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Recherche littéraire/Literary Research

Fall 2019


Edited By Marc Maufort

Daniel Acke, Mark Anderson, Eugene L. Arva, Franca Bellarsi, Valérie-Anne Belleflamme, Thomas Buffet, Ipshita Chanda, Mateusz Chmurski, Wiebke Denecke, Christophe Den Tandt, Lieven D’hulst, César Domínguez, Manfred Engel, Dorothy Figueira, John B. Forster, Massimo Fusillo, Gerald Gillespie, Marie Herbillon, S. Satish Kumar, François Lecercle, Ursula Lindqvist, Jocelyn Martin, Jessica Maufort, Marc Maufort, Sam McCracken, Isabelle Meuret, Delphine Munos, Daniel-Henri Pageaux, Danielle Perrot-Corpet, Frank Schulze-Engler, Monica Spiridon, Jüri Talvet, Daria Tunca, Cyril Vettorato, Hein Viljoen, Jenny Webb

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Jocelyn Martin: Harrod J. Suarez. The Work of Mothering. Globalization and the Filipino Diaspora. Urbana, Chicago and Springfield: University of Illinois Press, 2017. Pp. 209. ISBN: 9780252082962.

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Harrod J. Suarez. The Work of Mothering. Globalization and the Filipino Diaspora. Urbana, Chicago and Springfield: University of Illinois Press, 2017. Pp. 209. ISBN: 9780252082962.

Despite their status as the second largest minority in the US (Roley), Filipinos have often been described as “invisible” and “unassimilable” (Campomanes). However, the inauguration on 29 September 2018 of the groundbreaking Bulosan Center for Filipino Studies housed at the University of California Davis underscores the growing – and long-delayed – attention to Philippines Studies in the US.

Within this context of developing scholarship in Filipino-American literary criticism, in 2017, Harrod J. Suarez published The Work of Mothering. Drawing from Diaspora and Gender Studies, Suarez refreshingly examines works by writers Nick Joaquin, Mia Alvar, Jessica Hagedorn, Carlos Bulosan, Brian Ascalon Roley; and filmmakers Kidlat Tahimik and Francis Ford Coppola.

At the outset, the word “work” in the title The Work of Mothering refers to the wave of Filipino labor diaspora (Cohen) which, since the 1970s, compose a third of all Filipinos abroad (5). Among such OFWs or Overseas Filipino Workers, the majority are women who are trained to become “nurturing, submissive and maternal” (11). Although “perhaps nearly half of overseas domestic workers who identify as women do not identify as mothers” (Suarez 12), they are thus schooled in the work of mothering. Indeed, other writers1 have already described such phenomena resulting in a “care drain” for the Philippines (Hochschild 3). Such mothers thus become, on the one hand, informal ambassadors of the nation; on the other hand, servants of globalization and capitalism. In the ←247 | 248→interest of nation and globalization, Filipino women are thus obliged to maintain care, submissiveness and motherhood. Suarez, however, suggests a reading that disturbs the binary of nationalism and globalization. In particular, he “emphasizes the ways that literature and cinema disrupt the processes of nationalism and globalization” (Suarez 13).

Consequently, against such an understanding of maternity, Suarez proposes the idea of the “diasporic maternal” – a maternity which, like diaspora, neither submits to the nation nor to globalization. Rather than a geographical or sociological category, diaspora is used here as a “condition of subjectivity” (Cho 14).

To complement a framework of the diasporic maternal, Suarez employs an “archipelagic reading” practice “that intentionally falls into the gaps of our epistemological coordinates.” He does this by bringing out “those alternative imaginaries, a practice of reading beyond nationalism and globalization” (16). Commonly referring to “a chain of islands that trail away from the nation” (17), the archipelago, like diaspora, also unsettles the idea of a nation. The term’s etymological roots, archi (chief) and pelagos (sea), indicate “the waters surrounding those islands” – “a reverse side image of the nation” (17). An archipelagic reading, therefore, considers the “underside” of narratives; the ignored and illegible. By proposing an archipelagic reading of the “diasporic maternal” – Suarez’s main thesis – the author highlights the role it plays “in biopolitcs [which] reminds us…of the limits that we too often disregard in producing knowledge” (159).

In the first chapter, Suarez looks into the relationship between writing and the diasporic maternal through an analysis of Nick Joaquin’s The Woman Who Had Two Navels (1983) and Mia Alvar’s In the Country (2015). Chapters 2 and 3 study the diasporic maternal in the context of filmmaking and Hollywood productions that are problematized in Jessica Hagedorn’s novel Dream Jungle (2004), Francis Ford Coppola’s movie Apocalypse Now (1979), and Kidlat Tahimik’s film Mabababangong Bangungot (Perfumed Nightmares) (1977). In the fourth chapter, the links between the diasporic maternal and immigration are examined in Carlos Bulosan’s America Is in the Heart (1946) and Brian Ascalon Roley’s American Son (2001).

Indeed, what seems to be the book’s most refreshing contribution is its archipelagic close-reading of such canonical Fil-Am works. For example, Suarez’s focus on the metaphors of dictionary and language in Two Navels and sign-language in In the Country which, in both cases, are connected ←248 | 249→to the (female) body (Connie’s and Milagros’), demand for alternative kinds of writing that “do not cohere with globalization” (34).

In the author’s analysis of the protagonist in Dream Jungle, Lina, who leaves her child to the care of Aling Belen and departs for the US, Suarez argues how she “becomes a different kind of mother, one not assimilable to dominant paradigms of motherhood” (63). Neither abandoning nor accepting the nation, Lina negotiates a diasporic maternal position.

The spectrality of sound in Kidlat Tahimik’s film, Mababangong Bangungot, is juxtaposed with the visual. Suarez draws from Michel Chion’s concept of the acousmêtre: “a voice [that] has not yet been visualized,” “a special being, a kind of talking and acting shadow” (Chion 21). To illustrate this, Suarez close-reads the film’s depiction of Neil Armstrong juxtaposed with a voice-over that destabilizes the visual. As such, the visible is that which is rendered vulnerable.

Although much has been written about Bulosan’s America is in the Heart – which is perhaps as canonical as Joaquin’s The Woman Who Had Two Navels2 – Suarez succeeds in providing an interesting archipelagic reading of two seemingly inconsequential scenes involving female minor characters. Compared to the Bulosan novel, Roley’s The American Son features Ika, the mother whose silence is not synonymous with subservience. Rather, this silence “recognizes the reductive quality of an identity politics that pins its hopes on visibility” (147).

The biggest surprise – indeed a “plot twist” according to Suarez (161), or a spoiler to the readers of this review – is the author’s analysis of José Rizal’s death. In the book’s Epilogue, Suarez proposes to approach Rizal3 “not as the father of the nation but as a diasporic maternal figure.” (164) To make his argument, Suarez draws from historical accounts of Rizal’s execution and the biblical story of Lot’s wife. Like the latter who looked back towards her burning city before crystallizing into salt, the former, as it is claimed, also managed to slightly look back to his firing squad, thus twisting and falling with his face toward the sky. Suarez reads this event, not as a turn towards the nation or empire but rather, as a “pivoting for the turn to the archipelagic future” (166). Tending toward that future, ←249 | 250→The Work of Mothering offers an innovative reading into the margins of texts, thus questioning knowledge production and interrogating our epistemological systems.


Jocelyn Martin

Ateneo de Manila University, Philippines

Works Cited

Campomanes, Oscar. “The New Empire’s Forgetful and Forgotten Citizens: Unrepresentability and Unassimilability in Filipino-American Postcolonialities.” Critical Mass 2.2 (1995): 145–200.

Chion, Michel. The Voice in Cinema. Trans. and Ed. Claudia Gorbman. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999.

Cho, Lily. “The Turn to Diaspora.” Topia: Canadian Journal of Cultural Studies 17 (Spring 2007): 11–30.

Cohen, Robin. Global Diasporas. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1997.

Hochschild, Arlie. “Love and Gold.” Global Woman. Eds. Barbara Ehrenreich and Arlie Russel. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2002. 15–30.

Roley, Brian Ascalon. “Filipinos – the Hidden Majority.” San Francisco Chronicle. August 8, 2001.

1 Suarez mentions the following works that discuss overseas Filipino labour: Catherine Ceniza Choy, Empire of Care (2003); Nicole Constable; Born Out of Place (2014); Kale Bantigue Fajardo, Filipino Crosscurrents (2011); Anna Romina Guevarra, Marketing Dreams (2009); Rhacel Salazar Parreñas, Servants of Globalization (2001)as well as The Force of Domesticity (2008) and Robyn Magalit Rodriguez, Migrants for Export (2010).

2 Both novels are included in the Penguin Literary Classics collection. The only other two Filipino writers “canonised” in the series are Jose Rizal and Jose Garcia Villa.

3 Rizal was deemed a Philippine national hero and author of two novels, Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo, works that helped spark the revolution against Spain.