The Heartland of U.S. Empire: Tracing the Midwest’s Connections to U.S. Imperialism in the Philippines and to Filipinx Diaspora

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The Midwest is not the first place you might think of to study U.S. empire in the Philippines and diasporic Filipinx culture. Its relational unexpectedness positions it as structurally queer to Philippine and diasporic Filipinx geographies, ontologies, and epistemologies. And yet, as Filipinx American cultural studies scholar Sarita See provocatively asserts, “America’s heartland is riven by its transoceanic empire, and the most interior states can be mapped . . . by the Philippines” (Decolonized Eye, xvi).

Heeding See’s claim, my book manuscript in progress, The Heartland of US Empire: Filipinxs Queering the Midwest, the Midwest Queering Filipinx Diaspora, examines an array of cultural representations of Filipinxs in the Midwest to challenge the perception of America’s heartland as the province of whiteness and removed from transpacific U.S. territorial expansion and to unsettle the Philippines as always origin for diasporic Filipinxs.

At the turn of the twentieth century, the Midwest played a crucial but often under-acknowledged role in facilitating the cultures of U.S. imperialism in the Philippines: from servicemen hailing from states in the region, including Indiana, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota, being deployed to fight in the Spanish– and Philippine–American Wars; to scientists and politicians from Michigan influencing knowledge about and governance of the Philippines after its declaration of independence from Spain; to the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair’s display of over a thousand people from all over the Philippine archipelago; and to pensionadxs studying at land-grant universities such as Iowa State, Kansas State, the University of Illinois, and the University of Minnesota.

Because Midwesterners were over there, in the Philippines at the turn of the twentieth century, Filipinxs have been over here, in the Midwest since the early twentieth century (a riff on Black cultural studies scholar Kobena Mercer’s oft-quoted phrase, “we are here because you where there” [Welcome to the Jungle, 7]). By locating Filipinxs in the geographic center of the U.S. metropole and placing them at the heart of the narrative, the literary, performative, and televisual materializations of the queer diasporic Filipinx Midwest that I analyze in the book collectively engender alternative mappings of race, gender, sexuality, region, nation, diaspora, and empire.

Such a centered peripheral vision opens up new vistas and relationalities that could be missed when the Midwest is dismissed simply as “flyover country.”

Tom Sarmiento, Assistant Professor

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