During a sojourn to the Filipino American National Historical Society’s (FANHS) archives in Seattle, Washington, archivist and founder Dorothy Laigo Cordova showed me an unorganized box of photographs and letters between the island of Cebu (in the Visayas region of the Philippines) and California’s Central Valley. Collected over three generations, this box housed the works of Mancao Studios, led by the photographer Frank Mancao.1 I organized the Mancao Collection according to various themes pertinent to the photograph’s subjects, and to the best of my abilities separated them according to their location across the Pacific. Between both locales, several photographs resembled the ones above (Figures 1 and 2), depicting young men in Masonic garb. Other photos in the collection (discussed elsewhere in this study), depicted young women in Filipiniana dresses. Some posed with the men in the Masonic photos, suggesting that they may have belonged to the same family, the same barangay (town), or were part of auxiliary organizations around the Masonic orders.

Strictly speaking, despite the abundance of Masonic portraits, these young men and women were not Freemasons. They were members of various mutual aid societies roughly organized around the Masonic principles of the Katipunan, a late-19th-century Philippine secret society at the forefront of the Philippine Revolution. The various chapters of these groups were named after characters and motifs from the writings of the Philippines’ national hero, José Rizal (1861-1896), such as the “Ibarra Lodge” ribbon in Figure 1, named after the novels’ protagonist. These societies drew upon a haphazard assortment of Rizal’s work and life: his social and intellectual life, his Masonic influences, and the various characters in his novels. The societies depicted in these portraits included Caballeros de Dimas-Alang (named after Rizal’s pen name), the Gran Oriente, and the Legionaries del Trabajo, all founded as mutual aid society for workers. They quickly grew to expand across the archipelago, eventually setting up chapters in Hawai‘i and the U.S. West Coast through the 1920s.2

That the life and work of Rizal, a Tagalog and Chinese mestizo elite from Manila, took such strong hold in the social and spiritual lives of non-Tagalog natives in and from the island of Cebu, is a testament to the rapid efficacy of state nationalism in non-metropolitan parts of the archipelago and its labor diasporas. In the absence of a contiguous and ethnolinguistic homogeny, American colonial officials and native elites found difficult the problem of consolidating a national consciousness useful to the American colonial state in the Philippines. The memory and iconography of José Rizal, the Tagalog mestizo polymath executed in Manila by Spanish officials for his political subversion, served American and Philippine elites well as a mythology around which a counterrevolutionary state nationalism could be established. The Mancao Collection’s Rizalista photos, in which subjects posed in scenes and attires inspired by the life and work of José Rizal, attest to this nationalist respectability politics, as does the abundance of studio portraits found in the boxes.3

In this article, I blueprint the transpacific creation of the Filipino nationalist subject through an archive of portrait photographs taken in the Philippines and California. While these portraits marked membership in the various mutual aid societies and kinship ties across the Pacific, they signal the creation of a Filipino nationalism through deeply gendered performances of an aspirational colonial bourgeoisie. I locate the political work of these photographs at the intersections of fraught articulations of an imagined community of potential national subjects at a moment when the “independent” nation-state had, in American colonial practice, not yet come to fruition under the United States’ stewardship.4 I call this condition the Filipino as becoming-subject: an assembled subjectivity of emergent and incomplete national personhood between the multiple projects of U.S. colonization, provisional elite-led nation-state formation under colonial rule, and the quotidian negotiations among a transpacific colonial working-class.

For photographers, the photographed, and other community members of Philippine descent, these genteel performances of transpacific nationalism proved attractive as myriad forms of recuperative subjectivities. In other words, to paraphrase historian Hazel Carby, photographs afforded lowlands Filipino men opportunities in Cebu and the Central Valley to perform being race men, or enact visual and belabored claims to becoming representative masculine figures befitting a community for uplift.5 Portraiture allowed non-metropolitan Filipinos to participate in what visual culture scholars Ariella Azoulay and Thy Phu might call a civil community of photography: civil in terms of conceptualizing aspirational forms of citizenship (Azoulay), as well as enacting an Asian diaspora politics of civility (Phu). Here, this civil community is an aspirational one, governed by the future conditional of the Filipino as becoming-subject vis-à-vis a (visually) civilized (heteropatriarchal) gentry, as opposed to destitute surplus populations of reserve colonial labor.6

Furthermore, the civil community that emerges in these portrait photographs is a transpacific imagined community. I position this critique distinctly from two dominant threads of transpacific critique. First is the flow model of Transpacific Studies, which traces the movement of ideas and capital, labor, and ideas across the Pacific. While Filipino labor did indeed “flow” across the Pacific via the infrastructures of militarism and capitalism built on stolen Indigenous land and water, the emergent identity formations under investigation here do not themselves travel by means of flow, but rather constellate in coeval resonance.7 Second, as a critique of colonial and capitalist formations of identity, but not a radical one that foregrounds a historical moment of solidarity with Indigenous people across the Pacific, my study expands upon a transpacific critique that establishes accountability for the historical baggage of non-emancipatory identity formations of Asian diasporas, in order to complicate the axiomatic articulations of identity in works that advance anti-colonial solidarity.8

In my investigation, I deploy a transpacific critique, which, to paraphrase cultural anthropologist Lisa Yoneyama, analyzes the constellation of subject formations in a coeval manner across disparate geopolitical contexts, and reads conjunctively through the mutual (if uneven) resonances of colonial statecraft and subjectivity across the Pacific.9 By enacting a reading through coevality and conjunction, rather than an analysis of a concrete (imagined) geography, my analysis enables those who physically remain in the archipelago to be understood in terms of how they articulate their nationalist subjectivities in the visual and political-economic terrain of labor diasporas, United States imperialism, and crises of global capitalism. Thus, I bridge a decolonial transpacific critique with the work of literary scholars Viet Thanh Nguyen (2002) and Neferti X. M. Tadiar (2015), who elaborate on non-revolutionary and non-decolonial characters of Asian (diasporic) racialization under empire and capitalism.10

The Mancaos, a Cebuano family of photographers in the Central Philippines and in California’s Central Valley, produced many such portraits in their studios. Frank Mancao, a photographer and labor contractor in Reedley, California, brought the skill to his family in Carcar, Cebu in the 1920s, where they established their own Mancao Studios concurrently with Frank’s own in the Central Valley. Their archives were entrusted to the Filipino American National Historical Society in Seattle, Washington, and often reproduced in histories and commemorative events for Filipino Americans. Placing these U.S. West Coast histories in transpacific context reveals not only the remarkable work of an artistic and entrepreneurial family, but also the aesthetic and class politics behind the creation of the Filipino as becoming-subject.

What is it about Rizal that captured the Philippine imagination across the Pacific? Or rather, in what myriad ways were Rizal’s life, work, and contemporaries mobilized to produce the scenes in which people posed? I suggest that Filipino workers and community leaders, Philippine elites, and U.S. colonial officials haphazardly assembled pieces of his life and work in order to establish a non-radical articulation of Philippine transpacific citizenship that emphasized heteropatriarchal roles and middle-class sensibilities. By following the mobile afterlives of Rizalista iconography from the late 19th century into the 1930s, we might better locate how Filipino masculinities and aspirational class politics operated among migrants in transit across the Pacific.11

Born in 1861 to Chinese mestizo hacenderos in the Tagalog province of Laguna, José Rizal was part of a generation of the sons of landowning elites called the ilustrados (the Enlightened), so called because of their access to capital and elite education. Thanks to the trans-oceanic steamships that connected Manila to Spain via the newly-opened Suez Canal, young men such as Rizal could continue their studies in multiple languages and professions that were not provided by Jesuit education in the Philippines. As a natural polymath and polyglot, Rizal’s travels across Europe exposed him to ideas of European liberalism—and conversely, realities of Spanish colonialism in the Philippines, which denied kababayan (fellow countrymen) in his patria (homeland) the same humanity. He turned to activism by becoming a novelist and polemicist. With Marcelo H. del Pilar and Graciano López Jaena (Figure 3), Rizal edited the journal La Solidaridad, advocating in Europe for Philippine inclusion into the Spanish cortes. In 1887 and 1891 respectively, he wrote Noli me tangere (shortened as the Noli) and El filibusterismo (shortened to El fili), two Spanish-language realist novels that depicted the corruptions of Spanish colonial officials and Catholic friars in the archipelago.12

Unlike the Spanish regime, who regarded Rizal as a filibustero (subversive) to be executed, the Americans found utility in the memory of Rizal proliferating throughout the Philippines in the early 20th century. As historian Paul Kramer writes, “both Filipino nationalists and U.S. imperialists waged war for the memory of José Rizal, placing him at the foundation of radical nationalist and imperialist nation-building projects.”13 Effectively, they reconstructed Rizal’s intellectual and political insurgency as anti-Spain, rather than as a broad coalition of anti-imperialism and anti-capitalism throughout the islands. First, as an ilustrado, Rizal was part of a generation of young bourgeois mestizos whose landowning families funded their postgraduate education in Europe. Rizal’s other ilustrado contemporaries, such as T.H. Pardo de Tavera, became native elite collaborators in the American colonial state, and represented a nationalism based on genteel civility and intellectual life. Second, Rizal’s intellectual and polemical legacy could also be repurposed as anti-Spain rather than anti-imperialism overall, which the United States used to portray themselves as the “liberators” of the Philippines from Spanish tyranny.14

Rizal’s upper-class mestizo background, and the travels and travails of his fellow ilustrado cohort, also proved to be fertile ground for the development of a transpacific respectability politics. Even though ilustrados were a key part of the Philippine Revolution and the Philippine-American War, early American colonial rule in the Philippines also depended on other ilustrado collaborators to usher in a new imperial order. These mestizo elites found American colonial rule to their advantage, as they believed that it would help them consolidate their influence across the archipelago, and uplift the new Philippine nation into modernity. With anti-Spain ilustrados now becoming pro-American in disposition, elites could reshape Rizal in their own image. In order to propagate nationalist mythology tempered with pro-American sentiment, the colonial state paired Rizalista memory with American characteristics through cosmology (Rizal Day on December 30th and the Fourth of July in the state calendar), public art (Rizal monuments in Manila designed by European and American sculptors), and education (Rizal’s translated novels and American English in public school curricula).15

Among these nationalist initiatives was the sponsorship of Rizalista mutual aid societies, of which non-metropolitan and non-elite peoples in the archipelago and the diaspora became a part. Prior to the proliferation of these organizations, the earliest and most active mutual aid societies in diasporic communities during early 20th century were hometown societies.16 But into the 1920s and 1930s, and through the mid-20th century, pan-Philippine groups, with Anglophone and Tagalog sensibilities, emerged as prominent political spaces for people in both the archipelago and in its labor diasporas. It is in these nationalist societies that I locate the developing Filipino identities within this study.

Unlike hometown societies, Rizalista organizations propagated the ideals of Philippine independence not through anti-colonial revolution, but through the uplift of Filipinos into modern (Americanized) civilization. Once native men were admitted into the organizations’ various orders, members had portraits taken of themselves and their families. While women could not be admitted into the Masonic orders, several took part in auxiliary groups named after Maria Clara, the paragon of colonial femininity in Rizal’s two novels. Through these photographs, working- and middle-class non-metropolitan Filipinos across the Pacific made themselves seen as genteel nationalist subjects, oriented around Manila, under the influence of a Hispanized mestizo bourgeois and an American imperial aesthetic.17

These mutual aid societies across the Pacific were modeled after Masonic lodges. The most influential was the Caballeros de Dimas-Alang (Gentlemen of Dimas-Alang), named after Rizal’s revolutionary pen name. Freemasonry and its practices were popular among the ilustrados, including Reformists such as José Rizal and revolutionary Apolinario Mabini. Revolutionary-era fraternal organizations, most particularly the Katipunan and the First Philippine Republic, were organized according to Masonic rubrics.18 But Filipinos themselves could not actually join formal Freemason organizations in the Philippines, and only those who could afford to go to Europe (ilustrados) joined these societies. By the early 20th century, Masonic organizations—the roots of the transpacific mutual aid societies—proliferated, and even organizations without formal affiliation to Freemasonry modeled their practices after Masonic rituals.

For such organizations, Rizal iconography served as a template to dictate the class and gender prescriptions of the fledgling colonial nation. Such iconography, I suggest, was useful as a toolkit for elite men to contain emergent anxieties around political participation from (mostly elite) Filipina women across the Pacific. As gender and sexuality studies scholar Denise Cruz outlines, in response to the increased mobility and visibility of twentieth-century Filipinas, transnational elite men entrenched masculinist narratives of Filipino nationalism. While not always made up of “elites,” as elitist political spaces, these organizations cultivated a hyper-masculine nationalism through heteronormative gender roles by appealing to pseudo-Masonic symbolisms, Rizal’s novels, and ilustrado cultural history.19

Thus, for transpacific mutual aid societies, the memory and iconography of José Rizal, as well as Rizal’s elite mestizo contemporaries, acted as a means of rehearsing an imagined community of respectable, genteel, and gendered future subjects of a nation yet-to-come. It is to this becoming-subject of a becoming-nation that I now turn.

In the wake of the historical survey above, I shall offer here some provisional logics of the Filipino as becoming-subject, or to be more precise (if somewhat redundant), becoming-subject of a becoming-nation. In turn, the logics below shall establish the political stakes behind the role of photography as a terrain of articulating colonial-national subjectivities in the first half of the twentieth century. It must first be stated that the geographic and ethno-racial imaginaries of the Philippines and the Filipino emerged in intertwined, yet distinct, contexts: whereas the Philippine archipelago as a geographic formation fluctuated throughout much of its colonial history, the Filipino as an imagined community only emerged (and even then, haphazardly) in the late 19th century. Despite their practical instability, these formations began to take on a hegemonic character during the period of American colonial rule. And during the United States’ occupation, the Philippine colony had been subject to a series of shifting sets of criteria of sufficient levels of civilization, which made the search for national fixity both more elusive and more pressing. Historian Paul Kramer calls the United States’ practice calibrated colonialism, pointing to the ways that the Philippine nation and its imagined subjects have been rendered as a perpetually incomplete process of civilizing under American guidance. But whereas Kramer focuses on American and Philippine elites, I attempt to clarify the interface through which the non-elite, non-metropolitan (specifically non-Manileño), and diasporic working person entered the picture of Filipino subjectivity.20

The problem of producing national subjects lies in the weak power of the Philippine “state” for the bulk of its post-Magellan history. Ruled predominantly by friars who spoke native languages, in addition to some key commercial port cities, the early modern Philippine state saw no use to articulate a national subject, save for Christianized natives in the service of the barrio and the Church (indios), and non-Christianized natives the mountains who were, for the Spanish, yet to be conquered (infieles). The Filipino as a native denizen of the islands did not exist as a colloquial articulation until the age of ilustrado dissent. While it was nineteenth-century mestizo elites who most cogently articulated the predominantly-Tagalog revolutionary Filipino subject, in just a few short decades the Filipino took on a less stable definition: myriad mutually unintelligible ethnolinguistic groups of varying degrees of (non-)subjugation to colonial Christianity, who were simultaneously supposedly uniform subjects of an archipelagic nation yet-to-come.21

Here, philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari offer useful insights into this Philippine conundrum, particularly through how they articulate the nation-state, which is the “State as a model of realization.” They write:

Not only are [States] constituted in an active struggle against the imperial or evolved systems, the feudal systems, and the autonomous cities, but they crush their own “minorities”.... The constituents of the nation are a land and a people: the “natal,” which is not necessarily innate, and the “popular,” which is not necessarily pregiven. The problem of the nation is aggravated in the two extreme cases of a land without a people and a people without a land. How can a people and a land be made, in other words, a nation—a refrain?22

For Deleuze and Guattari, the state creates a nation through “the coldest and bloodiest means...with upsurges of romanticism.” Amidst romances associated with colonial conquest, such as the White Man’s Burden of imperialism, the United States ultimately enacted the removal of a land from its people and people from its land through genocidal warfare and through discursive-legal claims to possession, extending the Indian Wars from the contiguous continent to transpacific conquest. But while the romance of United States imperialism is coupled with the White Man’s Burden and the promise of a racially liberal empire, the romances of Filipino subjectivity during and after colonial warfare took on a distinct shape. That is, the “Filipino” transformed from a Tagalog-centric revolutionary identification to a pan-archipelagic counter-revolutionary subject.

Simultaneous with this dispossession and deterritorialization was the nationalization of the islands’ multilingual and diverse peoples. What I am calling the becoming-subject of a becoming-nation comes out of this juncture between destructive colonial violence, and the mutual formations of ethno-racial identity and nationhood under colonial stewardship. While such a formation draws upon Hegel’s notion of becoming-subject,23 I instead root the becoming-subject through other transits. This becoming-subject emerges from the spatial politics of a becoming-nation, coupled with the realpolitik of imperial deterritorialization. To formulate this mode of emergent subjectivity, I draw upon the work of geographer Doreen Massey. Conceiving of socio-spatial identities (e.g. national and political) as relational, Massey notes that such identities emerge out of a simultaneity of stories-so-far: “a product of relations-between, relations which are necessarily embedded material practices...[and thus] always in the process of being made.”24 Massey reminds us that space is never a closed system, but an “open interactional space”25 within which relations are negotiated out of a “contemporaneous existence of a plurality of trajectories.”26 But despite this openness, the instability of coexisting heterogeneity can lead to an impulse to purify that space, the most prominent of which is what Massey, as well as Deleuze and Guattari, call the romance of coherent nationhood. As these thinkers and others have shown, this romantic purification takes place both on a discursive and material plane, through myriad forms of state violence during moments of crisis that have manifested in state racism, fascism, and totalitarianism.27 In this impulse for purification, I locate Filipino racial formation.

The outline above advances two interventions made by Filipino cultural theorists Dylan Rodriguez and Neferti X. M. Tadiar, who have grounded Filipino subject formation in the legacy of colonial genocide. First, according to Rodriguez (2009), Filipino subject formation must be excised from a liberal post-1965 Asian Americanist critique, and instead rooted to the condition of suspended apocalypse: the un-redressed condition of genocide and catastrophe that brought the Philippines and Filipinos into the United States. Rodriguez dismantles Asian American racialization in its liberal multiculturalist forms that reify Asian “arrival” and “inclusion” in to the United States, versus the forced incorporation of Philippine peoples through dispossession and genocide of the islands.28

Second, according to Tadiar (2015), the liberal imperial terms of “becoming-human” comprise an “[aspiration] to the protocols of living that [are obtained] under a transnational free market economy and expanding liberal-democratic ‘rule of law’.”29 With racialization as its underlying logic, this form of becoming-human is premised on the formation of social difference stipulated “on the liberal ideals of universal freedom and equality.”30 The gendered and class politics in this study’s photographs belie this logic of racialization through freedom, or in particular, racialization through the development of a capacity to possess threefold: possess oneself, possess women, and possess property.31

The modern formation of the Filipino, as an ethno-national and spatialized subject, emerged at precisely the moment when the United States normalized the genocide, dispossession, and deterritorialization of colonized peoples. And the violence of state formation accompanied with it a certain romanticism, that the subjects (or survivors) of the new state have an eventual opportunity to share in a sort of imperial communion of civilization with their fellow survivors. Within this imperial communion, through which they might find the capacities of possession and liberal humanism, colonial subjects could find new constellations of community. This subject formation, I posit, is the romance of transpacific Philippine nation-state formation, which I call the becoming-subject.

Despite the deterritorialization of the Philippine-descent colonized subject, the formation of the Filipino nonetheless relies on what Massey calls a spatiality of political identity, even if these subjects are not based in Luzon, or not at all in the Philippine archipelago. But where is this space precisely located? On one hand, the spatial politics of this subject formation concretely emerged in locations across the Pacific, and a conjunctive analysis of the Central Philippines and California might otherwise suffice. A spatial politics through which identities emerged can also be found through the coevality of modernities in these locations, and within the myriad articulations of communal belonging across communities through media such as photographs.32

On the other hand, out of the coevality of transpacific diasporic conditions, from shared colonial (aspirational) modernities to material and economic destitutions, a specific space nonetheless emerged. Such a space was beholden both to the multiplicities of colonial “stories-so-far,” as well as the impulses of national coherence and cultural purification. In other words, a civic space emerges within the catastrophes of colonial genocide and native dispossession. This space emerges in photography itself.

As “U.S. Nationals” (legally colonial subjects of the United States but without citizenship rights), people of Philippine descent were caught between being partial citizens of the United States empire and partial citizens of an emerging Philippine nation born from colonial stewardship. I suggest that the ideological power and promise of the becoming-subject brought these scenes into being. For the subjects of photographs, photography afforded a new space to articulate visions and rehearsals of citizenship in the wake of colonial catastrophe. This civic space, according to Ariella Azoulay, was marked by the presence of the camera, which means that “individuals are governed and the extent of their participation in...forms of governance” were shaped anew by a community of photography.33 In the Philippines and Filipino communities in California, racial images abounded that captured and decontextualized their destitution, as well as stereotypes that percolated from colonial conquest: stoop labor, social deviants, “savages,” or piles of corpses.34 Mancao Studios and their familial and mutual aid connections offered an alternative civic space through a genteel and respectable genre of photography: the portrait.

Portraiture offered a different space for both the photographer and the photographed to choreograph visions of civility and family life.35 While both Mancao Studios took photographs of myriad scenes of village and farm life, they specialized in portrait photography. Portraiture archives such as the Mancao Collection, and other Rizalista photographs at FANHS, exhibit the ways in which colonized people from the Philippines rehearsed communities yet to come. While these images are not all, strictly speaking, family photographs, the intergenerational compilation of this archive (donated in three waves, from three generations of Frank Mancao’s family) suggests that a family photograph analytic is useful here. Visual scholars Thy Phu and Elspeth Brown (2015) write that family photographs capture what they call “aspirational fictions,” drawing on the work of Tina Campt and others, or a series of visual stagings which

imagine a family that hasn’t yet come together; [family photographs] establish a form for imagining a world yet to come; they call into being a notion of family as it can be; they can even gesture towards forms of belonging and unbelonging beyond family.36

Thus, the (trans)national family, as well as the nuclear family, could be imagined as a community yet-to-come through photography. But these romantic visions of family, whether nuclear or transnational, seem to be uniformly genteel or bourgeois, and strictly gendered through choice of fashion and accessory: white suits with Western or Chino collar for men, and various dresses for women.

From my perusals, it is not always clear which photographs in the collection are from Cebu, and which are from California. However, there are some assumptions I wish to advance for our critical viewing. The obvious identifier for some photographs is the Mancao Studio plate in the corners of some portraits (Figure 5). The Mancao Studios slogan in Cebu, “For Simplicity, For Satisfaction.” First, “simplicity” (as well as customer “satisfaction”) suggests an openness in terms of clientele for the studios, particularly in terms of its inexpensiveness. This is evidenced by the possibility of different tiers of photographs: the plate for cheaper photoshoots, and without a plate for more expensive sessions. The assumption is that photos were discounted by the inclusion of tacit advertising for the studio. Furthermore, that the slogan is in English suggests not only the reach of colonial anglophone education into the Central Philippines, but the new significance of English as the language of an aspirational genteelness among non-metropolitan Filipinos such as above. Another identifier for these photos is the gender of the subjects. Early-20th-century images with Filipina women are more likely to be taken in Cebu than California. While some Filipina women moved to the United States during the 1920s and 1930s, the vast majority of migrant workers in Hawai‘i and the U.S. West Coast were men.37

Finally, I temper my identificatory gaze by recognizing that as photographs in print, and thus in circulation, we must also consider the transpacific resonances of these photographs through their exchange between the U.S. Continent and the Philippines. Some prints also acted as postcards, and it is possible too that they were mailed to family and friends along with letters. The visual economy of these photographs, as anthropologist Deborah Poole terms the production and distribution of images, were most likely, in their time, constrained to the intimate communities of transnational family and friendship.38 In other words, while some of the Mancao images were used in later decades by Filipino American historians, and thus took on commemorative meanings, they were still in their time more akin to family photographs.

However, the Rizalista photographs also took different transits outside of the family album. These photographs circulated among mutual aid societies, the fledgling organizations which rehearsed a Philippine citizenship yet-to-come. Taken together, both the family and the mutual aid society transits of these photographs, even if a photograph was taken in the Central Valley, it could still have resonance in Cebu, and vice versa. Despite the uncertainty behind identifying the precise location of these photographs, their circulation suggests that we should read them both in terms of the transpacific coevality of ethno-national formation, as well as the unique civic space that these photographs carved out for their subjects.

Mancao Studios, including photographer Frank Mancao in the Central Valley and his family in Cebu, constitute the primary channel through which we might ascertain the circulation of these photographs. A plethora of lodge portraits suggests the centrality of the Mancaos both to the fraternal organization and to their reputation as effective photographers to convey visual respectability.39 The scenes in these figures also suggest the kinship that communities felt with the Mancaos, or at least, the trusted positions of photographers in the intimate spaces of non-metropolitan Philippine and Filipino diasporic life. Figures 1, 2, and 4 depict these young men’s membership in secretive pseudo-Masonic societies, perhaps their induction into the various orders (such as the Ibarra Lodge of the boy in Figure 1, named after a Rizal protagonist). A contextual reading of Figures 5 and 6 among the rest of the Mancao archive suggests that these were taken in mourning. Other photographs in the same collection depict the subjects around an open casket, perhaps of a grandfather or some other elder in the family.40

In the contained space of the studio, complete with soft landscapes and bouquet props, and posed with only the subtlest of smiles (if at all), these portraits make every effort to be quiet. Their idyllic backgrounds and gendered arrangements attempt to settle disquiets in the lives of their subjects, and in the conditions outside of the studios. Drawing upon Tina Campt’s synesthetic readings of images, and in the context of Black diasporic photographs, Campt argues that quiet photographs must be listened to, so as to uncover the aspirations and possible futures of their subjects.41 Extending Campt’s analysis into the non-metropolitan colonial Philippines and its labor diasporas, I wish to listen to the low-frequency disquiet that these portraits seek to soften.

In Figures 1 and 2, I hear the disquiet of colonial history along the un-ironed creases in the subjects’ clothes. For the men, the regalia was not theirs to keep, though the shirts might have been, but nonetheless they made every effort to present themselves with dignity. In Figures 1, 2, and 4, I hear the disquiet through these young men’s slight smiles, finding relief and small joy in their becoming outfits, when outside of the frame they would have been branded as vagrants or reduced to stoop labor.42 In Figures 5 and 6, I hear it in the piercing melancholy of their gaze, the stark simplicity of their dress, and the exhaustion of their eye bags, all in states of grief but nonetheless resolute in posing for these portraits with mestiza Filipiniana and Western suits. The unsettling hum that I hear in these photographs are the conditions faced by non-elite peoples in Depression-era Cebu and California: as illegible to colonial Manila and devastated by colonial wars,43 or as surplus populations in California when their unemployment was considered vagrancy.44 Perhaps, then, the quietness of studio portraiture provided respite from the turbulence of a transpacific colonial condition.45

In the sections above, I have provided a blueprint of how an ethno-national identity emerges in transnational photography at an epoch of colonial crisis. While these readings are tentative, my hope is that this article outlines possible ways of listening to the historical disquiet of these otherwise quiet photographs.46 It is hard to trace these portraits to the duress experienced by colonized subjects between the two World Wars. It is even harder to hear the historical genocide that these images’ subjects and their parents’ generations suffered as intrinsically embedded into these photographic encounters.

But reading these photographs against colonial state violence is precisely how we can genealogically trace the emergence of a civic formation such as the Filipino. This essay suggests that the Mancao photographs, here particularly those portraits in and around the Rizalista societies, must be read within what cultural studies scholar Nerissa Balce (borrowing from Allan Sekula) calls the shadow archive of U.S. empire.47 Balce’s compilation of the shadow archive points to the abjection of Philippine death and colonial gore that undergirds the imperial projects of American liberalism. The visual field of the portraits in this study might constitute something in opposition to the gory archives of American colonization, but rather, they are co-constitutive of such violence.

These portraits also show how the residual violence of Filipino subject formation takes place in the photography studio, by imagining the civil community as a strictly heteropatriarchal and genteel space. Filipino becoming-subject formation, within the bounds of the civil spaces of photographic encounters, might be utopian, but are by no means radical. Nonetheless, these studio moments offered subjects opportunities to inscribe themselves into an emerging nation. As ways of coping with being reduced to surplus human capital, portraiture offered alternative spaces of representation within novel sinews of transpacific kinship. However, no amount of genteel self-representation, particularly an elitist, counterinsurgent, and masculinist one, can redress the ongoing colonial violence that constitutes the Filipino subject.

Therefore, we might think of these portraits in the same way that we might think of the memory of the Philippine Revolution and José Rizal’s legacy: as a battleground. The United States’ wars of colonization in the Philippines have never been redressed. Instead, they have become crystallized into the nation-state form and its ongoing wars of colonization in Mindanao and against Indigenous Peoples all over the archipelago. The romance of the counterinsurgent Filipino, not just a becoming-subject but as a becoming (respectable and genteel) subject, fuels this violence. Excavating these ongoing colonial conditions from photographs, and from acts of photography themselves, thus lays bare a potential blueprint for decolonial solidarity beyond the liberal identitarianism of diasporic Filipino and Asian American political life.

In the two years that followed that first encounter with the Mancao archives and the Rizalista portraits, I since joined the Filipino American National Historical Society, first as a member, then as an acclaimed trustee. As a National Scholar and Trustee, I am tasked with the long-term stewardship of the archives which had captivated my scholarly imagination. These archives, established during the Civil Rights era, had once brought together local Black, Vietnamese, Korean, Indigenous, Filipino, and other burgeoning scholar-activists within its walls. It remains an honor and a privilege to do this work.

At the virtual election meeting in Summer 2020, many attendees had rightly brought up (and pressed further on) the various California fires and the COVID-19 pandemic, and the disproportionate impact on Filipino care workers. But very few attendees brought up the importance of thinking relationally with contemporary racial movements such as Black Lives Matter, the Civil Rights progenitors of which our organization had once found common ground. I will not pretend here that I managed to stage a robust intervention among the one hundred attendees; in fact, I read my silence retroactively as part of that discomforting but longing impulse to find a place of belonging in an organization that is, in its current articulation, at once middle-class and American, albeit an immigrant type of “American.”

Recognizing the insulated state of this racial community assembled online, my gut knew exactly how the meeting would end. Even on Zoom, even during a pandemic, the collective engaged in that time-tested ritual of staging a scene for a collective of becoming-subjects, through which an aspirational community is articulated.

We posed for a group photograph.

Author’s Note: My thanks to Thy Phu for the opportunity to think through these photographs, and to the two anonymous reviewers for the generous feedback. Salamat to Dorothy Cordova at the National Pinoy Archives for sharing the Frank Mancao Collection and oral histories. The idea for the shape of this critique first formed through the transpacific studies seminars of Lisa Yoneyama; her influence can be found all over the text, as can my related discussions with Brenton Buchanan, Asako Masubuchi, and Takashi Fujitani. My deepest gratitude to Christine Noelle Peralta and Wesley Attewell for reading suggestions and theoretical directions. Salamat to the 2020-2021 Filipino Works in Progress group for thoughts and feedback, particularly Alden Sajor Marte-Wood, Tom Sarmiento, Stephanie Santos, Josen Masangkay Diaz, Allan Lumba, Paul Nadal, Karlynne Ejercito, Sony Coráñez Bolton, Karen Hanna, Jason Magabo Perez, Kathleen DeGuzman, and others. Finally, thank you to my USC Fall 2020 graduate seminar on Necropolitics—Ana Briz, AnnaBella Grant, Angela Kim, Layla Zbinden, Deena Naime—whose discussions were paramount in my turn towards situating the Mancao photographs in the context of colonial catastrophe.

Notes

1.

I have a forthcoming article on Mancao’s life and work, showing how the visual field of his photography attempts to create a respectability politics for the Filipino diaspora in California. These photographs can be accessed in Seattle.

2.

Dawn Bohulano Mabalon, Little Manila is in the Heart: The Making of the Filipina/o American Community in Stockton, California (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2013), 107.

3.

Today, the term Rizalista can signify either a scholar of Rizal or one of several Philippine folk religions that believe in Rizal’s divinity. I ascribe this descriptor to the photographs at hand in a tentative attempt to categorize, or at least, recognize their (formal or visual) affiliation with the Rizal-inspired mutual aid societies.

4.

I draw from both Benedict Anderson’s concept of imagined communities in the cultural making of nationalisms, as well as Paul Kramer’s argument that Philippine nationhood and Filipino subjecthood were both predicated on what he calls calibrated colonialisms: the constantly shifting scales through which the United States ascertained Philippine/Filipino capacity for self-rule. See: Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (London: Verso Books, 1983); Kramer, The Blood of Government: Race, Empire, the United States, and the Philippines (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2006).

5.

Carby’s study on cultural representations of Black masculinity account for both the larger national matrix of the United States that contextualized the performance of these masculinities, as well as the various artists’ and writers’ investitures into becoming these subjects. See: Race Men (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998).

6.

I wish to note here that the Filipino as becoming-subject is not the so-called phenomenon of colonial mentality, popularized by various Filipino American psychologists. Colonial mentality scholarship assumes a fatal impact and universal experience of colonialism across a universal (and un-problematized) Filipino subject, which should explain the myriad mental health and social problems of people who self-identify as Filipino.

7.

The most prominent example of the flow model of critique can be found in Janet Hoskins and Viet Thanh Nguyen, eds., Transpacific Studies: Framing an Emerging Field (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2012). In Filipino Studies, an established scholarship follows the movement of migrant labor and imperial power across the Pacific, in works such as: Dorothy Fujita-Rony, American Workers, Colonial Power: Philippine Seattle and the Transpacific West, 1919-1941 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003); Rick Baldoz, The Third Asiatic Invasion: Empire and Migration in Filipino America, 1898-1946 (New York: New York University Press, 2011); Kale Bantigue Fajardo, Filipino Crosscurrents: Oceanographies of Seafaring, Masculinities, and Globalization (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011).

8.

An example being Setsu Shigematsu and Keith L. Camacho, eds. Militarized Currents: Toward a Decolonized Future in Asia and the Pacific (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010).

9.

Lisa Yoneyama, Cold War Ruins: Transpacific Critique of American Justice and Japanese War Crimes (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2016); “Towards a Decolonial Genealogy of the Transpacific,” American Quarterly 69.3 (2017): 471-482.

10.

Viet Thanh Nguyen, Race and Resistance: Literature and Politics in Asian America (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002); Neferti X. M. Tadiar, “Decolonization, ‘Race,’ and Remaindered Life under Empire,” Qui Parle 23.2 (2015): 135-160.

11.

On political economies of Filipino masculinity in the 20th and 21st centuries, see: Linda España-Maram, Creating Masculinity in Los Angeles’s Little Manila: Working-Class Filipinos and Popular Culture, 1920s-1950s (New York: Columbia University Press, 2006); Kale Bantigue Fajardo, Filipino Crosscurrents: Oceanographies of Seafaring, Masculinities, and Globalization (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011).

12.

Teodoro Agoncillo, History of the Filipino People (Manila: Malaya Books, 1970).

13.

Paul Kramer, The Blood of Government: Race, Empire, the United States, and the Philippines (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2006), 274.

14.

Kramer, “Representative Men,” in The Blood of Government (2006).

15.

On Rizal, ilustrados, and the appropriations of their memories, see: Vicente Rafael, The Promise of the Foreign: Nationalism and the Technics of Translation in the Spanish Philippines (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2005); Kramer (2006); Resil Mojares, Brains of the Nation: Pedro Paterno, T.H. Pardo de Tavera, Isabelo de los Reyes, and the Production of Modern Knowledge (Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University, 2006).

16.

Dawn Bohulano Mabalon, Little Manila is in the Heart; The Making of the Filipina/o Community in Stockton, California (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2013).

17.

Mabalon (2013) outlines some of the structures of the Rizalista societies, particularly among the Stockton lodges.

18.

Agoncillo (1970); Francis A. Gealogo, “Masonic parallels in Mabini’s true decalogue and constitutional program,” Philippine Studies: Historical and Ethnographic Viewpoints 67.1 (2019): 95-111.

19.

Denise Cruz, Transpacific Femininities: The Making of the Modern Filipina (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2013).

20.

Kramer (2006).

21.

Agoncillo (1970), Kramer (2006).

22.

Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987), 456.

23.

Which is to say an emergent form of humanity through which an individual comes into oneself vis-a-vis overcoming the fear of death and claiming one’s ability to work.

24.

Doreen Massey, For Space (London: Sage Publications, 2005), 1.

25.

Massey (2005), 11.

26.

Massey (2005), 12.

27.

Other notable scholars include Walter Benjamin, Hannah Arendt, Michel Foucault, and Sayak Valencia.

28.

Dylan Rodriguez, Suspended Apocalypse: White Supremacy, Genocide and the Filipino Condition (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009).

29.

Neferti X. M. Tadiar, “Decolonization, ‘Race,’ and Remaindered Life under Empire,” Qui Parle 23.2 (2015): 136.

30.

Tadiar (2015), 140.

31.

Tadiar (2015), 146.

32.

Here I draw from Yoneyama (2017) again, as well as Massey, as opposed to the formation of the transpacific that focuses on diasporas and international relations, such as: Janet Hoskins and Viet Thanh Nguyen, eds., Transpacific Studies: Framing an Emerging Field (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2014).

33.

The Civil Contract of Photography (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2008), 89.

34.

On the Filipino as stoop labor and social deviant, see: JoAnna Poblete, Islanders in the Empire: Filipino and Puerto Rican Laborers in Hawai‘i (Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2011); Mabalon (2013). On the Filipino as “savage” and corpse, see: Benito Vergara, Displaying Filipinos: Photography and Colonialism in Early 20th Century Philippines (Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press, 1995); Nerissa Balce, Body Parts of Empire: Visual Abjection, Filipino Images, and the American Archive (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2016).

35.

On portraiture and diasporic civility, see: Thy Phu, Picturing Model Citizens: Civility in Asian American Visual Culture (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2012); Tina Campt, Image Matters: Archive, Photography, and the African Diaspora in Europe (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2012).

36.

“The Cultural Politics of Aspiration: Family Photography’s Mixed Feelings,” Journal of Visual Culture 17.2 (2015): 152–165.

37.

Dorothy Fujita-Rony, American Workers, Colonial Power: Philippine Seattle and the Transpacific West, 1919-1941 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003); Mabalon (2013).

38.

See: Deborah Poole, Vision, Race, and Modernity: A Visual Economy of the Andean Image World (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1997).

39.

A forthcoming article outlines respectability politics in Mancao photographs of farmworkers in California fields.

40.

For space and permission’s sake, I do not include these photographs here, though they can be found in the National Pinoy Archives in Seattle, WA.

41.

Listening to Images (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2017).

42.

In his study of portraits of strike leaders in the 1928 banana strikes of Colombia, Kevin Coleman (2015) reconstructs such moments of self-representation and aspirational dignity among leaders under duress of plantation labor, as well as corporate state surveillance by the United Fruit Company. That is one such quiet photograph born out of capitalist violence. See: “The Photos That We Don’t Get to See: Sovereignties, Archives, and the 1928 Massacre of Banana Workers in Colombia,” in Making the Empire Work: Labor and United States Imperialism, edited by Daniel E. Bender and Jana K. Lipman (New York: New York University Press, 2015): 104-136.

43.

Historian Resil Mojares shows how the regional front of the Philippine-American War in Cebu lasted longer than that of Manila, and only through brute force did the United States finally make local leaders surrender. As a result, Cebu’s local society and economy took longer to recover then Manila. See: The War against the Americans: Resistance and Collaboration in Cebu, 1899-1906 (Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 1999).

44.

On vagrancy and Filipino American (and other Asian diaspora) labor, see: España-Maram (2006); Nayan Shah, Stranger Intimacy: Contesting Race, Sexuality and the Law in the North American West (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011).

45.

The above readings/“listenings” are inspired by Tina Campt’s speculative works on Black diaspora and intimate photography (2012; 2017).

46.

Campt (2017).

47.

Balce (2016).

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 3.0 License.