This post has been nearly a month in the making. It’s taken many conversations and re-writes in an attempt to get to the heart of this on-going conversation and my own process. I hope that by sharing what I have learned and what I know, you find some peace within your own process.
When I started this blog, I intentionally chose to use “Filipinx” American because of a conversation I had with a non-binary Filipin* friend of mine a few months earlier. They had called me into a conversation about why I used the term Filipino in my Facebook posts given its oppressive connotations.
This conversation caused me to rethink how and why I use the term. I learned that though not initially how Filipino/Filipina were intended to be used, the two terms have 1) created a gender binary amongst the Filipin* diaspora community particularly within the U.S. context (from my personal observations within Filipin* diaspora spaces); thus, erasing the lived experiences of many gender-non-confirming Filipin* diaspora members and 2) similar to the term Latino, the term Filipino “assign masculinity as gender neutral when it isn’t.”
In the past several months, I’ve seen Facebook, Tumblr and article links about the problems with the term “Filipinx.” And for the past several months, I’ve lurked (literally) by spending time reading the emerging articles and conversations. I stayed silent (despite this blog’s name) to allow myself to process and collect my thoughts. And also, because I’ve been working on my Western imperialist tendency to say my opinion before listening. I’m writing this now to share my process and to summarize what I’ve heard and seen to this point.
As I navigate the on-going conversation about Filipino and Filipinx, I’ve also been going through my own learning and unlearning process:
Learning About Gender as a Social Construct and Therefore, Fluid
I grew to understand gender as fluid in college not from professors but rather, from genderqueer friends who took classes that introduced gender as a social construct. The classes provided language for my genderqueer friends to articulate their experiences in relation to gender. I witnessed how my friends felt liberated when they gained the vocabulary to verbalize gender as fluid to explain their being to other people.
Discovering Genderqueer-Focused Movements
Along with understanding gender as a social construct and as fluid, I was exposed to several movements that aimed to re-imagine and create a world that includes folks who identify on the spectrum: 1) creating space for folks to name their pronouns and 2) the use of “Latinx” instead of society’s accustomed Latino/a. When I listened to folks behind these movements, what I heard was a desire to be seen and accepted rather than changed to fit into oppressive prescribed boxes of society. The decision to following societal systems often comes at the price of oppressing one another and causing great pain (whether we recognize it or not).
Understanding the Purpose of a Unifying Identity Term
As I’ve been working on this blog, I’ve had many conversations amongst my Filipin* diaspora friends. Most notably, a friend said, “It’s interesting how this desire to have a word identifier is spurred from a need to carve an identity for ourselves.”
Until these conversations, I never really thought about how why the term Filipino/a/x/* American exists. And until I wrote this blogpost, I didn’t really know how the term Filipino/a/x/* American came about.
Both the terms Filipino and Filipinx stem from this desire to carve out an identity and from a movement of resisting oppressive systems.
The Term Filipino
In earlier times, the image of diwata (a deity or spirit in Philippine mythology) had no gender or alternatively, their gender was significant (Source). It was the Spanish’s rule that introduced the idea of gendered terms to Filipinos since in Spanish, a person’s gender is based on the last letter of the name that signifies them.
However, the term Filipino was ”born out of a nationalized unity to fight against a common oppressor. Before Spanish colonization, you were either Cebuano, Papangueno, Ilocano, Aeta, Manobo, Igorot, etc. etc. [Filipinos] were people, living among a cluster of 7,000 islands, with unique dialects, cultures, and experiences. The Philippines, a colony of Spain, named after the late King Philip II, went through a series of naming conventions by colonizers and so called “expeditionists” in search of gold and spice and more lands to extract of their natural resources. It was the “indios”, the people themselves, who came together under a common national identity as Filipino, to unite the masses and engage in revolution. It is therefore, revolutionary to identify as Filipino.” (Donna Denina of Gabriela Seattle).
The Term Filipinx
The term Filipinx is born out of a movement to create space for and acknowledge genderqueer members of the Filipin* diaspora in the white-centric binary places their parents decide to move to (e.g. the United States). The term is also seen as a way to decolonize our colonized identity.
I recently have read posts from folks living in the Philippines such as @roadhouss on Tumblr who wrote:
‘filipinx discourse on tumblr is constructed on ideas of gender and identity that are firmly rooted within usamerican social activism. the term ‘filipinx’ as an attempt to “decolonize” the word filipino is in itself cultural imperialism. it does not base itself upon the actual lived experiences of filipinos but instead attempts to condense the complexities of filipino gender into a box tailored for usamerican discourse. i am a filipino woman. i am not filipinx. the axes upon which i am oppressed, including the axis of gender, are not the same axes upon which usamerican women are oppressed. filipinx discourse ERASES my experiences as a filipino woman living in the philippines; it exoticizes and equates contemporary indigenous cultures with pre-colonial cultures; it condenses the multivocality of the filipino experience into a monolithic discourse that is not rooted in the lives of filipinos.
i am not filipinx.’”
I hear anger around how the term Filipinx erases the diversity of experiences of Filipino womxn particularly in the Philippines and how it’s a term born out of U.S. dialogue that may feel forced upon Filipinos in the Philippines.
I’ve also hear the pain, guilt and confusion my American-born genderqueer friends voice when they read these arguments against Filipinx — because these arguments also feel like an erasure of their lived experiences as non-binary Filipin* diaspora.
I think it’s important for folks in the Philippines to call us diaspora babies out when we fail to know our history. As hard as we search for those gems of knowledge, we have lots of gaps. I’m not sure if my parents are aware of the fact the term Filipino comes out of a history of resistance from the people to unify the Filipino people. If they do not hand this knowledge down to us, then who does?
At the same time, the arguments against Filipinx feel like we’re tearing one another down with either/or thinking. Why is it that we must self-identify as either Filipino/a or Filipinx? Why not both? Is it possible for us to hold that both terms came from movements of resistance in places with different conditions? How can we move away from the either/or thinking of our oppressors and move toward a both/and mindset?
Which culture do we honor? Those of our ancestors? Those of our homeland? Those of where we take up space now? The culture of the past? The culture we’re trying to create now in resistance to current systems of oppression? How do we have this conversation in a way that forwards us, helps us to grow and heals us?
Our anger and energy is righteous and real. Yet, how fruitful is it to focus our anger and energy tearing one another down for a varied ideologies? Can we shift this righteous anger to action that transforms systems (and individuals that make up these systems) of oppression, greed and violence that are allowing for the murder and starvation of our people? Can we recognize and hold our shared humanity, our shared homeland and our varied experiences and identities?
EDIT (6/8/2017): I really struggled to articulate a call to action beyond living in the tensions of the intersections of our identity. @g.ilbert really said it best in their comment on this blog’s Instagram post:
What often fails to be addressed is material support for queer and trans folx in the diaspora and in the Philippines (and also the voices of folx in the diaspora that isn’t US or Canada centric because diaspora always tends to refer to us here in “North America”). We keep arguing around identity but not actually doing work on the ground toward queer and trans liberation in the Philippines and in the communities that we live in outside of the islands…I hope to see more of us less invested in a dialogue that ultimately is about names and less about actual action and actually making spaces physically safer for us enby filipinxs.
Final note: I plan to continue to call this blog Formation of a Filipinx American mainly because the term Filipinx starts a conversation around how gender is formed and the ways we use gender identity to oppress one another. I have also witnessed it having the power to start this conversation on where the term Filipino came from.
#WalangHiya #AMAF (AnneMarie as fuck)