The fluidity of race

The fluidity of race

Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
May 2012
221 pages
DOI: 10.7282/T3FN154X

Nicholas Trajano Molnar, Assistant Professor
Department of History, Philosophy, and Religious Studies
Community College of Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

This study is an examination of the American mestizos who lived in the Philippines from 1900 to 1955. No scholarly studies exist that analyze and historicize this group, but this is understandable, as the population of the American mestizos compared to the overall Filipino population is miniscule, never exceeding 20,000 individuals at any one time. Despite their small numbers, the American mestizos were a matter of social concern for the Philippine state and the expatriate Americans and Filipino nationalists who resided there. Various actors in the Philippines carried their own imposed racializations of the group that changed over time, ranging from American expatriates who emphasized the group’s “American” blood to Filipino nationalists who embraced them as Filipinos.

This study will demonstrate that the boundaries of race have been constantly shifting, with no single imposed or self-ascribed American mestizo identity coalescing. American mestizo racial definitions and constructs are historically and regionally specific, complicating conventional scholarly assumptions and requiring a historically grounded approach to the understanding of race and ethnicity. This study makes theoretical contributions to the study of race in the United States and its former colonies. Contemporary literature seeks to explain by what means racial identity is created and maintained. My study, however, seeks to explore racial formation from another angle, exploring why a distinct group identity never coalesced among the American mestizos despite the presence of similar economic, historical, and social forces that have clearly led to racial formation in other groups.

The concept of the American mestizo and the fluid Philippine racial framework challenged static American notions of race. I argue that contact with the Philippines led to an assimilation of Filipino racial ideas among American expatriates, who in turn created their own colonialized concepts of race and nationality, demonstrating that under certain historical conditions, American concepts of race had room to bend. Tracking the transmittal of these hybridized ideas, and their transformations and various interpretations at each venue, allows us to gain insight into the malleability of Philippine and American notions of nation and race, and into the larger processes of racial construction overall.

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