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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Enigma of the Stranger: The Chinese Filipino as Alien and Citizen

  • Author(s): Gonzales, Gloria G.
  • Advisor(s): Lam, Mariam B
  • et al.

Abstract of Thesis

This paper examines notions of the "alien" and the "citizen" or the outsider and insider based on the Chinese Filipino experience as portrayed in Charlson Ong's novel, Banyaga: The Song of War (2006). Although the Chinese have lived in the Philippine archipelago since the twelfth century, they have always been considered banyaga (alien or foreigner) by Filipino "natives." I argue that the marginalization of the Chinese has led them to specialization in trade and commerce, which in turn has steered them, paradoxically, towards exceptionalism. As such, I correlate Georg Simmel's concept of the stranger with Ong's banyaga and argue that "strangeness" positions the Chinese to become the "triumphant capitalist" and "flexible citizen" personified by the Chinese tycoon in Banyaga. Historically, the Chinese in the Philippines have been at the margins of society. Their socio-political alienation in Philippine society is not only due to their race but also from their historic role as trader, middleman, mercantilist, and capitalist. The fictive re-construction of the past in Banyaga exposes the limitations of legal and cultural citizenship premised on race, origins, nativity, territoriality, and monoculturalism. As a counterpoint to Banyaga, The Embarrassment of Riches (2000) is also examined. Embarrassment, which is a construction of the future based on the past, is a literary intervention that allows us to explore the multiple strands of national identity and the complex, even predatory, transnational processes that impact the nation-state due to increasing migration and global expansion of capitalism.

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