20 January 2017

Book Review: Metroimperial Intimacies

Victor Roman Mendoza is a Filipino-American Associate Professor of English at the University of Michigan. This is his first book.

One of the criticisms I have had with Philippine studies, queer theory and American studies is the lack of work on the early Philippine-American period and sexuality. One of the problems, as Mendoza points out (and noted at some level by Neil Garcia 20 years ago) is that there is scant evidence of sexuality in the archive.

The book starts off strong and Mendoza finds an excellent case to focus on, the court martials of Captain Boss Reese. And there is much in his account that is useful and interesting. But Mendoza is limited in the breadth and depth of his Philippine studies sources which reflects on when there is a gap in the historical account. His explanations occasionally veer off into inserting present social formations of the early 21st century U.S. to fill gaps in early 20th century Philippines in ways that seem unbelievable relative to the vast anthropological work done on various Philippine societies over the last 125 years.

Mendoza makes several "assumptions" about the meaning of something which appears to conflict or lack support by any of the available anthropological material. And from these assumptions, Mendoza begins to speculate. By the end, one starts to get the feeling that the telling the Philippine history is being nakedly reworked to read into it, present day American sexuality and postindustrial capitalism.

I hope this criticism isn't considered to be too strong. I am very happy with that his book has been written, someone had to be the first. But there needed to be more broad understanding of Philippine cultures and societies before making a series of assumptions that turned into distracting and seemingly unsupportable speculation.

That being said, I thought much of his analysis was spot on and the bringing into awareness from the bowels of the archive, the story of the Boss Reese and the enlisted native Philippine scouts that he had sexual relations with and others that he raped is worthy of publication.

The version I read was a 312 page paperback printed by Duke University Press (November 27, 2015).

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