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American workers, colonial power: Philippine Seattle and the Transpacific West, 1919-1941.

American workers, colonial power: Philippine Seattle and the Transpacific West, 1919-1941. By DOROTHY B. FUJITA-RONY. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003. Pp. xviii, 302. Maps, Photographs, Notes, Bibliography, Index. doi: 10.1017/S0022463405260186

Positioned in the related areas of American Studies, Asian-American Studies, American social history, immigration studies and the New Western history, Dorothy B. Fujita-Rony's study of Filipina/o migration and community formation in the Pacific Northwest during the 1920s and 1930s will be of particular interest to those investigating race, ethnicity, gender, labour, colonialism and migration. Fujita-Rony's work makes noteworthy contributions, particularly in the fields of Philippine Studies and Filipina/o American Studies.

Fujita-Rony extends traditional Filipina/o American historiography in various ways. Going beyond the typical celebratory confines of reclamatory projects that seek to uncover 'forgotten' stories and expose Filipina/o 'invisibility' and assimilationist frameworks that depend on a linear and unidirectional historicization, the book highlights the centrality of political economic conditions in early twentieth-century Filipina/o Transpacific migration. Fujita-Rony situates the formation of Philippine Seattle within the development of the American West and US colonial expansion and capitalist penetration in Asia and the Pacific. She emphasizes the dual legacies of US colonialism in the Philippines and in the US: 'my project seeks to understand how the Filipina/o American community in Seattle was in itself formed by the colonial relationship, not just how American colonials from the Philippines created a space for themselves in the colonial metropole of Seattle, but also how Seattle, in turn, was changed by its Filipina/o American residents' (p. 19).

Linking individual life stories to broader historical, social, cultural, political and economic processes, Fujita-Rony illustrates how Filipina/o engagement with American colonialism and racial formation and racial subordination in the US shaped the trajectories and dynamics of community formation in Philippine Seattle, particularly in the articulation of political struggles around race, ethnicity, class and gender. For example, in Chapter 2 she explores the intersections of US colonialism, Filipina/o migration, labour and education. Education was a central part of American colonial policy in the Philippines and was integral in conditioning Filipina/o migration (in pursuit of perceived educational opportunities and the unfilled promise of socio-economic mobility). In Philippine Seattle, education was also key in the development of community leadership, the creation of a Filipina/o intelligentsia, class mobility and the emergence of Philippine and Filipina/o American class consciousness. In Chapter 5, Fujita-Rony examines 'how migration and labor shaped Filipina/o Seattle, as the community not only was formed as a result of its strategic location for those coming to the United States but also was formed by the regular movement of workers to and through its site' (p. 80). Focusing on the experiences of Filipina/o workers, and their participation in unionizing efforts, the labour movement, and worker resistance, Fujita-Rony reveals the complexity of class formation and consciousness, and the contestedness of the politics of race, ethnicity and gender, as they played out in struggles for power in the city and within Filipina/o Seattle.

Fujita-Rony's work moves beyond the male-centred and male-dominated studies of Filipina/o American history in which the narrative of the single, Filipino agricultural worker is used to symbolize Filipina/o American history. Although she recognizes the demographic preponderance of men in early twentieth-century Filipina/o America (due in large part to the fact that Transpacific labour migration and migratory agricultural work were historically inaccessible to Filipinas), she problematizes the historicization of Filipina/o communities as 'bachelor societies'. She argues that the 'bachelor society' model of Filipina/o American historiography marginalizes women's labour and glosses over the role of women in community formation. Furthermore, this model 'downplays the multiplicity of familial relations that connected members of the Filipina/o American community across space and time, particularly those involving women' (p. 138). Writing against the grain of Filipina/o American historiography, Fujita-Rony's work reinscribes Filipinas into Filipina/o American history and into broader Asian-American history while complicating notions of race, class and 'family'.

Although there has been much scholarly attention to late twentieth-century global cultural and economic flows and transnational population movements spurred on by late capitalism and advancements in communication and transportation technologies, Fujita-Rony's work reminds us that similar continuous and circulatory migrations occurred during the first half of the twentieth century, albeit in fewer numbers and with less frequency. In the end, this book helps to insert the Pacific Northwest, and Philippine Seattle in particular, not only into the landscape of Filipina/o America and Asian America but also into the history of the development of the American West.


University of Hawai'i at Manoa
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Author:Labrador, Roderick N.
Publication:Journal of Southeast Asian Studies
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 1, 2005
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