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Jeffrey Arellano Cabusao

The large body of Filipino American literature has helped to define and challenge the boundaries of the Asian American literary canon. Documenting various waves of Filipino migration to the United States as a result of US-Philippine colonial relations beginning at the turn of the 20th century, Filipino American literature includes genres such as autobiography, novels, short stories, poetry, creative nonfiction (letter writing and essays), and graphic literature. While Filipino American literature shares common themes with other forms of Asian American literature (exile, displacement, racist exclusion), it is distinguished by its inability to adhere to an immigrant-assimilationist paradigm. Filipino American literature provides insight into the experiences of Filipino colonial and neocolonial subjects who have migrated from the periphery to the center. The unique historical and geopolitical framework of US-Philippine relations recasts themes such as the search for identity and “home,” the seduction of assimilation, and postcolonial resistance to US orientalist discourse. At the heart of the Filipino American writer’s discovery that she is a part of, yet apart from, Asian America is the task of confronting her unique location as informed by the Filipino collective experience of racial/national subordination. For Filipino Americans, racism and US colonial/neocolonial control of the Philippines are inextricably intertwined. Filipino Americans, the second largest Asian American group in the United States and the largest Asian American group in the state of California, constitute a major segment of the Filipino diaspora which is over twelve million—a majority of whom labor as Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs). More than 5000 Filipinos depart the Philippines daily as a strategy for economic survival. US-Philippine neocolonial relations, together with the traumatic global dispersal of Filipinos, function as the political unconscious of contemporary forms of Filipino American literature. These works grapple with heterogeneity, difference, displacement, and diverse strategies of decolonization—from exploring the complexity of Filipino American identity (intersection of race, gender, sexuality, class) to articulating the yearning to belong. For contemporary writers, Filipino American identity and the concept of decolonization are contested terrains—both still in the process of becoming.