Review of Pinoy Capital, Part II: The Landscape of Daly City
Vergara Jr., Benito M. 2009. Pinoy Capital: The Filipino Nation in Daly City. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
In chapters two and three Vergara looks at the history of Daly City, its geography, and the complexities and ambiguities of the Filipino population within its porous boarders. Among one of the prominent themes within the book (and these chapters) is that the “members of the Filipino community in Daly City are marked by a repeated turning, their focus towards the homeland accompanied by a complementary and contradictory turn to their adoptive homes even before their arrival” (45). This brings up many complications and controversies within the Filipino community in Daly City as it touches upon issues of identity politics and local politics (60-67) and how many of these came to the fore within the community during the city council elections of 1993 when 1.5 generation immigrant Michael Guingona ran against 1st generation immigrant Mario Panoringan (more on that latter).
First, more on Daly City.
Opening up Chapter Two Vergara appropriately writes, “If you drive down California’s Skyline Highway a little too fast, you might miss Daly City altogether” (23). Daly City, a fogged soaked and frigid city on the southern border of its looming neighbor, San Francisco, is a population of over 100,000 people with Filipinos comprising around 36 percent of the population (24). Despite its prominence within the Philippines and the Filipino American community as being the “Pinoy Capital” of the U.S. there are no simple answers “for how Daly City grew to attract so many Pinoy residents” (34).
Throughout the chapter Vergara goes over the history of the suburb from being a farming community during the 1920s up until World War II to becoming “the cliché of the poorly planned suburb, much scorned by city planners” and inviting criticism of the city as being nothing more than just a bunch of “Little Boxes” upon the hills (29). Another aspect he illuminates for us is the general “invisibility” of Daly City as being “recognized, or recognizable, by so-called mainstream white America as an ethnic enclave” for Filipinos (36).
In explaining the reasons why some people perceive Daly City as not being recognized by the “mainstream” (read, white people) as a Filipino City, Vergara gets into some of his first major observations and comments within the book. Vergara states that certain community leaders and scholars have seen the Filipino American community’s “regionalism” as the reason for “the impossibility of political and ‘national’ unity” (38) and that many “Pinoy immigrants ‘keep to themselves’” (ibid.).
While these explanations seem attractive (and I’ve heard both of them floating around the community, along with others) Vergara sees them as ultimately superficial explanations that do not “allow for the complexity of identity formation, particularly within the immigrant context” (39). In fact, the lack of a “Little Manila,” as it where, within Daly City probably has more to do “with the neighborhood regulations and zoning laws than ‘Filipino culture’” (40). This foray into the community’s views on “Filipino culture” and politics leads us into Chapter Three of the book when Vergara recounts the turbulent 1993 elections of Daly City and how all of these aspects manifested themselves within certain segments of the Filipino community of Daly City.
Much of Chapter Three involves Vergara explaining the sense of “looking forward” toward the U.S. The U.S. looms large in the lives of immigrants from all over the world and this is no different in the Philippines. Conjuring up W.E.B. Du Bois’ theory of double consciousness Vergara states that for Filipino immigrants in “the United States, a sense of doubleness haunts” their lives and “this doubleness also clearly manifests itself in the Philippines, from which it derives its origins; there, an American life was a distinct, and not even particularly distant, possibility” (47).
This doubleness, between “loyalties” toward the Philippines and the U.S. are sharp but are also very muddled. Vergara says that a major theme running throughout his interviews was that of ambivalence. “The repeated turning can be thought of as a form of ambivalence: one looks ‘forward’ and looks ‘back,’ as if unsure of one’s place—or more concretely, as if uncertain of one’s decision to immigrate” (ibid.).
This ambivalence toward coming to the U.S. (obviously) still manifests itself within the U.S. Especially when many of Vergara’s interviewees would talk about “‘cultural’ differences between Filipinos and Filipino Americans (i.e., those Philippine-born and American-born) to illustrate the comparison between the two countries…Cultural differences between immigrant and native-born, particularly when seen in relation to language, constitute the kernal of the immigrant predicament: to maintain a complicated balance between Filipino and American identities” (61).
This ambivalence and doubleness is important for Vergara’s trajectory throughout his book, it seems, as it contributes to his critique of transnational theory and how it relates to migration and identity and also toward his contribution as to how he frames the Filipino community within Daly City and the Bay Area. As transnational theory is dependent upon seeing this globalized world as a new paradigm, with migrant labor seemingly being able to fluidly cross national borders at all times, Vergara reminds us of the realities of everyday life for migrants (and that borders are, in reality, often insurmountable obstacles to cross). Instead of having a seamlessly fluid identity there is much complexity in how Filipinos in Daly City see themselves. Part of this has to do with the way many his interviewees actually have very static and rigid views of identity and what constitutes being “Filipino” and being “white-washed.”
These ambiguities, perhaps, lead to the view that there is an “absence of solidarity” within the Filipino community in the U.S. (74). Certain Filipinos in Daly City view their community as having a “crab mentality” in where people pull each other down and look “down on their fellow immigrants who arrived more recently” to the U.S. (77). This is in contrast, many state, to the Philippines were numerous interviewees stated they felt a greater sense of community and solidarity with their fellow citizens. This subject, however, is tackled latter on in Chapter Six “Betrayal and Belonging” and is contributed, by Vergara, to a definite middle-class mentality and by Filipino popular culture which shows Filipinos who immigrant to America as those who lack appreciation for their homeland and end up losing their “Filipinoness” on their journey to America.
The way these attitudes played themselves out, in more concrete terms, was during the 1993 city council elections for Daly City. Which Vergara says were “one of the most closely watched, and most contentious, in recent Daly City history. It also became the most divisive issue among the Pinoy community in Daly City since the Marcos regime” (68).
Much of the election Royal Rumble (as it were) and the view that Filipinos in Daly City needed to become “more involved” with politics and voting could be framed as the results of the ambiguities of being a Filipino immigrant within the U.S. and in holding “dual allegiances” toward the Philippines and the U.S. and what these means for one’s identity.
“What made the Daly City elections unique” was the “specifically cultural matters on which the candidates were judged, and on which the campaign hinged” (73). One major cultural factor that certain folks within the Filipino community in Daly City seemed to focus on was language and that because Michael Guingona (who won the election) couldn’t speak a Filipino language he was not truly “Filipino.” People within the community zeroed in on other “specific traits” of Guingona and his opponent and which of these traits fit their static models of “being Filipino” (ibid.).
While Vergara does answer some of the misconceptions of Filipinos viewing themselves as having a “crab mentality” and not being interested in politics within the U.S. he tends to save his answers for his analysis much later on within the book. Partly, the reason why Filipinos haven’t been represented in large numbers among Bay Area councils and governments has to do with the fact that “other Asian American groups have been in the United States longer and in greater numbers, and so have had better opportunities to establish themselves politically” (124).
In chapters four and five Vergara looks at consumerism, identity, and the anti-Marcos movement during the 1970s and 1980s. It’s also, for me, one of the more interesting sections of the book which I will cover in Part III of this review.