This dissertation, "The Heartland of Empire: Queer Cultural Imaginaries of Filipinas/os in the Midwest," postulates that normativity and queerness are not simply socio-cultural phenomena but rather spatial ones as well. By interpreting popular, literary, and visual cultural representations of Filipinas/os rooted in and routed through the Midwest since the turn of the twentieth century from a queer diasporic Filipina/o Midwestern perspective, I expose the workings of US imperial power <italic>within</italic> the US nation-state as opposed to outside of it, beyond its geographic national borders proper, in the so-called over theres. Focusing on the scale of the local and the regional within the national, I put forward a Critical Midwestern Studies that uses region as a method for unpacking the complexities of race, gender, sexuality, nation, and empire and that reworks dominant cultural narratives about the interior US so as to avoid perpetuating the Midwest as a site of lack for Critical Race and Ethnic Studies, Queer Studies, and Post/colonial Studies scholarship. In so doing, I interrogate the Midwest's discursive status as the supposed real America and decenter the coasts as the exclusive locus for queer and Asian American theorizing; I also remap the boundaries between homeland and diaspora, colony and metropole, and normative and queer. Such an epistemological intervention re-imagines the Midwest as not merely the heartland of the US nation but more importantly as the heartland of US empire. This project begins with the idea that while Filipinas/os--who represent the second largest Asian ethnic group in the US--figure as out of place in the US national imaginary, their existence in the Midwest proves even more anomalous. In both instances, the ideology of US exceptionalism serves to smooth over the contradiction of Filipinas/os being forcibly incorporated into, yet racially excluded from, the American body politic as a result of US imperial expansion in the Philippines at the end of the nineteenth century. However, this post/colonial ambivalence speaks not simply to Filipina/o racial difference but also to its alleged deviance from white bourgeois heteronormativity; and as the quintessential embodiment of Middle or "normal" America, the Midwest brings these dynamics into relief. Thus, I argue that dominant cultural imaginaries of the interior US not only whitewash the region's settler colonial history, evacuate the presence of people of color and queer people, and conceal the nation's ideological, epistemological, and ontological beliefs; they also deter Asian American and Queer Studies scholarship from moving past the West Coast and coastal metropolises such as San Francisco and New York, respectively. In foregrounding geography in the analysis of socio-cultural phenomena, place functions not as a passive backdrop but instead becomes a critical pivot on which stories can turn. Traveling all over the Midwest and spanning the last one hundred years, each chapter features a key Filipina/o figure whose presence in the heartland interpellates the Midwest as a critical geography of US empire. In the first chapter, I reread the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair's eroticization of the displayed "primitive" Igorot "dogeater" through Jesse Lee Kercheval's short story "The Dogeater" (1987) to emphasize the attractive, as opposed to repulsive, forces of US imperialism. In the second chapter, I turn to the pensionada/o-cum-exile sent especially to a number of Midwestern colleges and universities during the colonial era as a way to create a Filipina/o intelligentsia in the image of the US and depicted in distinguished Filipino/American author Bienvenido Santos's fiction and memoir. The third chapter focuses on the Filipino farm workers who labor for love in a 2009 Minneapolis production of Lonnie Carter's stage adaptation of renowned Filipino/American author Carlos Bulosan's short story "The Romance of Magno Rubio" (posthumously published in 1979). My attention to the Midwest in these latter two examples illustrates how regional particularity can amplify the queer forms of kinship US imperialism engenders. Chapter 4 addresses the specters of US imperialism embodied by the entertaining actors/singers of Filipina/o descent on the hit television show <italic>Glee</italic>, which is set in Ohio, to hold in tension the past that dominant US culture wishes to forget and the present that refuses such a repressive desire. In the coda, I gesture toward the queer horizons obstructed by the confines of multiple normativities through the alternative family formations the Filipina/o latchkey youth of A. Rey Pamatmat's contemporary play <italic>Edith Can Shoot Things and Hit Them</italic> create on a non-working farm in the so-called middle of nowhere. Together, the five case studies I present unsettle dominant cultural imaginaries that position queerness and Filipina/o-ness as out of place in the heartland; they also chart an alternative cartography of the US nation and the Filipina/o American diaspora wherein a queer Filipina/o Midwest seems perfectly possible.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. July 2014. Major: American Studies. Advisors: Kale Fajardo, Kevin Murphy. 1 computer file (PDF); xi, 367 pages.
The Heartland of Empire: Queer Cultural Imaginaries of Filipinas/os in the Midwest.
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