform and package them into even more marketable “supermaids.” Three thousand Filipinos – economists predict this figure could go up to 5,000 – leave their homes daily for 180 different countries; an average of 3 workers come back in coffins every day. A new development is the re-training of doctors in a special two-year nursing program; in 2006, 6,000 doctors underwent such training, up from 2,000 of the previous year. The Philippines sends more nurses to the US than any other country. Meanwhile, health care services are in a state of decay …

… I should reiterate that I chose Yen Li Espiritu’s work not because it is particularly defective, but rather because it is one of the few that actually attempt to account for the international political economy, to try to project North/South relations of power as the backdrop for immigrant experience. If it fails in this stated goal, it is not the limitations of the author but those of the intellectual framework whose very design, as I’ve tried to show, is to detach culture from political economy and to debunk class considerations.

In my immersion into Chicana Studies 101, I found enough of a historical materialist grounding to help elucidate the subaltern experience in US society. I might cite Nicholas de Genova’s Working the Boundaries as a parallel study to Espiritu’s. De Genova probes into the subjectivities of a sample of Mexican immigrants in Chicago, but he never abandons the metanarrative of neocolonialism underpinning Mexico-US relations.

It would not hurt to recall the following statement from Juan Gomez-Quinonez on the inseparability of class and culture written in 1977: “Culture is the context in which struggle takes place; however, conflict or resistance is primarily economic and political and constitutes class resistance.” The hundreds of thousands who staged actions in over 200 cities and towns this time last year remind us as much … (full text).

Comments are closed.