Academic journal article MELUS

Payback Time: Neocolonial Discourses in Peter Bacho's Cebu

Academic journal article MELUS

Payback Time: Neocolonial Discourses in Peter Bacho's Cebu

Article excerpt

Filipino American writers share similar narrative strategies for critiquing neocolonialism, strategies which may be broadly understood as the dialogizing of otherwise authoritative discourses of Western European and US imperialism. They repeat the words used to legitimize Spanish and US rule over the Philippines not to mimic and accept their alleged truth, but to expose their function in absorbing Filipino Americans into a white vision of transnational capitalism and racial hierarchy. (1) When colonial discourses reside in the language of the neocolonial subject, dialogization further implicates these discourses in the construction of neocolonial order and exposes them as obstacles to Filipino American representation and agency.

In Peter Bacho's Cebu (1991), the first novel about a Filipino American who identifies primarily with US localities, (2) colonial discourses of Spanish Catholicism and US historical pedagogy pervade the disrupted bildungsroman of a young priest struggling to repress his sexuality and deny his Filipino legacy. The colonial discourses constituting the narrative voice hybridize the Filipino American subjectivity; their dialogizing through tragedy exposes these discourses as cultural tools for assimilating Filipino Americans into imperial culture. In my reading of Cebu, I locate the discourses' plot corollary in the imperial theme of innocence. Ben Luccro, the assimilated Filipino American protagonist, attempts to secure his sexually and historically freighted innocence. He aligns himself with Spanish and US colonial discourses represented by, respectively, celibacy and historical amnesia, and he evades what he perceives as a foreign Filipino discourse represented by utang na loob, or reciprocal indebtedness. Tragedy ensues as Ben tries to separate the mutually constitutive discourses of imperialism and gets entangled in the logical and violent consequence of utang na loob: revenge. I conclude with a brief discussion of what Bacho proposes as an alternative discourse of Filipino American representation and agency.

Resisting Development: The Bildungsroman as a Genre of US Imperialism

"US Filipinos," observes Oscar V. Campomanes, "have not produced enough best-selling or retrievable bildungsroman and narratives of 'becoming American,' with all the troubled quests that such essentially developmentalist emplotments represent" (Gonzalez & Campomanes 77). (3) Cebu maintains this pattern of troubled developmental narratives. If the ethnic bildungsroman features a US-born protagonist who attempts to resolve his ethnic identity crisis by visiting his parents' homeland to discover his Old World roots, in Cebu the protagonist goes to his parents' homeland, rejects its culture, experiences an identity crisis which is not explicitly ethnic, then flees back to the US. "A Bildung," writes Franco Moretti, "is truly such only if, at a certain point, it can be seen as concluded: only if youth passes into maturity, and comes there to stop there" (26). But Cebu ends with the protagonist's perceived innocence failing to pass into self-awareness.

Bacho himself has noted this Filipino resistance to bildung and contrasts Filipino American literature with Asian American literature, which he claims "at the very least holds out hope of resolution":

   such hope is often missing from the fiction of Filipino writers.
   Given the penchant of many Filipino writers to use in their works
   Substantial doses of Philippine and Filipino American reality, it is
   hardly any wonder that success is such an elusive goal. instead,
   such writers tend to celebrate the protagonist's decision to act as
   we readers applaud the choice while bracing ourselves for the
   inevitable disappointment or demise. ("Tragic" 5)

The "Philippine and Filipino American reality" in which Bacho locates the tendencies of Filipino American plots towards tragedy is the Philippines' history of Spanish and US colonialism and its present neocolonial dependency on the United States. …

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