Archive for the ‘Good reads’ Category

N. Tadiar's Things Fall AwayI’m reading Neferti Tadiar’s Things Fall Away, and this passage leaps out:

…one of my man objectives in this book has been to carefully attend to the varied, creative potential of subjective practices that socially oriented and social movement literatures attempt to figuratively capture and yet tend to diminish in the fabulation of proper historical subjects. Often viewed a atavistic and mystified habits and therefore as forms of weaknesses and self-oppression that need to be overcome, these devalued, supplemental experiential practices nevertheless importantly create and transform the very material, social structures in which feminists, urban activists, and revolutionary forces actively seek to intervene…. Such diminished experiences have helped to bring about broad social changed in ways that these groups could not foresee. (p 8., emphasis mine)

Tadiar labels these diminished experiences as things that “fall away” from capitalism, activities that are productive but not in the ways that are prescribed and recognized by neoliberal capitalism. Like performance. Art. Indigenous women’s labor collectives and seedbanks. Movement, and being outside.

But I’m struck too at how she includes activists, feminists, revolutionary forces among those who diminish such “fall away” experiences, especially when they’re not easy to reconcile with what is seen as the “proper” historical subject. Because it is easy for someone like me to speak for masa in solidarity, to find that a peasant community’s struggle for for a health clinic and the struggle for land reform are equally important. They might not be, for the peasants who are still without healthcare.

I’m reminded of an argument with a friend, who patiently listened to me rant about Catholicism and false consciousness, opium, etc. She then reminded me that Liberation Theology could not have been foreseen by non-Catholics, or even by former Catholics like me. It’s a theology of faith, love, freedom, and revolution that could only have been nurtured in this specific community, a community that I had arrogantly dismissed.

I’m still struggling through Things Fall Away, and with questions of how to conduct ethical dialogues and coalitional research. Especially since I will soon be embarking on ethnographic research, and its easy to fall into the trap of thinking of oneself as an ally who could speak for people in a marginalized community. The researcher who does that will never even be aware of the experiences that she will miss, of the great possibilities that could just fall away as a result.


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I am an immigrant woman of the Two-Thirds World, who is living with the One-Third World.

I first came across Esteva and Prakash’s concept of the One Third/Two Thirds World via Chandra Mohanty’s Feminism Without Borders. The concepts recognize the transnational nature of capital, and how policies instituted by people in the One-Third World (middle and upper classes in the North and elites in the South) destabilize the lives of those in the Two-Thirds World, comprised by majority of the world’s population.

And most of the time, those of us in the One-Third World remain unaware of how our actions, well-meaning or otherwise, generate and perpetuate poverty and hardship.

For example, many of us in the One-Third World rarely reflect on our patterns of consumption, on how overconsumption contributes to substandard working conditions in Export Processing Zones around the world. If you’ve ever bought clothes from Nike, the Gap, or purchased products from Walmart and Target, for example, please take a minute to consider why your purchases seem so “affordable.” Ditto with that $2 bottle of wine from Trader Joe’s.


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Back in my student activist days in the Philippines, I’d occasionally cut classes to march with anti-imperialist coalitions. One particular coalition tried to ensure representation by designating a workers’ desk, a peasants’ desk, the migrants’ desk, and so on. To represent kababaihan, women, the organization also created a “women’s desk.”

Choosing representatives for workers, peasants, migrants was mostly a straightforward process. But who gets to woman the women’s desk? A peasant woman? A migrant worker woman? A self-identified feminist?

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“The Filipino people are the most pro-American people, maybe even more pro-American than the Americans themselves.”

Ladies and gentlemen, that was our President Gloria Arroyo, with a candid description of how she regards her country’s former colonizers. And she’s hardly alone in this attitude. Many Filipinos do promote this idea of a westernized Philippines, with proud statements like “We’re the only Catholic country in Asia.” Or that we assimilate easily into American culture. We speak American English and are thoroughly westernized.

What is the root of this exceptionalist thinking? Why the desire for approbation from colonizers? Why do we revel in being so distinct from our Asian neighbors?

In honor of Philippine Independence Day last June 12, I spent the week re-reading Paul A. Kramer’s The Blood of Government: Race, Empire, the United States, and the Philippines. Kramer shows how racial ideologies were used to justify US imperialism in its first colony. As a fringe benefit, these ideologies also served to construct a racial hierarchy among Filipinos.

While other works have looked at racial ideologies embedded in Spanish and US colonization, Kramer employs a more intersectional analysis by examining the Filipino elite’s complicity with the creation of a “national colonialism.” For the Filipino elite—the illustrados—the goal was not just nationhood. Rather, they argued that given their Western education and values, illustrados were fully capable of ruling over the rest of the Filipinos.

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The Long Run

I’ve been trying for a while now to write a post about running. After all, I do have the word “runner” in my blog subtitle. But I kept hitting the wall. So I’m grateful that John L. Parker helped me find the words.

There’s a reason why many runners consider Parker’s Once a Runner the best novel written about running. It’s probably not the tedious Quentin vs. the university officials conflict, nor is it the dangerous training program that Quentin followed. (Tip: When your pee turns to blood, it’s time to stop running.)

It’s an inspiration to read how Parker translates into words the pure joy of running. For me, this joy lies in planting one foot in front of the other. The crunch of earth and dust on the trail. The sun in your eyes, the tailwind at your heels. The cadence of your breath and your heartbeat. On the best of days, all these elements coalesce to make you feel painfully, beautifully, intensely alive.

I’ve been running on and off since my teens, but always with some far-off goal in mind. Losing weight. Or fulfilling PE credits so I could graduate. It’s only in the last two years or so when I began running for the sake of it. Running itself became the goal. But for a long time, I couldn’t articulate why.

There’s a passage in Once a Runner where Quentin struggles to explain what drives him to run:

He ran because it grounded him in basics. There was both life and death in it… Running to him was real, the way he did it the realest thing he knew. It was all joy and woe, hard as diamond; it made him weary beyond comprehension. But it also made him free.

It made him free.

I’m a back-of-the-packer, nowhere near Quentin’s league. It will take a Faustian bargain for me to sustain a 9 minute mile for an entire 10K, much less a marathon. Sometimes, I even entertain the idea of doing the Western States 100, but it’s not an obsession, and I’ll be fine if I don’t. But there are times when I get into a really good run, and like Quentin, I feel like I can’t make myself tired. These are moments that I feel truly free.

I don’t even think it’s the running itself, but the struggle to do it, that generates these moments of freedom. And I think this potential to generate such moments informs all our struggles. This potential is tantalizingly present on the trail. And in the classroom, facing hostile students who conflate critical pedagogy with indoctrination. And in facing allies, otherwise good people who willingly gloss over the experiences and concerns of others.

And yes, these struggles can and do make us weary.

But then, the student you least expect to turns in an insightful paper. An ally modifies his worldview, just a little maybe, but it’s a start. I shave a few seconds off a personal best. These moments don’t happen everyday, but they happen often enough to keep me running.

The struggle to crest one more hill, the struggle to connect with others, these are all struggles that ground us.

Writing. Running. Teaching. Loving. My struggles generate woe and joy. And in the long run, they make me free.

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molina bookIn Fit to Be Citizens?, Natalia Molina gives a thorough but engaging account of how public health discourse was deployed to exclude non-white immigrants and institutionalize racism in the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Los Angeles. Clothed under the aura of scientific objectivity, she illustrates how “diseased” immigrants—starting with Chinese launders, then Japanese farmers, and then Mexican laborers—were systematically excluded from the social and political life of Los Angeles.

This exclusion was justified through racialized constructions of concepts such as health, hygiene, and cleanliness. Social and economic factors helped to direct which group would be targeted. Health was defined in terms of whiteness, and we have the historical images of an advanced, scientific American culture pitted against primitive Asians and Mexicans. The rosy American toddler contrasted with the tuberculosis-carrying Mexican baby. The proper white mother contrasted with the hypersexual, breeder Mexican mothers.

It is, unfortunately, a discourse that continues in many racist, nativist, anti-immigration forums to this day. While no longer as overt, the use of pathologizing language continues to be deployed against non-white immigrants. Anti-immigration fearmongers have appended the word “epidemic” to actions ranging from drunk driving to gang activity.

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