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Children of Empire: Postcolonial Agency, Sexuality, and Filipino/American Contact Zones


Although colonial discourse about Filipinas/os is marked by images of the childish and childlike native and of the hypersexual native, there has been no sustained study of the simultaneity of infantilization and sexualization in the process of racializing and minoritizing Filipinas/os. My dissertation, "Children of Empire: Postcolonial Agency, Sexuality, and Filipino/American Contact Zones," traces the historical development of these two figures--the Filipina/o-as-child and the hypersexual native--in American colonial texts and images, and argues that the collusion of these figures has significant implications for the agency of the postcolonial Filipina/o subject as seen in cultural productions and social justice movements.

The first two chapters of the dissertation focus on how Filipina/os were portrayed as a people in a state of dependency and in need of tutelage in colonial-era materials that circulated widely, such as travelogues, political cartoons, newspaper and magazine articles, and photographs produced by American colonials from the late 1880s through the first half of the twentieth century. I argue that the Filipina/o-as-child and the hypersexual native were two important modalities through which Filipina/os were racialized. I detail the links between the racialization of Filipinos and the respective racializations of African Americans and Native Americans in order to illuminate the contours of a larger pattern of domination. Significant themes that collect around the image of the "Other" child are education, child labor, sexual precocity, and nationalist competence and agency.

The last two chapters focus on the postcolonial responses to the legacy of infantilization and sexualization. I argue that portrayals of child sexual agency and child sexual victimization in contemporary Filipina/o and Filipina/o American novels, memoir, and film bespeak certain critiques of the powerful legacy of this colonial figuration of the hypersexual, childlike native. In particular, the tropes of childhood innocence and child's play are used to explore the relationship between the post/colonial subject and social justice movements that organize around child welfare, the abolition of sex-trafficking, and reparations for past sexual enslavement. Ultimately, through an intensive, systematic examination of figurations of the child in the Philippine colonial and postcolonial context, my dissertation project contributes to a larger interrogation of minority subject-formation and reconceptualizes how we think about the boundaries of agency and personhood. By studying childhood at the intersection of sexuality, racial theories, and colonial contact zones, my project offers a specific historical understanding of the cultural construction of personhood still prevalent in our contemporary globalized cultures.

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