In episode 148 of Imagine Otherwise, host Cathy Hannabach sits down with Josen Masangkay Diaz, an associate professor of ethnic studies and women’s and gender studies at the University of San Diego and a core member of Asian Solidarity Collective.
Josen’s new book Postcolonial Configurations: Dictatorship, the Racial Cold War, and Filipino America analyzes Filipino American social formations through a study of Philippine–US Cold War politics.
In their conversation, Josen and Cathy explore the role of race, nation, and gender during the Cold War, particularly how they were renegotiated in the wake of decolonization and the postcolonial nation-building projects that followed.
They discuss Josen’s research into how postcolonial projects undertaken during the Ferdinand Marcos dictatorship as well as during various US presidencies transformed relations in the Transpacific. These projects bound together cultural diplomacy, immigration law, and humanitarianism with struggles over political and economic influence in the region.
They also delve into the politics of what it means to name and remember the intimate interactions between fascist authoritarianism and liberal democracy.
Memory is something we get into in detail, both the power relations inherent in what is remembered and how—on both national and transnational scales—but also how memory and memorialization are key sites for resistance as folks remake what Filipino America means today.
In this episode
- Cold War relations between the US and the Philippines
- The intimate relationship between fascist authoritarianism and liberal democracy
- New racial and gender roles under the Ferdinand Marcos dictatorship
- Building an anti-fascist world through transnational solidarity
Josen Masangkay Diaz is an associate professor of ethnic studies and affiliated faculty in women’s and gender studies at the University of San Diego. Her research and teaching center on subjectivity, colonialism, liberalism, and authoritarianism.
Her book Postcolonial Configurations: Dictatorship, the Racial Cold War, and Filipino America (Duke University Press, 2023), analyzes Filipino American social formations through a study of Philippine–US Cold War politics.
Her current project theorizes Filipinx labor as a modality for studying political crises across locations and historical periods.
Josen is also a core member of Asian Solidarity Collective, a grassroots organization in San Diego that builds political education programs toward solidarity movements.
- Erin Durban on the Sexual Politics of Empire
- Mark Villegas on Collaborative Abundance in Hip-Hop Cultures
- Vince Schleitwiler on Afro–Asian Activist Coalitions
- Sony Coráñez Bolton’s Crip Colony: Mestizaje, US Imperialism, and the Queer Politics of Disability in the Philippines
- Allan E. S. Lumba’s Monetary Authorities: Capitalism and Decolonization in the American Colonial Philippines
- Mark Villegas’s Manifest Technique: Hip Hop, Empire, and Visionary Filipino American Culture
Teaching and learning resources
- Ferdinand Marcos and Marcos dictatorship
- Martial law under Ferdinand Marcos
- Imelda Marcos
- Bongbong Marcos
- The Philippines: A Neocolonial Experience
- Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965
- Balikbayan boxes on 99 Percent Invisible
- Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos’s 1966 state visit to Washington, DC
- Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts
- Manila Summit Conference (1966)
- Many Flags campaign
- Philippine Refugee Processing Center in Bataan, Philippines
- Refugee Act of 1980
[00:00:00] Cathy Hannabach: Welcome to Imagine Otherwise, the podcast about bridging art, activism, and academia to build more just futures.
[00:00:12] I’m Cathy Hannabach, and today we’re taking a look at the complex relationship between the United States and the Philippines during the Cold War and how that history shapes Filipino America.
[00:00:23] I sit down with Josen Masangkay Diaz, an associate professor of ethnic studies and women and gender studies at the University of San Diego, as well as a core member of the Asian Solidarity Collective.
[00:00:34] Josen’s new book, Postcolonial Configurations: Dictatorship, the Racial Cold War, and Filipino America, analyzes Filipino American social formations through a study of Philippine–US Cold War politics.
[00:00:47] In our conversation, Josen and I explore the role of race, nation, and gender during the Cold War, particularly how they were renegotiated in the wake of decolonization and the postcolonial nation-building projects that followed.
[00:01:01] We discuss Josen’s research into how postcolonial projects undertaken during the Ferdinand Marcos dictatorship as well as during various US presidencies transformed relations across the Transpacific.
[00:01:14] These projects bound together cultural diplomacy, immigration law, and humanitarianism with struggles over political and economic influence in the region.
[00:01:24] We also delve into the politics of what it means to name and remember the intimate interactions between fascist authoritarianism and liberal democracy.
[00:01:34] Memory is something that we get into in detail, both the power relations inherent in what is remembered and how—on both national and transnational scales—but also how memory and memorialization are key sites for resistance as folks remake what Filipino America means today.
[00:01:55] Thank you so much for being with us.
[00:01:57] Josen Masangkay Diaz: Sure. It’s great to be here.
[00:01:59] Cathy Hannabach: Your new book, Postcolonial Configurations explores the pretty complicated relationship between the United States and the Philippines during the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos from the 1960s through the 1980s. What are some of the key flashpoints in that relationship that you analyze across the chapters of the book?
[00:02:19] Josen Masangkay Diaz: One of the things I try to get at is that the US–Philippine relationship isn’t just a colonial/neocolonial one, but it’s one that was, I think, made more complex and really evolved through the politics of the period.
And so that includes things like Cold War counterinsurgency concerns around postcolonial sovereignty, concerns around nation-building, and the utility of authoritarian rule—not just for Marcos but also for the United States.
[00:02:49] I focus on a few key points that encapsulate a lot of those things that I’m interested in and concerned with.
The first is the US Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. It coincided with when Marcos was elected. As a lot of us know, it ended some of the most restrictive immigration mandates on the books in the United States, including national quotas.
That really set the stage for the influx of new immigrants from Asia, from Latin America, and an entirely new Filipino American diaspora.
I’m interested in it because it also aligned with some of the Philippine governmental programs and reforms that were passed under Marcos, including the Balikbayan Program of 1973, which gave visiting Filipinos from the United States and from Western Europe privileges and access to things that other people in the Philippines didn’t have access to.
I look at that relationship, what the US Immigration and Nationality Act did in ways that coincided with some of the more liberal reforms Marcos passed during his presidency.
I am also deeply, strangely fascinated with Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos’s visit to Washington, DE—their state visit in September of 1966. This was right after Marcos was elected as the presidency.
[00:04:06] Here, the Marcoses are negotiating with President Lydon B. Johnson over things like financial support. They’re negotiating about things like Philippine support during the Vietnam War, but they’re also introducing Marcos to the global stage as this kind of new strong man in Asia, as this person who is capable of taking the Philippines to new heights, of establishing some collaborative relationships throughout the Transpacific.
[00:04:39] So I think that’s a really important visit. But it’s also this visit when Imelda Marcos visits the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. According to her, it’s a catalyst for imagining cultural programs, humanities and arts programs, in the Philippines as well. She has this wild story where she explains to Rockefeller that this is what she wants to do.
[00:05:05] She wants to build her own Lincoln Center in the Philippines. It embodies their ambition but also this way of imagining the Philippines that other leaders, according to them, had previously not done. I’m really fascinated by that example. Right after the state visit, the Marcos hold the Manila Summit in the Philippines in October of 1966. This was part of Johnson’s Many Flags effort to bolster international support for the US war in Vietnam.
[00:05:35] The people in attendance were, of course, Johnson, but also presidents from Thailand, New Zealand, Australia, South Korea, and South Vietnam. It was a kind of Transpacific PR campaign for Johnson about showing the kinds of support that he supposedly had in Asia. But in a lot of ways it was also for the Marcoses a kind of celebration of the Philippines’s arrival to the new world order.
[00:06:02] They pulled out all the stops. They made it into a barrio fiesta, into a festival of performing their rise to power. All of those examples in the book embody for me how the US–Philippine relationship in some ways stays the same from earlier decades but is also starting to shift and change as well during the Cold War.
[00:06:25] Cathy Hannabach: In the US at least, and in a lot of other countries as well, the Cold War is often represented, particularly in hindsight, as primarily a political and economic battle over communism. But what I think is fascinating about the particular case studies that you look at in the book is you show how central race and gender and culture were to the Cold War, both in the Philippines and in the US.
[00:06:45] This was not just a political and economic phenomenon. What was one of the most surprising examples that you found in your research into how race and gender operated in that context?
[00:07:00] Josen Masangkay Diaz: As you say, the Cold War is often represented as one that focuses on threat, on the question of communism.
[00:07:04] But for me, it’s always also encapsulated all the battles and discourses that that threat makes possible. I see the Cold War as a period where language and the representation of race and gender start to shift and change in really meaningful ways. For me, my most interesting example is the building and the construction of the Philippine Refugee Processing Center in Bataan in 1980.
[00:07:29] This coincides with the passage of the Refugee Act in the United States as well. I think this complicates the US refugee relationship to show how Filipino teachers in particular are operating as a kind of intermediary between US benevolence, on the one hand, and refugees as the object of freedom and liberty, on the other hand.
[00:07:50] Filipino teachers were showing the world, in some ways, the success of the colonial model by teaching English, by teaching Western cultural norms. It’s important to note that English has been such a key aspect of the US colonial model in the Philippines. In my chapter that focuses on the refugee processing center, I show how English teachers were also wrapped up in a kind of affective work, which is coded as feminine labor.
[00:08:10] I take the conversation about care work, which is important within Filipino studies, and put it within the context of refugee rehabilitation to show how the labor of care is actually fulfilling but also confounding the bigger refugee project.
[00:08:33] It’s also showing us the complex relationship between the teacher and the refugee. I think there’s a relationship there that disrupts the project of rehabilitation. It’s one of the more pressing examples of how we see race and gender shift in the context of the Cold War and how we see it take shape in interesting ways in Asia and in the Philippines in particular.
[00:08:58] Cathy Hannabach: In that chapter about refugee education and another chapter about the figure of the New Filipina, which was invented in this same period, you look at humanitarianism and human rights—both as instruments that have been enormously helpful for progressive social movements in the Philippines and in the US but have also been deployed by conservative regimes both in the Philippines and in the US to justify all kinds of violences from neocolonial occupation to martial law to eugenicist population control.
[00:09:26]. What do you hope readers come away from those chapters understanding about humanitarianism and human rights?
[00:09:40] Josen Masangkay Diaz: I love this question, Cathy. I think it’s exactly as you say: it’s both/and.
[00:09:44] Human rights activists were and continue to be key in organizing campaigns again against the dictatorship, against the corrupt regimes throughout the Philippines. They were incredibly instrumental in shedding light on the human rights abuses that were happening throughout the 1970s and the 1980s.
[00:10:02] In my book, I’m also thinking about the ways that Marcos tries to get around these critiques in a lot of his speeches and his writing, much of which was actually written by ghost writers. He goes through a definition of the human and humanity that’s seeking to justify his power. He’s saying that these development programs will get Filipinos closer to the idealized human condition, so he tries to cultivate ideas about the human that are trying to justify his own rule.
[00:10:30] He, as well as Imelda Marcos, are talking about human rights as a distinctly Western formation. Like, what do they know about what we’re going through? He is spending some time trying to lay out to a public how human rights itself is a kind of colonial or imperialist position. He’s trying to come up with his own definition of the human and humanity.
[00:10:54] In my study of the Filipino Refugee Processing Center, I focus on Western ideas of humanitarianism that think of humanity as something to be bestowed upon the refugee, something to be given. But I also see the relationship between the teacher and the refugee- student as something that’s much more complicated.
[00:11:13] Within the processing center, for example, there are these hierarchies of the human that get torn apart, for instance, when the teacher and the student start to think about their affinities with each other, when they start to think of themselves as rooted in shared experiences of war. It really upends what our definitions of the human are, what they are rooted in, and in what ways they are no longer helpful.
[00:11:35] Some of the people that I’m studying are trying to redefine what human rights mean. In the end, I hope readers follow me through that analysis of the limits and possibilities of human rights.
[00:11:52] Cathy Hannabach: Another key theme that I’ve noticed across this book is memory, and specifically how national memory and one’s personal memory often diverge and cohere and make a mess of both of those things, particularly when you’re dealing with the wake of really heavy events like colonialism, martial law, and war—declared or otherwise.
[00:12:07] How do you see memory and memorialization shaping Filipino American politics today?
[00:12:22] Josen Masangkay Diaz: I begin the book by talking about memorials, and I try to argue that Filipino America is a type of memorialization.
[00:12:32] The ways we choose to remember don’t just come up in the monuments we put up or the days we commemorate. It’s also about how we think and name Filipino America, what that means in relation to other political struggles. So what happens if we think about the election of Bongbong Marcos—Ferdinand Marcos’s son who was just elected to the presidency?
[00:12:53] What happens when we think about that election as a Filipino American issue and not as a Filipino issue only? I think it lends itself to reflecting on the consistency of US–Philippine politics, about the efficacy and importance of transnational organizing, about how race actually operates both within but also outside the US context.
[00:13:18] Throughout the book, I try to think about Filipino America as something that’s not only prefigured as diaspora. Filipino America doesn’t just name a diaspora. It’s actually more apt to think about it as a contentious and shifting set of relationships that become solidified for a particular purpose during the Cold War.
[00:13:37] This helped me think about Filipino America as having a more intimate connection with other struggles for self-determination throughout Asia, throughout other places, and struggles against settler colonialism in the Transpacific. It’s more important for me to think about it in that way as opposed to this static thing that only exists within one specific geographic, diasporic context.
[00:14:06] Cathy Hannabach: I think the way that you’re reframing a lot of these questions that might be familiar to folks within Filipino American studies, within Filipino studies, within a range of related fields, is giving a new way to conceptualize events that perhaps we think we already understand or we already know. In many ways, you’re reimagining what those things have meant to people, what they mean to current people, and what they can mean differently in the future.
[00:14:35] I think it’s a really interesting example of imagining otherwise, of rethinking what we want the world to be. So in the spirit of that, and in the spirit of this podcast, I’ll ask you the giant question that I love to end every interview with: What is that world that you’re working toward when you’re doing this kind of research, when you’re doing this kind of teaching, when you’re doing the work that you do in the world? What kind of world do you want?
[00:15:02] Josen Masangkay Diaz: It’s such an important and such a great question. I think it’s helpful to come back to that question even as we may lose it through some of the more intricate parts of our research. I want an anti-fascist world, that’s the one I want. I want one that allows for creativity, allows for self-determination, allows for hope to thrive.
[00:15:25] The question about memory is such a key one for me. I try to work toward a world that remembers. What I mean by that is not just trying to return to some past bygone time, but joining others in the work toward a world that envisions lifeworlds that we haven’t yet realized but we dream about and we know is possible.
[00:15:44] It’s not something we see exist, but we know it’s there. I’m trying to work toward a world that isn’t concerned with heroes, necessarily, but in the everyday work of cultivating and practicing forms of lifemaking that are rooted in care. They’re rooted in collectivity and relationships where we understand our lives as intertwined with others, that take us outside of ourselves.
[00:16:06] Cathy Hannabach: Well, thank you so much for being with us and sharing all of these ways that you imagine otherwise.
[00:16:13] Josen Masangkay Diaz: Thank you so much, Cathy. I really appreciate it.
[00:16:17] Cathy Hannabach: Thanks for joining me for this episode of Imagine Otherwise, and a big thanks as well to Josen for sharing her work. You can learn more about Josen’s new book, Postcolonial Configurations, as well as her other projects on our website at ideasonfire.net, where you’ll also find a teaching guide for this episode as well as related books and resources.
[00:16:37] Want to support Imagine Otherwise? We would love it if you would share this episode with a friend or consider teaching it in your classroom. You can also subscribe to the show wherever you get your podcasts.