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The Homeless Diaspora of Queer Asian Americans
Author(s): Sonia Otalvaro-Hormillosa
Source: Social Justice, Vol. 26, No. 3 (77), Beyond National: Identities, Social Problems &
Movements (Fall 1999), pp. 103-122
Published by: Social Justice/Global Options
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The Homeless
Asian

Americans

Diaspora

Sonia

of Queer

Otalvaro-Hormillosa

Introduction
THIS

ARTICLE

EXPLORES

POSSIBILITIES

FOR CONCEPTUALIZING

QUEER DIASPORA

AS

a critical practice in cross-border organizing. It also addresses the
citizenship(s) thatare implicated in theprocess of transnationalism,which
evokes gender and sexuality as crucial modes of analysis. I will be looking
specifically atAsian models of diaspora and alternativemodels of diaspora, which
are informed by sexuality and gender as much as theyare by nationhood. One of
themajor termsof analysis in this article is thenotion of hybridity as it is used by
cultural criticswriting on second- and third-generation immigration experiences
and the counterhegemonic cultural practices that arise from those experiences.
However, this termcan be interpretedin various ways, some ofwhich incorporate
queerness as a challenge to heteronormativity. Previously, I have used hybridity
as a term to designate themultiplicity and/or intersection of various identities,
particularly postcolonial and sexual identities. In this article, I will explore the
dangers and difficulties in conceptualizing hybridity in terms of queer diaspora
due to the unequal power relationships existing between members of the same
diaspora, some ofwhom are located inmore economically privileged sites.Given
these asymmetries, itbecomes difficult, ifnot impossible, touse one startingpoint
(i.e., sexuality, race, gender, class, or nationhood) inwriting about queer diaspora.
Citizenship and dual citizenship acquire new meanings depending on the
shiftingglobal positionalities of transnational subjects. Experiences of privilege
and diaspora are informedby race, class, gender, nationality, and/or sexuality. For
instance, although a transnationalMexican migrant may enjoy citizenship inhis/
her country of origin, theborder is thepoint atwhich rights associated with U.S.
citizenship cease; however, a transnational capitalist, or a ThirdWorld elite,may
enjoy benefits approximating those of dual citizenship toa largerdegree due tohis/

is a cultural activist, academic, live artist, and percussionist.
Sonia "Gigi" Otalvaro-Hormillosa
She works at Proyecto ContraSIDA
Por Vida inSan Francisco, a queer Latino HIV Prevention Service
Agency. She recently completed her second production of "Memory andWhite Love: A live art piece
celebrating queerness and the centennial anniversary ofAmerican conquest (song, dance, and drum by
the Devil Bunny in Bondage)."
She received her B.A. inMay
1998 at Brown University (e-mail:
a
in her independent concentration, "Hybridity and Performance,"
sonia_otalvaro@brown.edu)
combination of postcolonial studies, sexuality and society, and performance studies.

Social Justice Vol. 26, No. 3 (1999)

103

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104

Otalvaro-Hormillosa

her economic status.A FirstWorld queer transnational,on theother hand,may not
enjoy many of the rightsof citizenship or dual citizenship in various locations of
a diaspora inwhich heterosexism is the norm; hence, the dialectic relationship
between privilege and diaspora makes the notion of power relative to specific
locations. In theprocess of strategizing for transnational organizing, itis necessary
to explore the relationship between diasporic and/or transnational experiences of
immigrant and second or thirdgeneration postcolonial queers in the context of

their shiftingglobal positionalities.
By transnationalism and diaspora, I refer to concepts thathave been used to
destabilize traditionalmodels of migration inwhich the transition from the old
country to thenew countrywas assumed to involve assimilation to a new order in
which ethnicity dropped out. Transnationalism is a process whereby social links
between the countryof origin and thehost countrymay be maintained to resist this
supposed homogenization of assimilation. Roger Rouse (1991) describes this
process in thecontext of the economic and cultural practices ofMexican migrants
who develop transnationalmigrant circuits in response to the internationalization
of transnational corporations. He depicts their experience as an act of border
crossing inwhich the juxtaposition of two worlds does not necessarily produce
assimilation. Due to the intersecting sites of transnational circuits of capital, labor,
and communication ofMexican migrants, Rouse argues that itbecomes increas?
ingly difficult tomaintain amonolithic national identity (Ibid.). Seen in this light,
transnationalism and ethnic identification can be a way of historicizing the de
racialization of previously racialized subjects (Omi andWinant, 1994: 9-48). In
this sense, transnationalism becomes a functionof diaspora in the sense thatwithin
any diaspora, multiple nationalisms can exist that resist monolithic national
identities.
Traditional definitions of diaspora have been limited to the idea that thegroup
thathas migrated does not have the choice to return to the homeland. William
Safran (1991: 83-84) defines diaspora as a group of ethnic expatriates who share
the following characteristics:
(1) they or theirancestors have been dispersed from a specific original
"center" to two ormore "peripheral," or foreign, regions; (2) theyretain
a collective memory, vision, or myth about their homeland; (3) they
believe theyare not fully accepted by theirhost society and thereforefeel
alienated and insulated from it; (4) they regard theirancestral homeland
as theirtrue ideal home and as a place towhich theyor theirdescendants
would eventually returnwhen conditions are appropriate; (5) they
believe that they should be committed to themaintenance or restoration
of theirhomeland; (6) theycontinue to relate personally or vicariously to
thathomeland and their ethnocommunal consciousness and solidarity
are importantlydefined by the existence of such a relationship.

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The Homeless Diaspora

of Queer Asian Americans

105

According to Safran, the JewishDiaspora is the "ideal type" thatconforms to
these requirements; nonetheless, he also acknowledges thatother typesof diaspora
exist, such as those based on religious, ideological, or economic beliefs. Safran's
requirements for an ideal diaspora would not account for alternative ways to
"imagine communities," toborrow a termfromBenedict Anderson. By Safran's
standards, Filipino Americans would not constitute a diaspora since a large

number of themdo not have the intentionof returningto thePhilippines; however,
JonathanOkamura provides amodel of a Filipino American diaspora based on the
sites of space, time, and ethnicity,which I will explore furtherin this article in
relationship to queer diaspora as a more ideologically based diaspora.
Alternative ways of viewing diaspora can lead to a critical transnationalism,

which resists the reproduction of existing hierarchies. Ien Ang and John Stratton
(1996) call for a critical transnationalism thatmust be enunciated fromparticular
contexts to avoid the dominant forms of transnationalism that are promoted by
global capitalism. In response to thisargument,Kuan-Hsing Chen (1996) cautions
against Ang and Stratton's model because he believes that theirfocus on nation
states as the ultimate context for pursuing a transnational cultural studies is an
example of one way inwhich thisfield runs the risk of becoming thevanguard of
global capitalism. He argues that the nation-state must be contested in order to

explore theways inwhich globalization, the infiltrationof economy, politics, and
culture, reproduce nation-state boundaries and reflect the global division of
economic and political power (Ibid.: 40). One way of contesting thenation-state
as an object of analysis for transnational cultural studies is by looking at the
differences and antagonisms between diasporic "Anglo-American" theoristsand
critics and "ThirdWorld" intellectuals in both theThird and FirstWorlds. Chen
(Ibid.: 51-52) argues that the latterhave:
postcolonized themselves in a complexly hybrid way, looking at the
world partially through "the imperialist eye," forgetting that theirpro?
?
being
ductivity has everything to do with their "home cultures"
partially outside of the dominant "western" cultural formation and thus
able (partially) to see things which cannot be seen by the "local"
(western) critical theorist.

Rather than rely on the nation-state as the axis around which to organize an
international cultural studies, Chen considers itmore progressive to conceive of
post-national terms thatare grounded in the intersections of subject positions and
groups. He is skeptical about thepoststructuralist trendof cultural studies thathas
abandoned identity politics, because it is precisely the notion of identity that
provides thefoundation forpolitical alliance in theThirdWorld context (Ibid.: 41).
His model of a politicized internationalist cultural studies would insist on its
connections toMarxism, feminism, anti-racism, and anti-homophobia rather than
maintaining divisions within nation-states (in relation to race, class, gender, and

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106

Otalvaro-Hormillosa

sexuality), as well as among nation-states that locate First, Second, and Third
Worlds at themargins or at the center of the global economy. Chen's model of
politicized internationalistcultural studieswould require questioning themeaning
of decolonization and challenging "nativist" returns to a "purified" origin and
postcolonial celebrations of hybridity (Ibid.: 63).
Chen's criticisms of transnational cultural studies will be useful in my
exploration of the possibilities for conceptualizing a Filipino Queer diaspora in
which various struggles can be articulated from thepolitics of dislocation. My own
privileged position as a ThirdWorld subjectwith (relative) FirstWorld intellectual
privilege will informmy analysis and the limits of transnationalism that I will
encounter as a result of the (dis)location fromwhich I enunciate. Stuart Hall's
(1992:220) notion of enunciation suggests that"thoughwe speak, so to say 'inour
own

name,'

of ourselves

and

from our own

experience,

nevertheless,

who

speaks

and the subject who is spoken of are never exactly in the same place." I intend to
use Chen's criticisms and questions around issues of decolonization, nativism, and
hybridityas a startingpoint to engage with various models of diaspora indifferent
contexts. Throughout this process, I will question the extent to which the
boundaries of specific diasporas are mutable and capable of overlapping with
other diasporas in order to arrive at the notion of a multiple, but homeless,
diasporic consciousness. The ways in which transnationalism and diaspora
interactwith each other around issues of citizenship(s) will highlight possibilities
for the negotiation of identities as they cross borders, both imaginatively and
concretely; however, it is important to keep in mind the privileged sites of
hybridity thatallow these negotiations tooccur, and tobe aware, as Chen suggests,
of our own

process

of "postcolonizing"

ourselves.

Asianing Diasporas
InAllan DeSouza's
(1997) comparison between Asian diasporic artpractices
that occur in the country of origin and those that occur in various locations
throughoutthediaspora, he conceives of diaspora as amodel thatoffers transnational
expansi veness and challenges meanings behind hyphenated identities thatput into
question notions of cultural citizenship. He also reiteratesChen's point regarding
the privileged sites inwhich cultural studies, in this case diaspora studies, take
place: "Diaspora studies takeplace within asocial space of relative security.... [A]s
a politics of decolonisation, ithas not accounted for itsown privilege" (Ibid.: 66).
While recognizing theemphasis of diaspora as a means to expand identity,he also
recognizes thepossible dangers of thisemphasis because ithas thepotential to lead
to a depoliticization of "minority" struggles and alliances within U.S. borders.
As feminist critics have pointed out, thepoliticization of these struggles has
often been articulated from a masculinist perspective on nationalism, which has
not accounted forgender. Lisa Lowe (1996:60-83) has written about theconflicts
between cultural nationalism and assimilation inAsian American discourse. She

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The Homeless Diaspora

of Queer Asian Americans

107

argues that essentialized notions of cultural identity lead to a conception of
difference based on a binary opposition between Asian American nationalism and
feminism, the latterofwhich is equated with assimilation. Lowe (Ibid.: 74) quotes
other feminists of color who resist such categorization precisely because they are
based on colonialist divide-and-conquer strategies thatpit anti-racist and anti
sexist struggles against each other. Furthermore, attempts at essentializing Asian
American cultural identity reproduce hierarchical practices that are used by the
dominant culture tomarginalize Asian Americans and thatpreclude cross-race
alliances

among

women.

Lowe calls for a new approach to conceptualizing difference based on notions
of nonequivalence thatare implicit inher concepts of heterogeneity,multiplicity,
and hybridity. Heterogeneity is used to describe the differences within the
category ofAsian America, such as national origin, class, gender, and generational
relation to immigration exclusion laws. By multiplicity, she designates the
contradictory ways inwhich subjects are determined by multiple axes of power
such as patriarchy, capitalism, and race relations. Rather than celebrating the
postmodern uses of hybridity, her definition of hybridity is grounded in a

materialist concept thatconveys thehistories of forced labormigration, economic
displacement, racial segregation, and internment;furthermore,"these hybridities
are always in theprocess of, on theone hand, being appropriated and commodified
by the dominant culture and, on the other, of being rearticulated for the creation
of oppositional 'resistance cultures'" (Lowe, 1996: 82). Hybridization in this
sense is not a free negotiation; rather, itreflects the asymmetrical power relations
and violence that immigrants face in theUnited States and the survival strategies
that are shaped by the invention and reproduction of cultural alternatives. As an
example, Lowe (Ibid.: 67) uses the racial and linguisticmixing of Filipinos in the

Philippines and in theU.S., which include traces of Spanish colonialism, U.S.
colonization, and neocolonialism to expose the survival strategies of immigrants,
as opposed to their supposed assimilation to dominant cultural forms. It is also
important to note the irony of the historical fact that until the 1934 Tydings
McDuffie Act, which proposed eventual independence for the Philippines but
simultaneously restricted Filipino immigration, Filipinos were exempt from
exclusionary immigration legislation due to their status as American "nationals"
who carried U.S. passports, but were not granted full citizenship rights (Friday,
1994: 145).
The contradictions thathave resulted from themultiple forces of colonization
in thePhilippines and in theU.S. allow for thepossibility of theFilipino diaspora
to overlap with other diasporas, particularly those of Latin America, due to a
shared colonial Spanish heritage. Furthermore, the absence of a consistent
patriarchy grounded in a homogenous view of nationhood, as a result of these

multiple colonizing forces, could potentially pave theway to various modes of
performing citizenship indifferentlocations throughout thediaspora in such away

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108

Otalvaro-Hormillosa

thatcannot privilege nationalism over feminism,precisely because these termsare
put intoquestion. Historically, criticalmodes of performing citizenship have been
evident in thearena of cultural production, such as in subversive artisticpractices.
For instance,Vicente Rafael has written about seditious theatrical performances
that took place at theend of the 19thcentury in thePhilippines, at a timewhen the
recent birthof a nation, which was made possible by thedefeat of Spanish colonial
forces,was aborted byU.S. colonial forces (Rafael, 1993). In theseperformances,
thecategory of gender was questioned fromwhat, today,we might call a feminist
perspective, due to the fluctuatingmoment inwhich an unstable nationalism had
not yet taken a masculinist form.
The Filipino American diaspora in itself is a challenge to traditionalmodels of
diaspora and to the category of Asian America. JonathanOkamura (1995: 387
400) writes about theFilipino American diaspora as being consistent with studies
on international migration and their focus on transnationalism as a process

whereby immigrantsbuild social linksbetween theircountryof origin and country
of settlement. Okamura's (Ibid.: 388) understanding of the Filipino American
diaspora (which constitutes the largest overseas Filipino community) and the
emergence of this population in theUnited States locates its centrality in the
Filipino diaspora (Ibid.). According to Okamura, despite the long history of
Filipino migration to the U.S. and their status as the second-largest Asian
American group, Filipinos are economically and politically disadvantaged in
comparison tootherAsian American groups, which partly has todo with the sense
of a lostFilipino history.Amy Kaplan (Kaplan and Pease, 1993) suggests that the
invisibility of thePhilippines inAmerican history has everything to do with the
invisibility of American imperialism to itself. American colonization of the
Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Hawaii is not articulated as such inmainstream
academia, nor is it taught at the elementary or high school levels from a critical
anti-imperialist perspective. At most, themention of U.S. history in relation to
these islands often consists of nomore thana paragraph in a typical history book.
Time, space, and ethnicity are the threemain factors thatOkamura uses to

designate theFilipino American diaspora, although he recognizes other signifi?
cant sites inwhich thisdesignation could occur, such as class, gender, and power.
In termsof space, Okamura takes into account the relationships between Filipino
American and other diasporic communities, such as those in Canada, Japan,
Australia, Europe, and Southeast Asia; these social ties are most evident in the
sociocultural transfers to the Philippines of "balikbayan (return to nation)
boxes," which include monetary remittances and desired consumer goods
(Okamura, 1995: 388). Time is a historical site in which various migration
processes have led to the emergence of a Filipino American diaspora, specifi?

cally, those thatoccurred pre- and post-World War II and those that occurred
after 1965, during the liberalization of U.S. immigration laws. Okamura also
utilizes time and space in relation to each other toprovide a vision of diaspora that

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The Homeless Diaspora

of Queer Asian Americans

109

is informed by "'spatio-temporal paradigms of interculture' to emphasize their
[Filipino Americans] historical processes of intercultural crossing at regional,
national, and global levels" {Ibid.: 390), as distinct from more specifically
defined diasporas inwhich ethnic groups are assumed to have the intention of
returning to the country of origin.
Time-space compression is evident in the establishment of U.S. branches of
on-line remittance services, as well as other services that cater to Filipino

Americans, such as long distance telephone companies thatfacilitate communica?
tion across theocean. He describes this as an example of the commodification of
thediaspora experience thatgoes beyond theuse ofFilipino immigrant labor.This
also refers toLowe's materialist concept of hybridity,which runs the riskof being
appropriated by the dominant culture.
Filipino ethnicity is a contradictory site inwhich relations to other ethnic
groups, including other Asian Americans, highlight the subordinate status of
Filipino Americans despite theirhigh level of education in comparison to other
ethnic groups and whites in the U.S. (Ibid.: 396). According to Okamura,
Filipinos are an example of themarginalized status ofAsian Americans, which
challenges theAsian "model minority" myth inU.S. society. Okamura acknowl?
edges Lowe's emphasis on "heterogeneity, hybridity,and multiplicity" in terms
of class, gender, culture, generation, and history, but he claims that it ismore

necessary to examine differences of power and status.One way to do thiswill be
to de-center the Asian American paradigm from its focus on Chinese and
Japanese Americans to other Asian American groups such as Filipino, South
Asian, and Vietnamese Americans. This de-centering will prevent the replication
of larger structuresof domination, which privilege certain groups over others due
to race,

class,

gender,

or sexuality.

treatment of ethnicity is particularly significant in relation to
Okamura's
because
it points to the relative autonomy of concepts of race and
Filipinos
It
becomes
difficult, if not impossible, to view Filipinos as a race,
ethnicity.
that
the
Philippines ismade up of a variety of cultures, including the
considering

indigenousMalayan people of the archipelago whose ties toPacific Island people
create links to theAfrican diaspora (Root, 1997: xiii), as well asMuslim, Spanish,
American, and Indonesian cultures. Indeed,Maria Root (Ibid.: 84) points out that
the ambiguous racial makeup of Filipinos led to their exemption from anti
miscegenation laws until 1933 when theywere classified as Malays. Filipinos
were involved in struggles against anti-miscegenation legislation invarious parts
of theU. S. during thepre-WorldWar II period, as well as inunion organizing, both
as an autonomous faction and with Chinese and Japanese workers (Friday, 1994:
145). Root also distinguishes among Chinese, Filipino, and Japanese male
immigrant workers, by attributing the higher rate of intermarriage between
Filipinos and such groups as Native American, African American, and white
women to their (the Filipinos) ease with English as a result of American

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110

Otalvaro-Hormillosa

colonization. Root cites studies thatconclude with theobservation that from the
Filipino, Japanese, Chinese, and Korean populations, Filipinos have the highest
rate of intermarriage;however, ithas also been observed that they intermarryless
frequently than those groups with otherAsian Americans, and instead intermarry
more frequentlywith Latinos with whom they share cultural similarities, as well
as with whites (Root, 1997: 86).
Due to this common tendency of intermarriageamong Filipinos, itwould be
inadequate to apply a monoracial paradigm to this group. Root advocates for
alternative approaches to identitythataremore consistent with the racial mixing
of Filipino history, in order tomake up for the racialization processes towhich
Filipino Americans were subject in the 1960s and 1970s. During this time, some
of themore educated and economically privileged Filipino immigrants who
arrived after the changes in immigration laws in 1965 advocated for assimilation
toAmerican identities as a way tomaintain their status, while other Filipino
Americans who were involved in thecivil rightsmovements began todefine ethnic
solidarity based on their resistance to racial homogenization (Ibid.: 83).
Arguably, in the case of Filipino Americans, hybridity inLowe's materialist
terms, as a consequence of colonization, has facilitated the crossing ofmultiple
borders, such as those of race (if one can apply this term to Filipinos) and
sexuality. Consequently, thepotential exists for cultural hybridity (as a result of
the racial and cultural mixing implicit in Filipino history) to lead to sexual
hybridity.Resistance tobothmonoracial paradigms as well as heteronormativity

can result in themutability of cultural and sexual hybridity. The process of
conceptualizing thesemultiple diasporas ultimately leads to thedifficult project
of creating analogies between anti-racist, anti-sexist, and anti-homophobic
struggles,which are often perceived tobe incomparable toone another.Historical
and contemporary race discourse has primarily been articulated fromblack/white
binary systems of thought, inwhich essentialized notions of race become the sole
factor in determining authenticity and commitment to one's "community." Such
discourse has influenced theways inwhich queer theorists have attempted to

write about the possibilities for creating analogies between various forms of
oppression. For instance, in his introduction toFear of a Queer Planet, Queer
Politics and Social Theory, Michael Warner (1993) justifies his argument
concerning the impossibility of a queer diaspora by illustrating theways inwhich
queer politics differfromrace and gender politics in thesense thatmulticulturalism,
despite itspostmodern language, relies on notions of authenticity and culture as
sources of shared meaning and identities.Working
(Ibid.: xvii) writes:

from this premise, Warner

Queer culture will not fit this bill. Whatever else itmight be, it is not
autochthonous. It cannot even be in diaspora, having no locale from
which towander. Thus, while notions of alternative traditions or canons

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