A Preface to “Typhoon Haiyan: A Critical Filipina/o Perspective”
Amanda Solomon Amorao
On behalf of the Critical Filipina and Filipino Studies Collective (CFFSC), we offer “Typhoon Haiyan Relief: A Critical Filipina/o Perspective” for inclusion in the Center for Art and Thought’s exhibition powerfully reflecting on the one-year anniversary of the devastation. Collaboratively written and digitally circulated, “Typhoon Haiyan Relief” was itself born out of a similar virtual gathering space that attempted to reckon with the history, tragedy and mass loss incurred in the immediate aftermath of the storm. The paper’s genesis can be traced to the CFFSC listserv, which in November 2013 had just been revitalized by renewed interest in continuing the work of the collective. Through emails, phone calls, and Google drives, a broad group of Filipina and Filipino American scholar-activists challenged the possessive individualism of academic writing and publishing and instead committed themselves to finding new and creative ways to collaborate and circulate an anti-imperialist critique of the preconditions of Haiyan’s landfall and the continuing neoliberal politics of aid. “Typhoon Haiyan Relief: A Critical Filipina/o Perspective” thus not only embodies the praxis of the CFFSC but also has affinities with the proliferation of creative and cultural responses to Haiyan that emerged in Filipina/o communities in the United States, responses that attempted to imagine and enact a decolonized and anti-capitalist Philippine society emerging from the waters of Haiyan.
The CFFSC’s roots are located in the scholar-activist work of a critical mass of Bay Area-based graduate students, many of whom had been involved in the tenure campaign for Oscar Campomanes in UC Berkeley’s Department of English and in the fight for Filipino Studies on campus generally during the 1990s. This group of students eventually evolved into the first iteration of CFFSC as they joined the post-9/11 anti-war mobilizations convened by the “Filipinos for Global Justice Not War” Coalition and supported immigrant workers targeted by reactionary and xenophobic homeland security actions. For more than ten years, individuals in the collective and the collective as a whole continued their work as scholar-activists and activist-scholars to interrogate and challenge histories of Western imperialisms (both Spanish and U.S.), as well as ongoing neocolonial and militarized relations in the Philippines and their relationship to past and present Filipina/o migrations through their research, teaching, and mobilizations both within the university and beyond it. “Typhoon Haiyan: A Critical Filipina/o Perspective” is thus another expression of the Collective’s praxis in a similar vein as the group’s 2004 “Resisting Homeland Security: Organizing Against Unjust Removals of U.S. Filipinos.”
While “Typhoon Haiyan Relief: A Critical Filipina/o Perspective” primarily addresses the social, economic, and political dimensions of Haiyan relief, its analysis and call for community-based alternatives have affinities with the critically productive creativity that defined communal, cultural, and artistic responses to the aftermath of Haiyan in Filipina/o American communities throughout the U.S. We therefore have included art and images from many of these events to demonstrate their diversity and scope. In particular, we discuss below examples of responses and events from Southern California, the San Francisco Bay Area, and the Pacific Northwest that demonstrate a critical Filipina/o perspective in decidedly non-academic ways and spaces. While members of the CFFSC may have been engaged in the organizing of these events, what truly connects them to “Typhoon Haiyan: A Critical Filipina/o Perspective” are the events’ implicit critique of the conditions that lead to the destruction as well as the calls for alternative modes of relief grounded in self-determination for all those in the homeland.
In our first example from San Diego, California, a broad coalition of not just Filipina/o organizations but also pan-Asian community groups, labor unions and even the San Diego City Mayor’s office came together for a candlelight vigil on December 6, 2013. (See the accompanying flyer image for the full listing of organizations.) During the vigil, prayers and testimonies were offered as well as a performance of “Bayan Ko” by representatives of Kabataang Maka-Bayan: San Diego (KMB: SD) while vigil participants held images of Haiyan victims and signs calling for justice in the Philippines. What ultimately links this community event to “Typhoon Haiyan: A Critical Filipina/o Perspective” is that it was hosted at the union hall of the United Domestic Workers, AFSCME Local 3930. The noticeable presence of domestic workers was a visceral reminder of the feminization of Philippine immigration and the Filipina’s labor maintaining the private spaces and families of the global north from Hong Kong to Italy to Los Angeles. The image of domestic workers lighting candles in San Diego to mourn family members lost in the Philippines was a powerful visual critique of the conditions in the archipelago that demand one’s out-migration in order to earn the money necessary to maintain one’s own family left behind, conditions that are clearly related to the “man-made” aspects of “natural” disasters outlined in the paper. The organizers and participants of the event indicated as much when it was announced that money collected that night by the Asian Pacific American Labor Association would be donated to the relief efforts of the National Alliance of Filipino Concerns (NAFCON), emphasizing the necessity of supporting organizations that work directly with communities most affected and that do not pursue a militarized and capitalistic agenda for rebuilding.
The San Francisco Bay Area was perhaps the epicenter for grassroots relief efforts as it is home to NAFCON’s national office. CFFSC as an organization and many of its members have worked closely with NAFCON on multiple issues because its grassroots, people-to-people approach to relief and rehabilitation offers an alternative to aid facilitated by the Philippine state and other major organizations. CFFSC is skeptical and critical of the militarized and neoliberal logics that characterize mainstream aid channels; hence in “Typhoon Haiyan Relief: A Critical Filipina/o Perspective,” CFFSC endorses NAFCON as one of the alternative formations through which concerned people can direct their donations. Though it runs on a shoestring budget and an entirely volunteer staff, NAFCON managed to gain national popularity as an alternative mechanism for aid in large part through social media. With several “raptivists” (activist-identified rappers) like Prometheus Brown (of the Blue Scholars), Kiwi Illafonte (formerly with Native Guns) and Nomi (Power Struggle) counted amongst its members and supporters, NAFCON’s relief efforts were soon retweeted by major hip hop artists, including Macklemore, with whom these “raptivists” are networked. That social media (Twitter, Instagram and Facebook) became one of the primary means by which information on NAFCON’s grassroot diasporic relief efforts were proliferated is perhaps not surprising. Yet the range and diversity of the networks to which NAFCON is linked as well as the textual and visual representations that circulated on these networks (linked together by #taskforcehaiyan and its variants) reflect unusual and unexpected creative communities and responses to Haiyan. As the accompanying flyers designed by Kirby Araullo demonstrate, Filipina/o college and university students throughout the greater Bay Area, such as campuses like the University of California Davis, took the initiative not only to organize fundraising drives and memorial events for typhoon victims, but also to seriously consider the racial and imperial politics of aid. CFFSC members and “Typhoon Haiyan: A Critical Filipina/o Perspective,” to be sure, helped to shape those conversations.
As in Southern California and the Bay Area, Typhoon Haiyan’s destruction was a unifying catalyst in the Pacific Northwest. In Portland, Oregon, for example, a small, unassuming group of Filipina/o immigrants and Filipina/o American students and professionals joined together to form the Portland Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines (PCHRP). Anticipating the typhoon’s disastrous effects a day or two before Haiyan’s landfall, PCHRP began to reach out to its networks in the area to gather support. Some members with family in Tacloban, Leyte and the Visayas feared the worst as they intimately knew of the lack of infrastructure and development in the area that had led them and other migrants to leave the Eastern Visayas initially. When photos and footage of the disaster emerged after Haiyan’s landfall, PCHRP led the effort to form the Portland Emergency Relief Task Force for the Philippines, otherwise known as PDX Relief, in coalition with multi-racial and Filipina/o organizations that endorsed alternative sources of donation, including NAFCON and other international aid organizations. Local artist Raul Menchavez created the coalition’s logo with a bird symbolizing hope and a sun alluding to the Philippine flag.
This logo became a unifying image that groups and individuals in Portland could embrace and deploy as they organized their own cultural events to raise funds and awareness about the typhoon’s devastation. As other visual productions began to emerge, such as the candlelight vigil poster from Seattle, they were defined by recurring themes of hope and action that brought together broader publics and inspired the communities in the Pacific Northwest. While organizations like PCHRP, Gabriela Seattle, Anakbayan Seattle and Alay Ng Kultura (many of which are in the NAFCON network) produced various visuals and hosted events, the critical hope espoused by all these groups was defined by a shared analysis of the social and political “man-made” conditions that ravaged the Eastern Visayas before and after the typhoon struck. These communities in the Pacific Northwest were skeptical of directing donations through the Philippine government and often expressed disappointment with the Philippine administration’s lethargic response in terms of relief and rehabilitation. Organizations such as the ones listed above used CFFSC’s “Typhoon Haiyan Relief: A Critical Filipina/o Perspective” as an aid to contextualize the skepticism of these groups and to explain the causes of underdevelopment in the Eastern Visayas. In truth, as “Typhoon Haiyan Relief: A Critical Filipina/o Perspective” was collaboratively written, the intended audience was never solely an academic one. The piece was and is meant to circulate as broadly as possible, as part of the larger, dynamic, creative, community-based, and continuing series of responses to Haiyan and the “man-made” conditions of this natural disaster that still persist.
While CFFSC intended this to be the first in a series of statements regarding Haiyan relief and the rebuilding of Philippine society, the challenges of collaborative writing ultimately proved difficult to overcome. It is our hope, however, that the inclusion of “Typhoon Haiyan Relief: A Critical Filipina/o Perspective” in the Center for Art and Thought’s exhibition will initiate new perspectives and momentum as well as invite new collaborators to join this project and participate in our praxis. For more information on the CFFSC, please visit http://www.cffstudies.org or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.