By Marivir R. Montebon
She remembered who she was and the game changed. – Lalah Delia
New York – Chances are, a journalist would be in a gut-wrenching situation when she is in the company of sociologists, whose world is of the high intellect and theories. Her head, so accustomed to writing in the simplest style as possible, has to disentangle academic words that are alien to ordinary life conversations.
But I was excited to get invited despite the short notice by an old-friend-way-back-in- college Dr. Phoebe Sanchez, who is now in Belgium, at the Universite de Catholique de Louvain-la-Neuve to finish her post-doctoral studies. She said she will speak in a world forum, and of course, I dropped everything for that.
Two hours later, I found myself in the digital world of scholars on the 11th of August, the last day of the conferences. The conversation was on “Beyond Race, Gender, and Class: Centering the North-South Axis in Analyses of Inequality.”
This was part of the 2020 Annual Meeting of the Washington, DC-based American Sociological Association (ASA) from August 8-11, 2020 with the theme ‘Power, Inequality and Resistance at Work.’
The North-South Axis in Analyses of Inequality discussion was put together by Ms. Caroline Schoepf of the HongKong Baptist University. It looked at how the global north related to the south, colonially and in ‘trying to help lift its conditions and addressing inequality’. Thus, terms like decolonization, assimilation, neocolonialism, and such had been flying in the international chat room like it was my menu for the day.
Assimilation in America
Dr. Bandana Purkayastha, professor of Sociology and Asian and American Studies at the University of Connecticut, emphasized that in postmodern, immigrant-driven America, the dominant conversation is on the immigrant’s ‘assimilation’.
To which quickly I asked myself – are immigrants able to assimilate? Do they feel they belong in America? I thought my questions were rather dramatic than scholarly, which I tried to answer myself anyway. Right on American soil, you see the north straining down the south – where many old immigrants are demonizing new immigrants, repeatedly saying the latter do not belong here.
Dr. Parkayastha, in her digital presentation on “Understanding Northern Problems via Southern Theories”, noted that the US is composed of international migrants, including refugees and internal migrants, hence the dominant conversation is on assimilation. Ironically, however, she said that the US “doesn’t have focus on scholarship for migrants,” she lamented.
While we question the government for not providing such opportunity, Parkayastha instead offered – why is the government ‘normalizing’ such disparity and lack of academic study?” The answer, I suppose, is on women immigrants themselves, who will have to take responsibility in telling their narratives in the facets of academic, political, and social life.
Purkayastha currently serves on the executive committee of the International Sociological Association and was awarded by the American Sociological Association/Asian American section’s Contributions to the Field Award in 2016.
Understanding colonialism thru History…or Herstory
Prof. Phoebe Sanchez, who is a scholar of the University of the Philippines Cebu College, used history as a tool for understanding the Filipino woman, ethnically called Sugbuana, a native of the island of Sugbo (now called Cebu) in central Philippines.
She made a comparison of the consciousness and status of indigenous women before and during the Spanish colonialization in her presentation “The Colonial Appropriation of Women’s Indigenous Knowledge: The Case of the Sugbuana.”
Years of Spanish colonialism, through religion and education, and outright brutality of death and isolation, have changed the psyche of women to eventually become submissive and ‘not liking themselves.’
Actually, I owe from Prof. Sanchez my early consciousness of women’s empowerment since our university days at the University of San Carlos in our hometown Cebu. Just slightly ahead of me in years, she majored in History while I was enjoying Psychology.
Through Sanchez’s past research studies, using local history, I got to understand the indigenous Sugbuana as a respected leader, healer, agricultural genius, and mother. Colonialism and post-modern societies wiped that out.
Using history as a tool for understanding why women ‘lost themselves’ through the constant brutality of her colonizers and the normalized victimization during post-modern times is, for me, the most effective tool for empowerment. There can be no other way.
Photokwento and the surfacing of women’s voices
Prof. Kaira Canete, from the New South Wales University in Sydney, contributed the strategy and word “photokwento” (literally meaning picture story) into the discussion, a tool for surfacing women’s narratives.
She presented her disaster research focusing on women in Tacloban City in the Philippines on how they recovered from the devastation of supertyphoon Haiyan in 2013, considered to be the strongest recorded supertyphoon to hit land.
Like Dr. Sanchez, Prof. Canete hails from Cebu and the University of San Carlos where she finished Sociology and Anthropology. She serves as assistant professor at the UP Cebu College.
Canete expressed her own challenges as a researcher, of trying not to dominate or control the narrative of local women as they reeled from the onslaught of Haiyan. Aware of her own privileged position, it was important to step back, she said, and let women have the grip of their own story-telling space.
The use of digital cameras for women to use in taking pictures of their own journey in rebuilding their lives was the strategy for the research. The photo-kwento brought out the truth in life after a natural disaster through women’s voices – sad, hopeful, and authentic.
At the chatroom, there’s the enlightening presentations of Dr. Rosa Acevedo, and Dr. Sujata Patel too. Acevedo discussed life affirmations in Puerto Rico whose experience as a neo-colony is nuanced and complex compared to other Latin American countries. Patel meanwhile presented India’s race and caste system as intertwined which has continually been seen from the perspective of the north – the British orientalists, administrators, and missionaries. It was time to look at it from within, Patel noted.
The high level digital discussion was a powerful reaffirmation (on my part) of surfacing the voices of women when addressing age-old gender and racial inequalities on the ground. #
#tellyourstory #useyourownvoice #photokwento #sugbuana #assimilation #immigrants #herstory
(Featured photo: A collage from Prof. Cañete’s research study Photo-Kwento)