Production, Consumption, and Garbage: Global Capitalism and the Transmigrating Brown Body
Issue #55, May 2001
Late capitalist global economies float on swamps of corporate-manipulated production/ consumption systems that ensure profits for the few at the expense the worker. In the U.S., working-class Anglos, Mejicanos, Filipinos, to name a few, become fragmented bodies that melt into factory lines and agricultural fields; they provide the consumptive goods for the few and waste for the rest. In Europe, third-generation Turkish and pied noir prols polish floors and clean up toilet bowls to sanitize dirty money that flows through EU-celebrated financial centers like Frankfurt and Brussels.
As the lust for the gold dust increases, so too does the capitalist appendage reach further. To keep a consumption/production system afloat, places like Europe construct bridges of economic dependence between disenfranchised nation-states as far off as the Philippines. High unemployment rates and nation-state debtor status force Filipina/o bodies to cross waters to survive. As European middle-classers trade stocks on the margin to buy into an IKEA-lifestyle and feast on exotic delicacies, these brown bodies (mostly) exist only as hands and arms to fill appetites; holes to be filled by conspicuous consumers. The system self-sustains. In Germany, middle-class gatekeepers construct a socioeconomic, transnational trade zone that panoptically monitors (with the help of immigration law and state police) brown bodies to ensure their continued exploitation.
The economic exploitation of the Philippines by production/consumption megaliths like Europe and the U.S. isn't new. Late-nineteenth century U.S. capitalist expansion into Asian markets used the Philippines as a Pacific Rim stepping stone that handily provided exploitable raw material — Pinoy and Pinay bodies. This legacy of capitalist exploitation continues to entangle Filipinas in an exploitive global market. A post-WWII Germany stacked to the hilt with economic development funds (Marshall's and etc.) worked fast to build economic ties with the Philippines. Today, Germans own resorts in the Philippines and Frankfurt is "home" to a steadily rising Filipina population. Veiled as the building of cultural bridges between the countries, German capitalists and the Philippine mestizo elites meet at trade conferences to celebrate closer relations that, as ambassador Jose Romero announced, "will produce more Shakespearean plays, Sadler Wells ballet, concerts, champagne, pasta" in the Philippines and more "siestas and meriendas" in Germany. Clarion calls to capital's beneficent globalization of culture disguise the production/consumption/waste triumvirate that control the flow of exploitable bodies that secure the status quo: In the Philippines, the mestizo elite will get their Sadler Wells and super-suction toilets (metro Manila produces 6,000 tons of waste daily that the elite never want to smell or see) and middle-class Germans will refill (emptied by Nazi genocidal acts) its pool of disenfranchised laborers.
There's an increased migration of Filipina bodies (not Filipino) into Germany because they fit into white patriarchal, capitalist generated fantasies of the brown woman as fetishized consumable/usable object. A case in point: During a stop over in Berlin, ambassador Romeo Arguelles celebrated, in one breath, Germany-Philippine economic ties and Filipinas as consumable memorabilia that can be purchased to enrich the average middle-class German man's life. In these age-old, ready made patriarchal fantasies, Filipinas are exotic body parts — arms, legs, and vaginas — that are in need of saving/filling and that will enrich the dull middle-class male's life.
In Darmstadt, Germany, a number of Filipinas' lives reveal the local effects of capital's commodification, consumption, and garbaging of brown women's bodies. Many of the Filipinas who migrate to Germany are Pinay in search of the so-called "good life." Thirteen-year-old Felma worked American-owned discos in the Philippines to make ends meet; she was raped by a U.S. GI stationed in Olongapo, then made tracks for Germany with a traveling businessman. Felma's story isn't uncommon. Many Filipinas are forced into a violently dysfunctional relationship with the German and U.S. nation-states bodies. Often, Filipinas internalize the U.S./European-coded middle-class dream to such a degree that they reproduce the very hierarchies of difference used to violently oppress in the first place.
Many Filipinas in Darmstadt do manage to save and/or borrow enough money to get their papers — to pay a German to marry them. In Darmstadt, the Filipinas have created an ad hoc community that often pulls together resources and create networks to help legalize friends and family. A roster of fifty-plus-year-old German men willing to marry for 10,000 dm. (5,000 up front on the "wedding" day and 5,000 dm after legal residency is stamped). Many of these over-the-hill men are more than eager to acquire an exotic Filipina. As one 25-year-old Filipina, Ma Floriz Mabulac (a.k.a "Ching"), mentioned, "the German men like Filipinas because we treat them well and we're very adventurous." Indeed, Ching came over from the Philippines because her aunt was a mail-order bride of sorts who ended up in Germany. Yes, many women gain legal residency and thus a sense of freedom of movement; even emancipation, perhaps. Of course, once legal, life doesn't get much better; non-whiteness continues systematically to economically ghettoize Filipinas. So, while this system at first glance seems to empower, in reality these women remain forever caught up in a production/consumption system that treats them like garbage.
In this production/consumption economy, different nation-states accord more or less value (garbage/utility) to brown bodies. Catching a German national or a U.S. GI can transform Filipinas from waste into the useful. Ching, for example, is no longer seen as "garbage" by her fellow Filipinas; she acquires use-value as a symbol of success and as the owner of a card that allows her access to coveted nation-state defined spaces. While Ma Floriz Mabulac (a.k.a "Ching") didn't marry but had a son with a U.S. GI who gives her access to the U.S. military base — a territorial space in defined by dollars and the red, white, and blue. As her dark body passes through a U.S. patrilineal wash of civility and purification, her use-value increases.
Many Filipinas in Darmstadt are out to increase their "value". They often meet at the Rainbow Club (U.S. owned and run bingo hall/bar/gambling den) not only to take their chances on the slots, hoping for the GI jackpot, but also to share stories in Tagalog. Sharing stories, however, isn't all emancipatory and not exactly an enactment of the liberal political dream that promotes solidarity based on community. Rather, because the women fail to cohere as a group around issues of class to fight for labor rights, they remain trapped within the false consciousness that keeps them in the proverbial shit-pit. The Rainbow Club is less a site for solidarity and action, then, and more a site where Filipinas convene to reproduce capitalist hegemonic master narratives. For example, the widowed Merle goes to the Rainbow Club dressed in Versace to the nines, and shining like a Christmas tree with jewelry, dangling her wealth like a carrot in front of younger Filipinas. (After her white husband, Joreg, died, she stepped easily into shoes of a matriarch, exploiting Filipinas by charging high rents to live in squalor and paying out next to nothing for their labor.) She turns to waste Filipina bodies. Unfortunately, with the likes of Merle as the role model, Filipinas in Darmstadt never make the transition from a class ("in itself") that embodies a social category and a class ("for itself") that recognizes common interest that would allow them to form a cohesive force able to fight for better working conditions.
With the exception of Merle, Filipinas in Darmstadt hold jobs as housekeepers, janitors, waitresses, factory workers, and baby-sitters. Within these already menial occupations, Filipinas are racially segregated from their working-class poor Turkish and Baltic-émigré counterparts. (Alongside Pacific Rim subjects, Frankfurt and its environs is "home" to exiles from the Baltic states and Turkey.) There's no sense of reaching beyond the group to other like-exploited bodies. Often, this is tied to pride and an internalizing of the production/consumption paradigm. Many Filipinas cross borders with degrees. Certain middle-class doors have opened, so those like Twilla who left with the Philippines with a midwife degree expect that she'll be able to easily climb economic ladders once in Germany. To make ends meet, Twilla was forced to work "illegally" as a baby-sitter. Often, in the production/consumption transnational trade zone, skilled and educated Filipinas like Twilla are forced to de-skill to take care of the Fatherland's garbage. And, rather than form solidarity and fight for worker rights with others like the Turks, Filipinas like Twilla would rather play into the narrative of the Filipina-as-fetish object to be consumed by German nationals. Some become prostitutes with the hopes of making ready cash to legalize; others flip through rosters filled with fifty-plus-year-old German men's names who're willing to marry for 10,000 dm. (5,000 dm up front 5,000 dm after the passport gets that stamp of legal residency). These men are eager to acquire an exotic Filipina because, as Ching mentioned, "they like Filipinas because we treat them well and we're very adventurous." Of course, legalizing doesn't lead to freedom of movement. Life still continues to stink for the most part. Yes, legalizing provides a safeguard against deportability; legalizing sans the next step of forming class consciousness and solidarity, will only ever continue to construct stronger panoptic systems of control (production/consumption) that tag Filipinas, Turkish, and Others as garbage.
U.S. and European land fills spill over; bleach bottles, hypodermic needles, and junk t.v.s wash up on Philippine shores; brown bodies cross nation-state borders to ensure that blue-suited money brokers can continue to power-lunch and turn exotic delicacies into shit for the non-subjects to clean up. Perhaps it's time to cut off the toilet paper that wipes blue-suited assholes and reproduces the consumption/production/garbage paradigm that delimits brown bodily movement. Perhaps it's time to form a class "for itself" (Philippines/Germany/U.S., white/brown, male/female) to fight for better working conditions globally.
Frederick Aldama is a member of the Bad Subjects production team.