Sarita See, that indefatigable director of Center for Art and Thought, invited me to

a dialogue with wonderful artists and scholars—Kale Bantigue Fajardo, Dylan Rodriguez, Teresia Teaiwa, and Joi Barrios Leblanc on the subject of history, typhoons, unnatural disasters. I remember that we shared that conversation online during the time of the relief efforts for typhoon Yolanda. Here is the link, and below are some passages.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013, 7:49 PM EST
Via: E-mail
Subject: CA+T Dialogue about Haiyan

Dear Teresia, Dylan, Kale, Joi and Gina,

Thank you so much for agreeing to take part in this CA+T Dialogue over email (or Facebook, if folks prefer that). It’s such an honor to bring this particular circle of teachers, scholars, and artists together.

But first I want to send deepest condolences to Kale Fajardo on the recent loss of your mother. Kale was able to travel to the Philippines at the end of last week in order to be by his mother’s side. She lost that struggle this past Sunday, but she departed while surrounded by her family. Kale: I thought long and hard about whether or not to disturb you during this time of loss. Please feel free to completely ignore this email thread. However, as I’ve learnt from my own experience dealing with losses in my own family, it can be good to take a break and reconnect with one’s community of colleagues, even or especially amidst grief. So I’ll leave it entirely up to you as to whether or when you’d like to join our conversation.

In the face of the incomprehensible loss, displacement, and trauma wreaked by Haiyan/Yolanda, I appreciate being able to reach out to the five of you. With this conversation, I hope to draw on our collective hearts, talents, and minds so as to learn from and teach each other about the unnatural histories and conditions that created Haiyan/Yolanda and its aftermath. We then will publish this installation ofDIALOGUES on CA+T’s website so as to provide the broader public with the kind of alternative knowledge and perspectives that we are so desperately in need of. With the waning of the media’s attention, we also hope that the publication of this Dialogue will draw renewed attention to the kinds of relief efforts that demand our continued support and donations.

By way of introductions, Gina Apostol is a novelist. Joi Barrios is a poet, Filipino language instructor and author, and former dean at the University of Philippines.Kale Fajardo is an interdisciplinary anthropologist and queer studies scholar. Dylan Rodriguez is an ethnic studies scholar, and Teresia Teaiwa is a Pacific studies scholar.

I’d like to open up this Dialogue with a prompt for Gina about Jenifer Wofford’s work: What do you make of the other’s renditions of Douglas MacArthur? Jenifer Wofford’s series of drawings, MacArthur Nurses, appeared in Sea, Land, Air: Migration and Labor and explicitly recreates MacArthur’s 1944 landing. In your work you have referenced the history of General Douglas MacArthur and the statue in Tacloban commemorating his 1944 return to the Philippines. You also recently wrote the essay “Surrender, Oblivion, Survival,” which helped me to remember how Leyte “has always attracted opportunists” and has multiple histories of plunder and invasions.

I look forward to seeing where this conversation takes us.

With my respect and gratitude,


Thursday, December 5, 2013, 9:25 AM EST
Via: E-mail
Subject: Re: CA+T Dialogue about Haiyan

I have just finished watching a video of the independence rites of the Philippines, July 4, 1946, while researching this new novel I am writing, William McKinley’s World, and it was interesting to see that the speaker at the center of the independence hoopla is not Paul McNutt, the ambassador and stand-in for Harry Truman at the rites, or Manuel Roxas, the new president (take that, Back to the Future in the Philippines—he’s the granddad of that bumbling botcher of the relief efforts in Tacloban, Mar Roxas!). The man of the hour who gives the speech that the newsreels repeat is Douglas MacArthur. He is smarmy, teary, sincere, and terribly troubling and, to me, repellent all at the same time.

I grew up with MacArthur, as I always say—with MacArthur, Imelda [Marcos], and typhoons. A trifecta of horror, I could call it, except that I liked the typhoons. We used to practice what we called “playground dancing demonstrations” for the rites of remembrance of Leyte Landing: October 20, 1944, a date I’d remember in sleep. We’d be trundled in cleaned-out garbage trucks to dance for the Americans, old soldiers who always mispronounced the name of the city, plus of course Imelda, who liked to go home to Leyte to do the honors, it seems (she was not there all the time, I imagine, but in my recollection she hovered over my childhood in Tacloban, her bibingka of hair always finding its way home, at our school’s Christmas pageants, being our alumna, and so on).

Anyway, what struck me watching that video is how central, in an absolute way, without any question about its rightness, Douglas MacArthur is—the man of the hour on our day of independence. I understand the event’s closeness to war, which makes him the star: World War II has just ended, and thus, the event has an emotional misreading—that our link to our independence is the war, as if this day were a culmination of the American and Filipino response to our recently dead and the horrific suffering we have just come through, though of course Tydings-MacDuffie had already set the independence date in the thirties. (I will not go into the betrayal and history of revolution in the country that makes this independence day, given “voluntarily” by America, problematic, as that is a different though corollary angst.)

But why does the prominence of MacArthur make my skin crawl? That is the question I would ask the scholars, as I am still quite unclear, aware as I am of my own biases being a kid who grew up with a chip on my shoulder about MacArthur, a crummy statue I could not stand. My reasons, if I spoke them, might need a novel, not a polemic. I was horrified on Tacloban Yolanda online sites, just after I had finished writing that op-ed in the [New YorkTimes, to see the reactions of the people of Tacloban to the arrival of the American carrier on Red Beach, MacArthur’s Leyte Landing beach, this November [2013]. People made instant Facebook collages of MacArthur wading into Tacloban side by side pictures in the Times of the US aircraft Carrier George Washington and its soldiers; the Tacloban instant posters repeated, Thank you, America, MacArthur returns! I tried to save those pictures, should have made screen shots; they have disappeared from the sites (the Yolanda Update people cleaned out the weird politics, it seems), but here is a video of MacArthur’s speech in 1946: his voice quavers as he speaks of his love for the Filipinos.

My initial, knee-jerk answer to my question to you, Sarita, about why MacArthur and why he makes my skin crawl, has to do, I think, with the way my own city has long responded to this bipolarizing American vision, which in some ways makes us schizophrenics of history—just as it has responded to the Marcoses and stuck with Imelda’s family, the Romualdezes, all these years. All these histories are somehow connected, a primordial goop of blindness and dysreadings of self and time. I keep having to deal with the historical oblivion that commands the place I am from and the contortions in a heart and troubled brain that must try to understand and love my city all the same. I am part of our blindness, I imagine, too.

So maybe for me, it is my city’s rendition of MacArthur, which may be a pervasive Filipino rendition, I am not sure, that is the “other’s rendition” here that I am grappling with. For me, there is always the “other” in us Filipinos, the voice of the colonizer and history of power that is also ourselves, part of us, that we must constantly struggle to recognize, deconstruct, resolve, if not vanquish.


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