In this four-part post, Kathleen DeGuzman examines seeing a Philippine dessert from her childhood on The Great British Baking Show. She combines autobiography with her training in Caribbean studies to undertake a kind of self-ethnography that rethinks Filipinx American colonial mentality within the context of Netflix, race, and representation.
Part One: “A Whole New World”?: From London to San Francisco via Stuart Hall
I grew up in Florida with Filipino-born parents who did not hesitate to point out to me high-profile individuals with links to the Philippines. For example, when I was 5-years-old and an enthusiastic consumer of all things Disney, my mom noted that Lea Salonga was Princess Jasmine’s singing voice. It didn’t mean much to me then, but I recall that the Aladdin soundtrack was one of the first CDs my family bought. When I visited my parents in the summer of 2016 before relocating to San Francisco, I pulled out the soundtrack from my dad’s music collection when I was home alone and played “A Whole New World” on repeat on the bulky stereo still in my bedroom. I very well could have listened to the song on YouTube or Spotify. But my nostalgia was tactile in addition to aural—touching the soundtrack’s jewel case and its fading but intact liner notes was as part of the experience as listening to the song itself.
As I settle into living in San Francisco, I find myself reconfiguring my relationship to my research in Caribbean and British cultural entanglements—and to the presences of the Philippines around me. My scholarly immersion in Caribbean literature began during a semester in London in 2008. There, I read Sam Selvon’s novel The Lonely Londoners in a Modern British Literature class, and the process allowed me to acknowledge the haunting homesickness I felt even though I loved walking the streets of Virginia Woolf’s Bloomsbury and spending hours in art spaces such as Tate Modern and The Photographers’ Gallery. In Selvon’s novel, the narrator describes how characters from Trinidad and Jamaica long for the “forceripe orange” sun in London. I too yearned for the abundant sunshine of South Florida even though escaping that overwhelming source of heat was one of the main reasons I wanted to experience a semester in England. The dearth of sun in London—where I lived on the top floor of a flat with a skylight above my bed that only reminded me of the consistently overcast weather—compelled me to acknowledge and value the physiological and affective value of vitamin D.
When I returned for my senior year of college in Florida, I read for the first time Stuart Hall’s essay “Cultural Identity and Diaspora.” Hall proposes thinking about Caribbean cultural identity as the relationship between two vectors: “similarity and continuity” on one hand and “difference and rupture” on the other. Hall’s approach to cultural identity foregrounds identity as process—as constantly in motion rather than a stable and “accomplished fact.” But the occasion for Hall’s essay—one that I always noted but only registered in its fuller context recently—is the rise of what he calls in his first sentence “[a] new cinema of the Caribbean.” Representation through film and the visual, Hall proposes, offers not a mirror of the world and the people in it. Instead, these captivating modes of representation provide some of the very building blocks for assembling cultural identities. As Hall writes, identity is “always constituted within, not outside representation.”
Kathleen DeGuzman is Assistant Professor of English at San Francisco State University, where she teaches courses in Caribbean literature and the novel. She received her Ph.D. in English from Vanderbilt University in 2015 and is completing a book manuscript that compares the Anglophone Caribbean and Victorian Britain as archipelagic cultures with surprisingly similar approaches to literary form. To learn more, visit her website.
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- Sam Selvon, The Lonely Londoners (1956; repr., New York: Longman, 1985), 102.
- Stuart Hall, “Cultural Identity and Diaspora,” in Identity: Community, Culture, Difference, ed. Jonathan Rutherford (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1990), 222.