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Book Review: Pinoy Capital, The Filipino Nation in Daly City: Part I

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Vergara Jr., Benito M.  2009.  Pinoy Capital: The Filipino Nation in Daly City.  Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

BenitoSunny” M. Vergara’s ethnographic study of Filipinos in Daly City is a very welcomed and much needed academic work centering on one of the more predominate Filipino communities within the United States, Daly City (which lies on the southern border of San Francisco).  When one looks at the back cover one sees a quote by Martin Manalansan who states that “Pinoy Capital is a colorful and nuanced ethnographic foray into the social institutions and quotidian lives of Filipino Americans living in Daly City.”

Upon reading that description my internal thought process was:

What?  What the fuck?

It’s an “ethnographic foray into the social institutions and quotidian lives” of Filipinos?  What the fuck is “quotidian?”  I gotta get a dictionary!

Ah!  “Quotidian” means “ordinary” and “daily occurring.”

Fucking academics and their God damned use of thirteenth century Middle English!

(Anyways, I digress, and no need to worry, as Vergara doesn’t needlessly throw out words such as “quotidian” in his book)

At first, Vergara states, he had “specifically planned to investigate homesickness and nostalgia, to look at the conditions under which they emerged and at the objects of immigrants’ longing” (170) but it soon morphed into something more (which I am thankful for).  Essentially, Vergara studies the attitudes of Filipinos (most of whom are immigrants) in Daly City and how they relate to their new status of immigrants in the U.S. and how it relates to their previous status of Filipino citizens living in the Philippines.  He also engages with transnational migration theory and with other Asian and Filipino scholars and their views of the Filipino migrant community in the U.S. and the relationship between the former U.S. colony of the Philippines and the U.S.

Chapters are structured quite well and offer new and different insights into the subjects tackled in each one.  Chapter One essentially covers the colonial history of the Philippines, the post-1965 migration patterns toward the U.S., a brief survey of what it means to be “Filipino,” “Filipino American,” and “Pinoy,” and he also questions transnational theory by arguing that “transnationalism…can be seen simply as a continuation of quite old processes” (19).

Chapter Two is a brief overview and history of Daly City, complete with statistics on the Filipino community there.  Chapter Three covers Filipino’s attitudes “toward living in America” and the “material hurdles and restrictions on immigration and conceptions of self” that his interviewees have had (and continue) to navigate (6).  Chapter Four “is centered on an ethnographic analysis of the Philippine News” a Filipino newspaper based in the United States and which has its headquarters in the San Francisco Bay Area.  Much of his book is spent on analyzing how Filipinos in the United States “look back” at the Philippines and also stay grounded as people living within the U.S.  Chapter Five demonstrates how Filipinos in the U.S. had (and have) a discourse of “responsibility” toward the Philippines and how “responsibility” was “utilized by some members of the Filipino community in the United States during the Marcos dictatorship” (7) and the competing ideologies at play within the community at that time (and which are still in play today).  In Chapter Six Vergara brings “together various instances, drawing from both the United States and the Philippines, that illuminate the variety of ways which class intersects with definitions” of “Filipinoness” and who is “authentically” Filipino and who isn’t (8).  It is in Chapter Seven were Vergara delves deeper into aspects of homesickness and nostalgia and the “material reasons for immigration” to the U.S. (8).

In the conclusion, Chapter Eight, the author considers the roles of “nationalism, belonging, ethnic solidarity, and political involvement” and their roles with Filipino “identity” in Daly City (9).  He also (obviously) sums up his argument on why transnational theory, in many places, seems to be off the mark and how his ethnographic study of Filipinos in Daly City (and as well as the realities of global capitalism) show this.

I enjoyed the book of my former San Francisco State University professor immensely and look forward to engaging with it more fully in Part II of this review.  This is where I will highlight the agreements and disagreements I have with the book as well as show some of the more illuminating areas of study which I think Vergara has helped in contributing to Asian American studies and to studies on the Filipino population (in general) within the U.S. and the Bay Area.

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