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 3 of 4: From Sugar Cane in the Caribbean to Jackfruit in Southeast Asia
Now, how do colonialism and labor migration relate to a competition The Guardian called “a lovely show about cakes”?  Let me turn to a powerful analogy that Barbados-born writer George Lamming used to explain the relationship between the BBC and the Caribbean during the period when the broadcasting service produced the radio program Caribbean Voices (1943-1958) in London and aired it across the Atlantic to the Caribbean. Lamming said, “the BBC played a role of taking the raw material and sending it back, almost like sugar, which is planted there in the West Indies, cut, sent abroad to be refined, and gets back in finished form.”  With this analogy, Lamming suggests that the BBC extracted literary talent from the Caribbean; he also suggests that it is only with the colonizing mother country’s stamp of approval that the Caribbean appreciates its literary culture.  I think of this quote, yes, because of my training as a Caribbeanist. But I also think of Lamming’s words because I was compelled to rethink them as I watched Magallanes on The Great British Baking Show.
At first, Magallanes caught my attention for standing his ground in the face of steely-eyed judge Paul Hollywood. In the first bake of the season, Magallanes made a madeira cake with figs. Hollywood—as he tends to do when chatting with bakers as they describe their recipes—critiqued Magallanes with a simple question: he asked why Magallanes wasn’t chopping the figs before adding them to the cake batter. Magallanes tersely responded, “I like them chunky.” In a show that assembles a dozen bakers under a white tent decorated with small Union Jack pennants, I appreciated Magallanes’s commitment to personal preference.
But baking also allowed Magallanes to show the judges a thing or two. When tasked with making biscotti in Episode 2, Magallanes showcased a jackfruit, pistachio, and macadamia recipe. Judge Mary Berry told Magallanes, “Now, I don’t know jackfruit.” He responded by telling Berry it is “very popular in Southeast Asia.” This is a polite response, to be sure, but also one that disrupts the contestant-judge hierarchy by showing how baking can be powerfully “provincialized” and thus “renewed from and for the margins.”
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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- Jonathan Freedland, “From Bake Off to Brexit, the right keeps putting dogma ahead of success,” The Guardian, 16 September 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/sep/16/bake-off-brexit-right-dogma-ahead-of-success.
- George Lamming, “Texas Dialogues,” in Conversations: George Lamming - Essays, Addresses and Interviews, 1953-1990, eds. Richard Drayton and Andaiye (London: Karia Press, 1992), 62.
- For a detailed study of the relationship between the BBC and Anglophone Caribbean literature, see Glyne A. Griffith, The BBC and the Development of Anglophone Caribbean Literature, 1943-1958 (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016).
- During the assessment period, however, the whole figs in Magallanes’s bake sunk to the bottom of his madeira cake, which did not please the judges and furthermore allowed Hollywood to enjoy an “I told you so” moment.
- Dipesh Chakrabarty, Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference (2000; repr., Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008), 16.