What’s the point of protesting Donald Trump?

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Dear Papa,

Yesterday, over dinner, you asked me an honest question,”If you go protest, will it stop Donald Trump’s inauguration?”

In that question, I heard so many people’s despair and hopelessness. 

I answered, “No, it won’t.” And then I took a couple of minutes, taken aback by your very real question, to muster up an answer to why my husband and I will take our 2 year old daughter and our 33 week old unborn child to the streets to protest on Saturday morning. 

I know you believed in the potential of Ferdinand Marcos, a cruel dictator that took so many lives and advantages of our people when you were young, but when it came to oust him–you took us out in those streets didn’t you? Well, we’ve got pictures to prove it. Why did you go protest then?

Perhaps it’s the simple act of claiming your own power in a time of powerlessness that pushed you. It pushes us now. 

I’ve been in the streets marching in protests for years. Under the Obama and Bush administrations, under the Macapagal-Arroyo, Aquino and even the Duterte administrations, and in those times, I’ve found that even if it doesn’t stop a war or extrajudicial killings or systematic racism in its tracks, that when I stepped out I did it in community. Alongside people who didn’t agree, who didn’t want to feel like we didn’t have a choice in any of it. In collective voice, we found one another! A new way of feeling like we’re part of something bigger.

This time around, and in the next four years, I will work tirelessly and protest relentlessly to claim my stake in what my newly acquired US citizenship supposedly provides. I will teach my children that “democracy” doesn’t just live in a big White House, it’s in the messy, streets where people’s feet bang on the pavement everyday on their way to work. Its in the evening meetings to strategize how to regain ground in our local areas. Its in the family circles where we educate our children about their value despite what the politicians may say.

It is not time to rest. Although it’s a tiring idea to think of the racism, sexism, ableism, homophobic, transphobic, xenophobic brand of US imperialism that has come to show its face, finally. So truthful and unabashedly. It’s not time to sit down and not protest. 

It’s time to build bridges; find a new language; and act on uniting across communities to move forward boldly. 

It’s time to do the exciting work of reimagining a new world where trans people’s lives are not in danger. Where Black lives matter, to police, towards economic justice, to all of us. A world where women are not seen as sexual objects for consumption. Where immigrants aren’t forced to leave their homelands, where they aren’t criminalized. Where all families can find housing security. Where all Queer people can dance without fear. Where our human dignity can be restored. It’s time to do the work. 

Papa, I’m protesting because there’s no other option. For Aya. For baby. For Melana. For Kanoah. For Jordan. For our future. You remember that feeling right?

Beyond Final Papers, Beyond the Classroom

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In the past few years, I’ve invested in assigning creative final projects for my upper division classes. Across the three institutions I’ve taught at as a tenure-track professor, the risk is high (because students loathe group work so they’re always giving me side-eye for assigning a group project as a requirement and sometimes it ends up the evals) and the outcomes of the projects vary wildly. The range of quality in the projects can be attributed to the fact that I don’t teach an art or film editing course—I teach sociology. But also because students have varying abilities in creating finished and polished projects whether they be visual graphic posters, videos, art, etc. The final product is not my main concern though—really, its the process students undertake to create their final project that is important to me.

This Fall semester, I had the privilege and pleasure of starting a TT position at my alma mater (San Francisco State, go Gators!) where I knew I could really push students to do something other than a final paper, and where I knew that my department would recognize an “alternative” final assignment as a pedagogical strength (I mention this for those of us on the tenure-track who might want to try this method but ya’ll got to take into account the context of your institution). I taught a Families and Society (SOC 464) class and the students were amazing from jump. They were all open to challenging their own ideas and embodied identities. They were down to be co-teachers/co-learners in the classroom with me, taking on discussion activities through reading groups. I mean. They were great. So I thought that these final projects might be good.

But y’all. They were AWESOME.

I structured it like this. After the mid-term, I had them focus their energies on the final creative project which set up the final project grade with a process-oriented assessment instead of assessing the projects as a final product. I had four assignments due before the in-class screening during the final exam period:

  1. Progress report with research topic, research questions, methods, concepts
  2. Storyboard that outlined a vision of what the 5-6 minute video would look like
  3. In-class Pitch of their idea and what they had collected already
  4. Reflection essay on the course concepts, experiential learning and reflexivity on their roles in the group

I provided at least 2 class sessions where they would only work on the project assignments in terms of brainstorming and collective concept development. For their assignments, I gave detailed feedback to the groups via iLearn (SFSU’s instructional tech management system). I also checked in with groups via email periodically, perhaps in the future, I’ll set up some office hour appointments too.

Here are some course structural things that I want to remember for future courses:

  1. Scaffold the assignments: Every assignment (short papers, free writing activities, group formations) should lead up to preparing them for this final assignment. I know. DUH. But I didn’t set up the class like that this time so I had to play catch up mid-semester; creating assignments along the way. Start at the beginning of the semester!
  2. A Paradox: We already engage the construction of the “normative” in the class, why not have them identify a paradoxical normative narrative in the class as it progresses and have them juxtapose that with their own experiences or better yet, other people’s experiences? That could be the “data” in their final projects.
  3. In-class Tutorials: I should bring an instructional designer in one or two times in the semester to show them iMovie or another PC-based software.

On to the good stuff—the perfect storm: students, the past election season and the medium of creativity produced amazing results. I think partly this was because the students at SFSU are really plugged into political discourse but I also I think they create amazing things when they come together.

With the consent of my students and the consent of the people that they included in their projects, I want to share some of the creative final projects with all of you.

In this short video entitled, “Never Meant to Survive”, students explored the “possibility of queer kinship as the site of political resistance” as Christopher Dokko, one of my students writes. Their group interviewed Queer Folks of Color (QFOC) about chosen families and Queer kin in a time of Trump. They begin with an Audre Lorde poem and splice in interviews with QFOC’s over the realities of living under a Trumpian administration. Important to note that this group decided to switch the direction of their whole project when they met up the morning after the election of Donald Trump as president. The students in this group described their change as a way to heal and wrap their heads around what our lives were going to be like.

This video entitled, “So Who is this ‘Muslim’ the Media Keeps Talking About?” was born out of a critique of my syllabus. I did not have a reading on the families of South Asian or Middle Eastern families or families that practice Islam. Although, we discussed Asian American families and media frames depicting the “model minority, the students in this group wanted to fill in that gap with their work. Students in this group sought to debunk the media narratives circulating about Muslims and Muslim families.

I especially liked this video project entitled, “Creating New Endings,” because the students in the group were what I like to call the “ratchets” of Earth with a play on Frantz Fanon Wretched of the Earth. These students were always quick to reference their epistemologies as women of color, working young women and Bay Area representatives in class and it showed through the song choices and creative turns in this video.

I share these 3 projects not because they were my favorites over other projects but the students accomplished what I had set out the final project PROCESS to be.

  • They translated the academic debates, scholarship and concepts from class in their own words to their people, peers, communities, friends, families to collect data.
  • They internalized the importance of challenging normative ideological codes that circulates about families in the US.
  • They flipped the script and used their own experiences and emotions as the guiding analytical lens to create this projects that will go beyond me reading it in my office and assigning a grade to them at the end of the semester.

For these reasons, I feel really proud to be a part of their learning process.

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On Post-Colonial Rage and Not Being Mad at Big Brother aka US Imperialism

 

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First of all, let me be CRYSTAL CLEAR, President Rodrigo Duterte’s “war on drugs” is unconscionable. Thousands of people and innocent bystanders have been slain in the name of “cleaning up” the Philippines. Without due process, the Philippine National Police have become the prosecutor, judge, jury and executor of Filipinos who may or may not be involved with drugs. Its deplorable and I hope mounting national mass movement building and international attention and criticism can pierce the presidential halls of the Philippines to cease extrajudicial killings.

Okay? Okay.

The headlines regarding the Philippines this morning is deeply connected to the aforementioned extrajudicial killings. But it seems to me, it is also about a resounding slap on the postcolonial wrist of Duterte. So what am I talking about? Duterte went on (yet another) controversial tirade a couple of days before maybe meeting with President Barack Obama. When prompted by a journalist about talking with Obama about the extradjudicial killings happening in the Philippines right now related to the war on drugs, Duterte got fired up and using his best Pinoy patriarchal voice (yes, I’m being sarcastic), said, “I am not beholden to Obama, my master is the Filipino people.”

Ohhhhhhhh. Burnnnnnn.

When I was watching the press conference, I was like, “Daaaaaamn. He really went there.”

Why?

Because a little known historical fact is that past Philippine presidents were not only chummy with US presidents—but actually, many (and by many I mean, ALL) have been puppets to US political will, economic intervention and military occupation. See below chummy, puppet examples below of recent chummy, puppet presidents getting chummy with past US imperialist presidents:

 

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Obama is in Laos right now at the ASEAN meeting (which btw is such a problematic group prioritizing neoliberal reforms that seek to cut the potential of SE Asian countries to develop with self-determination) and he basically heard about Duterte’s comments and canceled their pending meeting. Which in fairness (that’s a Filipino phrase for, “Duterte was asking for it”), Duterte was out of pocket swearing like a Pinoy patriarch whipping out his ego for the world to see—so ain’t nobody talkin to you with that potty mouth, even if you are head of the state. (Update: Duterte is regretful. Good job GPH media relations.)

But that’s not what I wanted to get at here in my morning pages. I think there is a certain shock and disbelief running through the American media (I listened to NPR this morning, read the NY Times, even took a peek at CNN) that a president, much less the Philippine president, would say such distancing comments about the US.

Underlying this shock is a sort of assumption that the Philippines, Filipinos and especially the head of state should remember the history of benevolent coloniality and current-day “help” US imperialism provides in the Philippines by way of military, aid, Justin Bieber tours, etc. What I read in today’s headlines was an aversion to a post-colonial state disavowing US intervention. How dare Filipinos be mad at the US? How dare Duterte say that his only master is the Filipino people? How dare he show anger at his American Big Brother whose only showed kindness, fairness and benevolence?

Yo, people are straight mad that anyone who has been shown US kindness (read: military aid, money, disaster aid, money) have feelings that are not of subservient gratitude—much less rage.

Don’t get it twisted, my people. I think Duterte should be held accountable for a police force and armed forces that has gone rogue. (Haters, see the opening paragraph before you come for me in the comments.) Not only the extrajudicial killings from the “war on drugs” but also the slain community leaders of the Lumad tribe in Mindanao. Duterte must stop killing his so called “masters”.

However, the shock wave that Duterte’s comments have made in the international media demonstrates that no matter how long its been since colonies have been signed into sovereignty on paper. They are still considered colonial projects, that should be grateful, passive, non-confrontational and dutiful. The Philippines as a former US colony should never be angry about US intervention, they should only have the utmost respect for a past-colonizer/neo-imperialist occupier.

Duterte’s comments regarding his accountability to the Filipino people is refreshing. Ain’t no president before him had the gall to put the Filipino people first. Now, the challenge is to see if he really is for the Filipino people.

Enough with them fightin words, Duterte has to ensure that outside of press conferences and big international meetings—he revokes the fetters of US imperial powers on the Philippines. He must terminate unequal agreements between the US and the Philippines such as the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and the Enhanced Defense Cooperating Agreement (EDCA).

4 Reasons Why Filipinas/os Should Support Black Lives Matter

I have been struggling the past few days. Here, I’ve put my words down again to implore my community to join in solidarity and support the #BlackLivesMatter movement.

4. Anti-Black racism has plagued our community.

As a young darker-skinned Filipina, I was often taunted as “Black Beauty” and told never to go under the sun so that I wouldn’t get darker. What that meant was dark = not good, black = bad. My grandfather always warned me about watching the show, Martin, and having Black friends because they were no good. Instead of seeing the commonalities between our communities, our elders and families have bought into the American racial order before they even got to the US. They swallowed the pill that white was good and Black was bad. Colorism is just a small part of the consequences of this type of internalized racism.

Much more toxic is our rejection of mixed race Filipinos/as in our community. Much more dangerous is that Filipinos/as think that our histories are completely separate and that the consequences of anti-Black racism can not touch Filipinos/as. But it does. Everyday it does. White supremacy recasts Black and Brown bodies (I consider Filipinos/as as Brown) as lesser than white, in very different and relative ways. But my point is that we will never be assimilated into whiteness. And as long as we continue to front like we can be white by rejecting Blackness, we are part of the problem.

3. Black and Filipino solidarity is historical.

David Fagen deserted the American imperialist forces to join the Filipino independence forces at the turn of the 20th century. One journalist stated, “the negro soldiers were in closer sympathy with the aims of the native population than they were with those of their white leaders and the policy of the United States.” Filipinos were openly called the n-word and caricatured as “little brown brothers”. Well, it was Black people who stood up for us against US empire. It was Black soldiers that took up our mantle, put it on their backs and fought for our freedom. Our liberation was bound together then, and it is even more so now.

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2. US empire in the Philippines relied on anti-Black racism at home.

The encroachment of US empire in the Philippines was imbued with anti-Black racism. Imperialist cartoons show Filipinos as dark skinned savages in need of saving. This was set in the backdrop of increasing racial repression against Black people in the US via Jim Crow laws and segregation, not to mention continuing settler colonialism and cultural genocide of indigenous people in the US. The American colonial project got its fire from the racialized oppression of Black people. It gave them moral logic and the state-sanctioned practices to go abroad and subjugate Filipinos. Caricatured and racialized as Black people in SE Asia, Filipinos were made to swallow this racial ideology even before we were being exported for profit.

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It’s about damn time that we reject these two interlinked racial ideologies. And its about time that we step up to acknowledge that both are not the same in egregiousness but they work together to divide and subjugate

1. It is the right thing to do.

In the past 3 days, two men (and perhaps more (men, women, trans people) who are under the media radar), Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, were murdered by police officers. Sadly, they were not the first nor the last Black people whose lives will be taken by police. These men were complying. These men were simply living their lives. They were doing nothing that deserved death. Their humanity was sacrificed in the name of institutionalized racism, the internalization of Black criminality and acceptance of Black death by police officers.

Filipinos/as cannot stand by while Black people and the Black community are clamoring for a stop to these killings; this crisis in human rights violations. Our community has been fed the idea that if we work hard enough, we could buy into the institution of whiteness. Well guess what, y’all? We can’t. We  will never be part of that institution. So if you are standing still, silent and inactive during this epidemic of Black death by police, then you are finishing the project of white supremacy. You are holding up white supremacy.

Instead of being silent because its not happening to the Filipino community, we have to gather our resources, our organizing experience and join in the national and international movement to value Black lives by holding police accountable and demanding a STOP to the killings. We must challenge white supremacy as it continues its centuries-long reign and attack on Black lives.

We have to stand on the right side of history here, ya’ll. We can not be silent. We must act with and under the leadership of Black people. Its the right thing to do. Its the only thing to do.

The Problems with “The Problem With Filipinos”

So, an article called “The Problem With Filipinos” has been posted and shared on social media over the last couple of days. A friend and colleague, Dr. Akissi Britton, shared and tagged me and a Pinay kasama-sista-scholar, Dr. Johanna Almiron-Johnson on it to get our takes on it.

First of all, especially, as tribute to the fake ass Philippine independence day, an article that spells out all of the problems of our community is such a tired and misplaced start. C’mon. Let’s get our lives and start in the place that’s most vibrant, exciting, thrilling, hopeful–the revolutionary mass movement in the Philippines. As Dr. Almiron-Johnson said and I quote

Deep as colonial is deep but it misses the FACT of Filipino history–namely our revolutionary resistance against imperialism and colonialism. It erases the fact that the Philippines continues to be one of the few countries in contemporary history to overthrow its own government not once, twice but three times by People Power. It’s easier to perpetuate the notion that we ain’t woke than that we always have been woke but the violence of white supremacy aka. American imperialism is as relentless as it always has been. What the article does get right is that the damage of colonialism is so far reaching and so deeply internalized that Filipin@s have figured out how to enjoy it. Our colonialism is so queer it hurts.

Ain’t nobody forgetting the travesties under the Marcos dictatorship. While the author states that we are “quick to hate and quicker to forget” but I think she is the one forgetting a mass movement’s continual projection and strategies to avoid re-electing a Marcos to vice presidency. Girl, it was us, it was our people: Filipinos were in the forefront telling the Marcoses to have several seats.

I mean, I could go on but really I wanted to write this because the problem with the identifying Filipinos as the culprit in all of our struggles is:

  1. It doesn’t give Filipinos enough credit for the movement-building that’s happening in our homeland and in the diaspora. I mean Filipino/a-American youth are spending their summers connected to people’s organizations learning about indigenous people’s struggles in Mindanao! Not on that Gawad Kalinga-blame-the-poor-for-being-poor mess, but actual organized youth caring about what organized youth movements are like in the Philippines!
  2. It takes American empire and monopoly capitalism off the hook for the conditions under which Filipinos “don’t know who we are”. We don’t know who we are?? Girl. Bye. We definitely suffer from colonial mentality and often over-value American pop culture but these are vestiges of American colonization and current neocolonialism and cultural imperialism (not just in the Philippines, either!). And as Dr. A-J has said up above, Filipinos have always been “woke” and there’s an unforgettable history and a vibrant movement TODAY that continues that legacy. Peep the list within my list below:

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As the author Sade Andria Zabala predicted, yea, I’m mad. Why? Not because of

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Because for someone who is “airing out” dirty laundry of the community, I hold dear and LOVE, I’m mad that she didn’t even take the time to research the deeply passionate, committed and revolutionary people who make up our community: the migrant worker leaders trailblazing the way for other Filipino/a migrants who are rendered silent because of a broken immigration system. The daily community organizers using their ivy league degrees to make Filipino/a immigrants lives better. The after 40-hours a week volunteers who are meeting until the wee hours of the night to coordinate campaigns to take back SoMa Pilipinas as Filipino/a American geography. The teachers from K-12 to the college classrooms making ourselves visible in the pages and history of the “United” States of America.

We are ALWAYS standing up for our rights. We are ALWAYS standing up and showing up for each other.

So the problem isn’t Filipinos. It isn’t ourselves.

The problem is the system that undervalues our migrant worker mamas, papas, titas and titos, kicking our our elders from SoMa blocks, militarizing our schools (right here in the Bay and in the Mindanao), pouring billions of dollars into political and economic occupation of the Philippines.

Now. The real problem is if you ain’t with the Filipinas/os working tirelessly everyday to upset the set up.

#MyAsianAmericanStory

Jason Fong, a high school student in California, created the hashtag #MyAsianAmericanStory in August of 2015 in response to Republican presidential candidate, Jeb Bush, referring to Asian children as “anchor babies” that undocumented Asian immigrants count on for status. A storm of stories that represent the diversity of Asian America followed. In my SJSU Asian American Studies 33-B course, I wanted to populate this hashtag with the important stories of my Asian American students as we connected their daily lives to the course material–the history of Asian Americans in the US and the role they play in the development of the US.

The semester-long project #MyAsianAmericanStory was a process-oriented pedagogical tool that engaged students in multimedia technologies such as images, video, audio recording, creative software apps such as Storehouse, Adobe Slate, Adobe Voice, iVideo on iPads. They collected stories from their elders, friends, communities, classmates to examine present day issues in Asian America.

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Students at work at Little Saigon: Oscar Candelas, Christopher Nguyen, Kyle Wong

In our class, course content is centered on studying U.S. history in the 20th century through a race, class, gender, sexuality lens and with special attention on Asian Americans in the U.S and the role they play in the shaping U.S. politics and the American racial order. When I asked students to explore their own first, second or third generation Asian American experience, I challenged them to situate them in longer historical arcs in the Asian American experience in the US. We used Shelley Sang-Hang Lee’s new text A New History of Asian America to explore themes of imperialism and diaspora leading to Asian migrations (not only just to the US), strategies of survival and thriving and histories of racism that has linked Asian Americans in this country.

Helpful to the project of learning about Asian America was our backdoor sites (literally SJSU was a site of evacuation during Japanese internment!). I encouraged students to connect course materials with the racial and ethnic geographies in San Jose.

IMG_5546 Richie Chan, Kyle Wong, Darien Yong, Christina Cao and friend exploring the history of the Issei Memorial Building

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Discovering a Filipino Community Center, Cindy Yorza, Jonnel Alcantara and friend

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Dylan Truong, Janelle Duong and Peter Reyes discover a local desert shop owned by Japanese American SJSU professor Steven Doi

The ethnic geography of San Jose at times obscures the long history of Asian Americans  and the indelible mark they have made on the culture and ethnic communities of this city. The story telling project allowed students to venture outside of the classroom and note sites and experiences of Asian Americans in San Jose. Although most of their projects did not directly relate to their ethnic background or history, they were able to learn and deepen their understanding their narratives of Asian Americans and immigrants in their projects.

Video producers: Alyanah Alcantara, Janae Ajel, Janelle Duong, Peter Reyes, Dylan Troung

Sites such as San Jose’s Japantown and Little Saigon became place rich with stories in which students could examine the cultural and practical uses of this ethnic spaces and what types of meaning-making processes occurred there.

Video producers: Oscar Candelas, Richie Chan, Kyle Wong, Darien Young

Yet others, took to their own friends and networks to recast the narratives of young people win Asian America. Battling the model minority myth, students created projects that offered a different view of their racial identity in the American racial order.

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The full video (below) highlights different leadership positions Filipino American students hold in the university and their motivations for taking up those roles despite the normative narratives about Asian Americans.

The digital story telling project exceeded my expectations for students and the learning objectives for the class. These creative projects brought Asian American history to life in their projects. They were immensely thoughtful and really fun.

What do you write after a 2-year blog silence?

I haven’t published anything on this blog for a while now. And mostly, it’s kinda like when you had beef with your friend in high school and then you just don’t talk for a long time and then it becomes real awkward to even think about talking and then the distance just grows so you give up on talking. Yes, I likened my relationship to this blog as I would a real person. That’s where I’m at y’all.

So I thought, I’d post an update on my life or what not: baby, tenure-track mothering, sociologizing, organizing but instead I decided I’m gonna write something about teaching to begin with. As summer is gearing up, I’ll try to write more on the other things.

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Background: I am teaching a class of sometimes 90 students at a CSU and many of these students are first generation students, working class, immigrant, working full-time and full-time students. Many are having a hard time keeping up with their classes. Baaasically, many of them don’t get to the reading.

In the past couple of semesters, I have been learning about “active learning strategies” (which I got wind of from Dr. Valerie Futch Ehrlich and was always talking to Dr. Alice Gates about how to do it) and I’ve tried to incorporate it in my classes. For 3 reasons: (1) I want students to engage with the text, (2) research has established that lecture style isn’t really working for students, and (3) politically, I want students to know that they are knowledge-producers in our classroom. It ain’t all about me.

Before I had such impacted classrooms, I relied on a problem-posing pedagogy (a la Freire) with some remix of a Socratic method. But that seems so long ago when I had the privilege of teaching smaller classrooms. Back in grad school, we weren’t really trained in developing our teaching skills and I’ve always felt like I’ve been trying to get a hold of what my pedagogy is as I grow as an educator and scholar. So my objective for this post is to help folks who is googling “active learning strategies” in “large college classroom”, as I was furiously searching on teaching prep days.

Here’s a list of ways that I think students really responded to active learning methods in my class:

(Disclaimer: I’m not formally trained in this method, so these might not even be active learning strategies, they’re just my active learning strategies)

1. Keyword Scavenger Hunt: In the beginning of class, choose 3-4 key words in the reading. Have the class bring text(s) to class and in small groups have them find the key words and discuss what it means in the context of the material.

2. Question Map: To begin the class, write or post a set of questions or just one and ask students to answer that question using phrases and pages from the text(s). You could even do a more directed activity by giving them page numbers.

3. Time After Time: If you’re teaching a text where a chronology or a timeline is key, print out slips of paper with the different moments. Ask the whole class, or in small groups, to organize the slips of paper in the right order. Then ask students to post up their chronology order in the front of the room for discussion.

Okay, so those are a few that worked really well. When I teach my 75 minute class, I like to break up the time into 2 or 3 segments to keep students’ attention. So what’s really key to these activities is that I use them for the time where I’m going over the content that they’ve just worked with.

So for example:

1. For Keyword Scavenger Hunt: the keywords they work with in the beginning, end up on the slides of my PPT. I ask for their definitions and sharpen it by asking other students to share and then proposing my analysis.

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2. I often ask students for the phrases they found to answer the question presented in the beginning. I usually pair their answers with phrases that I find important. And sometimes, when the goddesses hear my prayers, the phrases on my PPT and their phrases match!

3. Dedicated to Cyndi Lauper, this activity works because often students “go slow” (since they aint’ done none of the reading, ‘cept them ones who’s your ride or dies) and you follow behind. As you go through each group, you’ll find that some of them got it wrong so you’ll use that as a teaching moment and ask the next group who has gotten it correct to explain why.

What I’m tryna say is that the active learning strategies help students touch, read, discuss some part of the text. And I feel like that’s half the battle!

What active learning strategies do you do in class?

Teaching about Transnational Families

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(Photo in New York Magazine, 2007)

Teaching about Transnational Families

In my global sociology class, I teach a unit on migration and mobility, both of capital and people. The unit covers the multinational corporation and flexible labor, export processing zones and zones of sovereignty, constraints on people over capital and ends with the transnational family as a permutation of transnational life engendered by increasing global migration.

The teaching objective of the last class on transnational families is to give students a chance to connect global processes and larger social institutions to the intimate micro relations of the family. Often I assign Hondagneu-Sotelo and Avila‘s canonical piece on transnational motherhood, Parrenas’ piece on long-distance intimacy and my piece on the use of Skype and Facebook in Filipino transnational families. But I could also see assigning any number of chapters from Baldassar and Merla’s new volume on circulation of care in transnational families or Joanna Dreby’s article on children and power in transnational arrangements.

But an assignment that I put together to get students to make the connection between the global and the intimate is to write a reflection paper after the reading and attending class discussion with this prompt:

Write a letter to a child or partner or grandparents left behind in countries like Mexico or the Philippines. Using the complex terms in our class (try to use one or two vocabulary words from this week’s readings or past readings), explain to families left behind the structural forces that produce the phenomena of feminized migration at unprecedented rates and/ or transnational motherhood and families in globalization. Why is there such a huge shift in families under globalization?

I tried this for the first time this past week after teaching this class and this unit for the fourth time. And I have just been overwhelmed by the responses of the students. Perhaps because this is where my research and teaching intersect but the reflections have truly succeeded in meeting my teaching objective for this lesson plan.

I think what’s great about this assignment is that it allows students to connect seemingly abstract, global institutions and processes to the most intimate restructuring and reconfiguration of family life. There might be some ways I’m reifying “family” or “doing family” in this assignment, so chime in on the comment section if there are ways to make it better.

Some letters are excerpted below with the permission of my students. The first is a letter to grandparents, highlighting the multi-generational effect of global migration:

Dear Grandparents of a Migrant Mother,

You probably didn’t expect your life to end up like this. You are getting older, and after years of working hard days and having sleepless nights, you hoped that your work might be easier. After all, you have earned it. Your days of not eating so your children wouldn’t go hungry and staying up to take care of a sick child even though you had an 12 hour work day should be over. After all, your children are grown up.

But here you are. In the house you raised your children in, raising more children. But not your own. Your grandchildren are now in your care. Why? Because their mother is away earning money to support both you and her children. The economy in your country is not creating jobs, especially for hands like yours who have seen centuries of hard labor. Other hands have been creeping into your country, introducing cheaper genetically modified corn and building maquiladoras, desolating your local market while creating impossible choices between poisoning your body or feeding your family.

Contrary to some beliefs, globalization has not given you or your daughter the ability to be in “the drivers seat”. It has given you a bus ticket-you can get off at predetermined destinations. These destinations are your predetermined options that depend on many things-your legal status when traveling to another country, ability to speak another language, and your skill set. For your daughter, her bus ticket has few stops. Because her work visa has long expired and her English is basic, she has options such as housecleaning, washing dishes in a kitchen, or low skilled factory labor.

I’m sure that you will feel some resentment. You raised your daughter to have traditional family values. However, it’s your job now to raise your grandchildren. Sometimes it’s hard, because you can’t chase them down, and they don’t respect you like they should.

Try and understand that your daughter is one of many. One of many mothers torn away from her children because of economic hardship. One of many children leaving their parents and worrying that they will not be able to come to their funeral if they should pass away because of their legal status. One of many women who are scared and vulnerable in a new country where laws and societal norms are often inherently biased against them. Try and remember your daughter as your daughter-the one who you raised, rather than the faceless money order that comes every month. Understand that this is bigger than you or her, a broken hierarchical system entrenched in racism, imperialism, and greed. Raise her children like your own, even though you are tired. Because love has no borders. Family has no borders.

Sincerely,

J

This excerpt is about connecting broken immigration systems and racialized immigration policy in the US:

Maybe your mother is working at a hotel.  She may be changing bed sheets and cleaning bathrooms for people not wealthy by their own country’s standards but with enough money to make it worth it for her.  Maybe she is in a field, picking vegetables so that Americans can have cheap produce.  Either way, she is likely to be earning less than a legal wage in California or wherever else she is.  There’s the curious thing about all of this: here is a woman leaving her home country and family to earn less money than those who grew up there consider suitable, all because this is still thought of as being better than whatever prospects exist at home.

In all likelihood, she is also undocumented.  This means that she is technically in the country illegally and so has little recourse should she be exploited in such a way.  Obviously, you and I both know that she’s done nothing wrong here.  American laws are not written by people like her.  Because of this, she has to contend with avoiding alerting authorities while paying back what she owes for transportation and placement.  She may not even be doing what she figured she would be doing.  Maybe she came to this country thinking that she would be taking care of the sick or elderly and ended up having to do housekeeping work.  This is not uncommon.  The ways the laws are written here allow people like your mother to be exploited.  As is the case with produce especially, much of the American way of life is built on the backs of people like your mother.  We have her to thank, whether she is here legally or not, for the low cost of our luxuries.  The cost is low because it is passed on to her and you.

This excerpt is about the constantly shifting gender ideologies in what RW Connell calls the “world gender order”:

In addition, you may wonder why it is your mom migrating to the US for work and not your father. The best explanation that I can give for this is that larger social constructions of culture see polarize and generalize traditional gender roles between men and women. Women are seen as more submissive and vulnerable, therefore attracting large multinational corporations to favor them as labor workers than men because they may listen more and not resist orders. Because of the “typical nature” of women, they may not form unions as often as men, to fight back these companies as well. Even though your mother has more of a chance here to make money, she is making a sacrifice being away from home and missing family.

Here’s a piece on the history of neoliberal policy in Mexico:

In order to make sense of this I must begin by explaining to you a little bit about your history. Back in the 1990s, the Mexican government agreed to sign NAFTA, and that is an agreement between Canada, the U.S., and Mexico, that would allow for cheaper and easier production and consumption of products and other goods among the three countries. However, NAFTA failed to provide living wages that would allow for families to survive and buy their day-to-day necessities.  NAFTA also undercut social programs like education, health care, and pensions for everyone. As a result many men lost their jobs or were paid so little that the idea of opportunity elsewhere to earn more money, made them risk it all and leave Mexico.

Your mommy then was left behind trying to provide for you and the rest of your family, in the absence of your father. She tried to work at the local companies, but the conditions under which she worked were so terrible, that she could not bear it. Within the local companies, worker’s were paid very little to make tiny things, day after day, without any protection for their well being, knowing that the failure of one worker could easily be replaced by another. Rather than risk getting sick, and not being able to provide for you, your mommy made the difficult decision to find a job in los Estados Unidos.

America Is In the Heart

Empire Bulosan Conference Poster-fullsize

My journey with Carlos Bulosan has been a windy one. I was acquainted with “Allos” (as Bulosan refers to himself in America Is In the Heart) in an undergraduate class called Filipino American literature taught by the indomitable Allyson Tintiangco-Cubales. We had a book a week to read and if my memory serves me correctly, AIH was one of the first books assigned. I remember struggling through the book, just reading it to ensure that I could do the work for class. Not really taking the time to absorb the words, the significance of this man’s writing at the time when he wrote, not losing myself to the history he penned, really, for me–future generations of Filipinos/as in America.

In the past 10 years, since our first meeting, my relationship with Allos has blossomed and withered over and again. Much like the seasons of harvest and planting present in his writing. In the American travels in my heart, from grad school in New York City, post-doc in San Francisco, Allos appeared and disappeared in my classes, in my scholarship, in my imagination. But now, as an assistant professor in Portland, the significance of Allos’ life and words have pushed him to the center of my thinking again as a scholar of Filipinos/as in America and a Filipina American educator working Filipino/a students. Last Monday, at the Filipino American Student Association sa UP screening of the exciting documentary Delano Manongs at the University of Portland, I remembered how powerful it is to connect to Filipino American history and what it meant to me as a 19-something year old to uncover my community’s history as subjugated knowledge, as I learned from the brilliant Dawn Bohulano Mabalon way back when.

In all of this, I reflected about what I’ve been asked to do today at a conference entitled Empire Is In The Heart at the University of Washington, Seattle. I have been asked to reflect back on Allos, his work, his words, and his significance on the centennial anniversary of his birth. What should I say? What could I say about Allos?

Fortunately and unfortunately, I have so much to share. In his short essay called, “The Writer as Worker”, Carlos Bulosan wrote, “…if the writer has any signifiance, it shoudl write about the world in which [s]he lives: interpret [her]his time and evnision the future through his knowledge of historical reality.” Today, I hope to share that the historical reality of migrant farm workers that have their lives and families and communities literally etched into the soil and topography of the West coast of the US, has many parallels to the migrant workers of today who are marking new landscapes of Filipino migrant communities all over the US.

Specifically, the Filipina/o teachers, nurses, hotel workers, and skilled workers  who migrated here in search of stabilizing their families in the Philippines, of a better life for their children and grandchildren. Those who are trafficked into the US, promised one job and then unjustly swapped for another, lower-paid, lower-skilled job. Those who have racked thousands of dollars in debt and are bonded to the obligations to loan sharks, which then gives them no choice but to stay in the US to work in jobs without dignity and become illegalized by the US immigration system.

Allos, this is what I’ll share today. I hope that people will understand that your words, your significance and your writing is still relevant today.

University of the Philippines, Diliman

UPD flyer

On July 2, 2014, I have the honor of sharing my multi-sited research project about Filipino transnational families that have migrant members living in New York City and families in Metro-Manila at a round table discussion hosted by scholars and faculty with the Department of Women and Development Studies at the University of the Philippines. I hope to articulate my arguments about the shifts in the Filipino family form vis-a-vis the Philippine’s Labor Export Policy and forced (and feminized) migration. I’m critical of the Philippine state’s over-reliance on its migration and remittance industry and my aim is to show that, behind its faulty political economics, that families are bearing the brunt of these neoliberal immigration policies.

This opportunity means so much to me because it is so important to me that I can share my work, analysis and theories in the Philippines, where the families in my research study can attend and hear about how I’ve been interpreting their lives in the past years. I am and will continue to be accountable to those who have shared the intimate parts of their lives with me. Moreover, I feel so honored to be in dialogue with the nation’s leading scholars on women and gender studies and development studies.

But of course, I’m excited to be coming home and participating in this round table discussion for other reasons too.

==== Flashback Mode ====

The first time I stepped into the University of the Philippines, Diliman, I felt honored to see the oblation at the entrance, walk the halls of Vinson’s that housed (currently housing and will house) important revolutionary youth and student movements, and see the classrooms of such significant scholars and professors who take seriously the character of “Serve the People”. In 2008, I was just a kid–in my second year of grad school, first time back to the Philippines, first time on an integration trip with the League of Filipino Students (LFS)–and UP Diliman was my first stop. The picture below is of the first UP Diliman friends I made, after a we all marched the streets all day for the People’s SONA. It was not only UP’s educational prestige that took my breath away, it was the way the students and organic intellectuals (such as the Anakbayan chapters organizing in communities on the UP campus, workers and teachers organizing within the UP system, etc.) acted on their knowledge. It was their organizing. It was their commitment to genuine social change that made me a fan of UP. They breathed life into what scholarship looked like and meant for me.

Add sauce to that: my Mama, favorite aunt, cousins (all of whom are in education at some point or another in their careers) are all alumni of the UP system. And I’m such a big fan of these women, to say the least.

In short, I was on that UP hype.

==== Back to reality ====

So yes, if you or your fam or your scholar homie are in the Philippines on July 2, tell them to come check on me at UP Diliman. Ya heard?