‘See what my daughters can do in peace’: Philippines and the maternal conduits of US empire
In Projections of Power (2010), Anne L. Foster asserts the use of culture as effectual, not only in entrenching the US in late colonial Southeast Asia, but in creating its own brand of imperialism. Culture as a fluid and innocuous tool was easily woven into the exceptionalist rhetoric through which the US forged a new identity. It proved that the reinvention of the idea of empire could be pioneered by a fledgling power cognizant of the twin possibilities of profit and conscience. The consumption of American culture was one that assuredly fettered the colonized to what is termed by Foster as the ‘imperialism of the mind.’ It is this fettering that lingers as the US’ influence on Filipinos in all aspects of their lives.
This imperial feat was achieved through the participation of the American women whose presence once served as exceptional emblems of benevolence. Yet it is best to be reminded of a caveat—that these women carried out colonial policies in the realm of the domestic and maternal and were believed to be imperceptible and, hence, harmless, only reveal the complete invasiveness of empire.
All the visuals and photographs in this essay were courtesy of the Lopez Memorial Museum (Philippines), which is funded by the Eugenio Lopez Foundation, Inc. They form part of the special project of the Lopez Memorial Museum that targets to build a 4,000 million database of visuals whose sources include books, colonial reports, newspapers and magazines, special collections and personal albums. Special thanks is given to Ms. Mercedita B. Servida (Head Librarian) who generously made accessible to me the library’s visual database during my visits to the library.
Dinah Roma is an associate professor of literature and creative writing at the De La Salle University (DLSU), Manila. Her research interests include debates and issues in contemporary travel genre and theory. She was affiliated with the NUS Asia Research Institute from June 2010-June 2012 where she worked on a book manuscript entitled “Not Just An Ordinary Tourist: American Women’s Travel Writings on the Philippines, 1900s to 1930s” and other articles on the representations of Southeast Asia in travel narratives. An award-winning poet of two collections, she is currently the Chair of the Literature Department of DLSU, Manila.