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Savage Vernacular: Performing Race, Memory, and Hip Hop in Filipino America


By observing and analyzing live performances, music, visual art, interviews, television shows, and online discourse, this dissertation traces the ways in which Filipino American hip hop performance remembers the racialized histories of the Filipino body. Through both quotidian and spectacular performances in hip hop, Filipino Americans have been contributing to crucial forms of knowledge that help unpack the terms of Filipino and American culture. Hip hop culture, I argue, operates as a productive and popular site for Filipino Americans to investigate their racial position in history and the world, expanding the opportunities for practitioners to author their own terms of popular representation. I refer to these sets of cultural practices as a Filipino American hip hop vernacular. I define vernacular as a language operating within a field of power located at the interstices of dominant and subordinate groups, thus mediating a friction between the legibility and officialdom of multicultural politics and the invisibility of subaltern groups. As such, a Filipino American hip hop vernacular articulates a cultural grammar emanating from the material conditions inherited from Philippine history. My title “Savage Vernacular” references hip hop’s linkages between contemporary popular cultural practices and a long history of colonial and racial violence applied to “uncivilized” people. I give examples of how these cultural practices operate within the following arenas: the cultures of militarization that form the spatial and cultural apparatus of hip hop among Filipino Americans, the alternative modernities with which practitioners find spiritual, cosmic, and political redemption, and the queered belongings among dancers seeking a sense of affiliation while pursuing wider racial legibility.

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