Reading the Gendered Body in Filipino-Australian Diaspora Philanthropy

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Shirlita Africa Espinosa


Diaspora philanthropy has increasingly become a visible resource of nations from the South, next only to the more widespread money transfers from members of diasporic communities in the first world. The discourse of transnational giving is shaped by the liberal philosophy that has always accompanied solidarity through philanthropy, which sidelines questions of the unevenness of giving, political accountability, and the role of the state in regulating and transforming resource transfers into profitable investment. I argue in this paper that the problematic operations wherein benevolence rendered are manifested in covert gendered techniques. The yearly Sydney Fiesta Cultura’s Miss Philippines-Australia exemplifies the solid links between gender and the political economy of giving. What renders this otherwise ‘ordinary’ beauty contest as more contentious than other forms of generating funds for philanthropy are the specificities of Filipino-Australian migration: the transnational movement of sexual labour that hyperfeminised the community like no other in Australia. The fiesta, not unlike other expressions of cultural production that attempt to conceal this sexualised past, nonetheless raises the spectre of the ‘mail-order bride’ whose migration ‘built’ the community, an assertion that meets opposition from the middle class, professional and mestizo migrants from the Philippines. However, the processes that the fiesta puts into place in facilitating diaspora philanthropy are reliant on women’s labour, thus revealing the intersections of the community’s past and present. This overlooked facet also hints at the philanthropy engendered within diasporic formations as distinct and conditioned by the migrant history that has shaped these communities.

Article Details

Imagined Transcultural Histories and Geographies Special Issue July 2012 (Peer Reviewed)
Author Biography

Shirlita Africa Espinosa, University of Sydney

Shirlita Espinosa is currently a full-time Ph D candidate and tutor at the University of Sydney working on Filipino migrants’ cultural production in Australia. She was awarded the Ford International Fellowship from 2009 to 2011 which made the research and writing of this article possible.