I lost my chance to own and possess it.
I wanted it on eBay–but was outbid.
It was one of the original brochures of the 1904 World’s Fair. The one that had the human zoos with the Filipinos, euphemistically called a “Filipino Exposition.”
An expo, what fun!?
A friend of mine found it for me. During the week of all the “go back” talk, he had come to see my one-man show, “Emil Amok” at the Capital Fringe in DC. (The next show is on Tuesday, but more this coming Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.
On stage, I talk about how after the Philippines had just been raped and pillaged during the Philippine/U.S. war–that rebellious post-mortem of the Spanish American War, in which the death toll of innocent civilians is estimated to be a million, just a fraction of the U.S. war dead.
White American show biz entrepreneurs decided to put a happy face on that relative display of American genocide, and help the government sell the colonization of the Philippines to America and the world.
The 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, Mo. featured 1200 native Filipinos as if in a zoo. 40 different tribes, 6 Philippine villages, 70,000 exhibits, 725 Native soldiers.
The brochure cover says it all. The exposition would be “second only to the world’s fair itself.”
But would it also be our “not-so-red-carpet” welcome to America, our new home?
Or a harbinger of how Filipinos would be patronized and treated in this country, seen not as human beings equal to whites, but as America’s possessions. Not like slaves, technically. Just our first colonized people. And they look so cute, don’t they? Real spear-chucking, loincloth wearing headhunters. And their families.
It’s a real example of history no one talks about. But as I point out in “Emil Amok,” it is America’s gateway to imperialism. Does that begin to explain our lives in America?
The 1904 World’s Fair coincided with Chinese Exclusion process, which began in 1882, renewed in 1892, and then made Chinese immigration permanently illegal in 1902.
In part, the Filipinos were brought in to replace Chinese labor. It’s the reason the Filipino male to female ratio was 14-1. They were workers. Not intended to start families.
The labor purpose seemingly backfired because 30,000 Filipino men showed up, mostly in California by 1930.
They were colonized Americans. Nationals. They belonged.
But it was the Depression. Filipinos were taking jobs. And women.
White nativists fearing the “peaceful penetration” by another race would move to exclude the Filipinos, just like they did with the Chinese a generation earlier.
For good measure, anti-miscegenation laws prevented any race mixing.
As is often the case in stories, the best part is the sex part. And it really is the heart of my show.
FILIPINOS IN LOINCLOTHS AS MANDINGO?
Think White nationals fearing Filipinos stealing their white women and infecting the white race.
Think how badly White men wanted Filipino men to go home.
In 1930s America, the so-called “Filipino Problem” was the burning immigration question. There were politicians from Sacramento to DC. One of them was a member of the famed McClatchy media family.
And the focus was just on the Filipino men, those lusty effing rabbits.
It wasn’t asylum seekers or caravans from Central America. It wasn’t Mexican rapists, or MS13 gang members. There were no people detained in cages.
No, in the 1930s, the big immigration issue involved the tens of thousands of single Filipino men, mostly in California, who were seen not just as threatening the sex part of White male privilege, but the future ethnic purity of America.
That sounds like it would fuel a “Go Home” story to end all “Go Home” stories.
My father was one of those single Filipino men, whose existence in America was framed by the Filipinos caged in human zoos for entertainment in 1904.
That’s why I wanted that brochure on eBay.
I didn’t get it. But I can tell my father’s story that continues his journey with my story of Harvard and NPR.
I brought him with me.
It’s at the Capital Fringe, this Tuesday, July 23, then Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, July 26-28.
Few people, Asian Americans, Filipino Americans, whites, have heard this story.
It’s forgotten history, which is understandable considering what a racist, sexist country America is.
Filipino head hunters in loincloths on display aren’t exactly a feel-good story. It’s something America would rather forget.
I even forgot about the brochure during Sunday’s bidding. And all because I was sitting immersed in the theater watching a large white man, Mike Daisey, talk about how racist American history is.
MIKE DAISEY DOES ZINN’S “A PEOPLE’S HISTORY”
The ability to forget the past is a major theme of Daisey’s work, a massive 18-chapter, 32-hour live performance over two weeks at the Capital Fringe in Washington, DC.
White America certainly would rather we forget it all.
But, of course, we can’t.
I arrived in time to see five of the chapters, one more impressive than the next. Daisey explains how genocide and slavery are the root causes of America’s racist history. That, and our country’s inability to deal with the messes we create. We don’t learn from history, but we do leave distinguishable patterns. Asian Americans alone know Chinese exclusion, Japanese internment, the Philippines, the Vietnam war. They all come up multiple times in the work.
My favorite chapter was the finale that featured segments on Obama, seen as our savior to redeem the nation of its White Supremacy. That didn’t work, according to Daisey, because Obama was too moderate. The first black president, however, enabled the right to become radicalized, and that’s why, Daisey explains, we have Trump and the rise of White Nationalism.
Daisey says Trump may win in 2020, but the election is not about replacing Trump alone. He fears Trump has let out the secret that America is racist and has laid the groundwork for anyone in the future—likely a military hero—to employ the Trump strategy that embraces fascistic White Supremacy.
And the problem—it will be somebody smarter than Trump.
Cheery? It is compared to climate change and global warming. Daisey says you think the border issues now are tough, wait till the temperatures rise around the equator and millions of people join the march to the U.S.-Mexican border because they are climate refugees from unlivable lands. That’s just in the Americas. In Asia, how about India’s population? Do they migrate north to China?
That’s the doom and gloom part, but then there are Daisey’s personal revelations that are more compelling than the history at times.
Daisey likes to talk about being a straight white male, because that’s the privilege he’s been given. He understands why America happened. But the surprise revelation at the end also explains why he had to tell the history for himself. He wasn’t as privileged as he thought.
An inspirational performance about all our places in U.S. history.
Daisey’s gone, but I’m still at the Capital Fringe telling history from a Filipino/ Asian American perspective: Tuesday, July 23 , then Friday, July 26; Saturday, July 27; and Sunday, July 28.
Come on by for an intimate trip into the past that feels a lot like today. The story is hot and the AC is on.