Draped in the Stars and Stripes, the man brandishing the walis tambo in the Capitol Hill riot is reportedly Ilocano. Although a minority in a predictably white crowd, he is far from the only person of color in the siege. Amidst the Confederate, Tea Party and Neo-Nazi flags associated with the far right, there were a few colored faces carrying their own symbols: the man from Kochi with an Indian flag, several Asians from South Vietnam, Japan and South Korea carrying their own ensigns. Sure, there were other flags: Australia, Canada, and Israel, and even LGBTQ+. Some of them were refugees, some of them guests. A good guest helps their host.
As a part of the world slowed down to stare at the latest American car crash, it was much harder to look away when you noticed the minorities in the details. It’s not just schadenfreude when you catch glimpses of yourself.
When Filipino artists Jose Honorato Lozano, Damian Domingo and Justiniano Asuncion were developing the style of watercolor illustration known as Tipos del Pais in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, they were not just creating an art of Filipiniana representation, but rather mastering a manifestation of the much older art of catering to expectations. An auto-exoticization. As the colonial powers changed from Spanish to American to neoliberal economics, the market remained essentially the same. Skin tone still meant social standing and modes of dress still signified status.
The consumer is not seen. In color, the consumer presumably has lighter skin, if not in complexion then in outlook. The consumer is a connoisseur of the exotic, of folk art, yet never really of the folk depicted. The consumer buys what is expected. What is expected is the retention of a status quo.
Tributes for kingdoms, keepsakes for tourists. Sometimes it’s just a matter of scale. Decolonial processes have equipped you with the tools to identify these: the consumer from the consumed, the proletariat from the capitalist, the guest from the host. But they are tools for identification, not emancipation. The borders and binaries are in a constant state of collapse.
Yet a form of feudalism persists, no longer of land and bodies, but of language and minds. Trading dress and lightening the shade of a Filipino or a global social experience does not really change thinking. A terrorist could be a freedom fighter. A guest could be a migrant worker — no matter how many Star-Spangled Banners, no matter how perfect the American accent.
As soon as you retake the power, another form of power is co-opted. When you center blackness and the experience of subjugated minorities, you tip the balance and something spills over: dark stains on white Manila paper. Reality becomes stranger — or you become more aware of its absurdity. A brown Ilocano is not expected in a white bigot rally. Yet there he was. All dressed-up. Tipos del Pais. A good guest helps their host.