The Multicultural State and Its Discontents

August 4, 2009

This post is a response to Dr. F.P.A. Demeterio III’s “Ang Balangkas ng Multikulturalismo at Ang Pagbubuo ng Bansang Pilipino”. The paper interrogates various contexts of “multiculturalism” and looks at the multicultural conditions of Philippine society that are inhibitive or encouraging of a Filipino country (bansa). Though I think most of his arguments are fundamentally right – that is, there remains an indivisible kernel of experiential truth to be derived – I nonetheless have a few main topics of discussion – not fully fleshed out arguments, per se, but merely nodal points to suggest further lines of inquiry.

Firstly, the notion of a coherent Canadian “model” of multiculturalism is a bit essentialist. It is important to note that the supposed (anti-assimilative) successes of the Canadian project of multiculturalism have not necessarily translated into an efficacious, stream-lined, stable multicultural state. Francophone Canada, located within the province of Quebec, has tried for many years to gain independence from the rest of the country. Inuit and other First Nations tribes have not had comparatively equal, available resources from the government. On the other hand, the United States, which has prided itself on a  unique “melting pot” multiculturalism (the national motto is, after all, “e pluribus unum” or, “out of many, one”), has often had to deal with fractured social networks: the prevalence of many ethnic enclaves, institutional discrimination, difficulty in assimilation, etc. The author also neglected to mention the strong sense of geographic regionalism (the Pacific Northwest, the American South, etc) in the United States, which, while varied and distinct, nonetheless simultaneously coexist.

Additionally, the discussion of the “gessellschaft” is somewhat of a mis-reading, and not necessarily positioned as “public domain” (redeploying E. San Juan, Jr.’s slightly incorrect translation of the word in a Marxist context), but a “civil society”, one that is mobilized entirely within the primary centralized bureaucratic infrastructure. Though many have argued that the patrimonial nature of gemeinschaft is less turbulent, Marx himself argued that the gessellschaft, which creates social cleavages along class, race, etc., is necessary in order to create massive, wide-ranging productive forces.

On a side note, the glorification of either model has to take into account the historical particularities of its content. The Malaysian project of monocultural coherence based on ethno-nationalism will naturally have some difficulties in appropriating the American melting-pot stratagem because the former clearly privileges an “indigenous” population whose nation is characterized as an ancient domain, while the latter’s structure is a blend of various remnants due to immigration and its heritage as a European settler colony. The Philippines, which has had no history of mass immigration to the country, by both coincidence (logistic difficulties attendant to its geographic location and archipelagic character) and design (the structures in place by both the Spanish and American colonial administrations), with the exception of the Chinese. The Philippines, unlike Malaysia, is closer, at the very least, to a fairly indigenized, homogeneous society (in the sense that there is a more coherent set of criteria upon which one “imagines” the Philippine nation, in the Benedict Anderson sense).

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