Welcome to the Nation

On July 1, I participated in Canada Day. It’s exactly what the name implies: a holiday celebrating the existence of Canada. There were all kinds of events going on that were organized by the various levels of Canadian government. I went to a 21 gun salute by the Canadian Armed Forces, got free cake at an old British colonial fort (I missed the opening ceremony and free pancake breakfast because I’d decided to sleep in), got free tours of Canadian military vessels, got to hold and inspect various guns and weaponry, then later on watched a fireworks ceremony surrounded by the largest crowd I’ve ever seen in Halifax. Oh, and I wore a red shirt for most of the day (it actually said Atlantic City, but it was still in Canadian colours).

When you get an education in critical thinking, what often happens is that you start analyzing almost everything you come across. I remember shopping for clothes immediately after seeing a documentary film about the material conditions of sweatshop workers and suddenly thinking that the workers I’d just seen describing their exploitation at the hands of multinational corporations were very likely the same ones who’d made the shirts I was pawing through. Suddenly, the abstract concepts of gendered exploitation and flexible labour became a concrete piece of fabric in my hands. I hadn’t planned on buying anything anyway, I was just enjoying the act of shopping itself, but that realization lessened my enjoyment of consumerism.

A similar thing happened to me during Canada Day. While I was being shown a C7 assault rifle and being quoted arcane military jargon, I was also thinking about how I was actively being indoctrinated into the ideology of Canadian nationalism. Go Canada! Canada Kicks Ass! Proud to be Canadian! Those were the slogans on various t-shirts I’d seen, and they were the essential messages I was supposed to be receiving from the whole Canada Day celebration. Still, I couldn’t help thinking about how identity was being manipulated for the purposes of the Canadian government.

Nation-states always manipulate identity, and it is in the interests of the Canadian government to make Canadians feel patriotic (governments and nation-states aren’t exactly the same thing, but they fit together well enough for the purposes of this post). Think of Canada as a hockey team, Canadians as the fans, and the Canadian government as the team’s owner, and you’ll see why marketing Canada is such a big deal. The profit that the Canadian government gets from successfully marketing Canada doesn’t come just from having Canadians pay their taxes and follow the law. No, the Canadian government profits from having Canadians believe that Canada exists.

If you think about it, a country is in many ways a state of mind. If Canadians stopped believing Canada existed, then it would pretty much stop existing. Canadians would stop paying their taxes, following Canadian law, listening to Canadian political leaders, and so on. Not just that, but other countries would also stop respecting those things and might start grabbing pieces of Canada to add to their own territories. This is serious business, which is why governments take national identity so very seriously. So you see, countries are like Tinkerbell: they can only survive if you clap your hands and believe in them (clapping is optional). Except that Tinkerbell doesn’t have cops and soldiers to remind you that she exists and that it would be a very bad idea to forget her.

Work that Network

One of the things about being an Internet researcher is how easy it is to find other Internet researchers — they’re all on the Internet. It would, of course, be rather odd for an Internet researcher not to be easily contacted online. After all, if someone is doing Internet research, then they must be very interested in it and are probably sophisticated users. You know, reading blogs, chatting on IRC, wasting time on Youtube, that kind of thing. Plenty of people still don’t know what a blog is, after all (my supervisor didn’t). Therefore, Internet researchers are probably heavy users of the Internet, and being heavy users, they’ve seen firsthand the incredible convenience being online and connected can bring. As well, they’ve probably bought into the prevailing online ideology that connectedness is a virtue in itself.

In my case, I’ve gotten a lot of information just from googling the names of prominent researchers, even ones that don’t do Internet stuff. They’re all connected to universities, so they usually have a faculty or departmental page where you can get copies of some of their articles (or even books if you’re lucky). Many even have their own websites and blogs. It’s in the interests of academics to have their work read by others, so this kind of open sharing is unsurprising. What’s particularly interesting, though, is when I move from reading other people’s work to communicating with the authors themselves. I’ve had fruitful discussions with Internet researchers, not just with professors but also with other grad students doing research on similar topics. The different ways I’ve found other Internet researchers is interesting: through email, through blogs, and through mailing lists. I’ve only met one of them in person, and I didn’t actually meet her per se, since I attended a presentation she was giving without knowing that I already “knew” her, and only found out afterwards who she was, when it was already too late to do anything. Two ships passing in the night.

What happened was that I attended a conference and went to a certain presentation that was supposed to be about community online. I went, found out that there had been a mixup in the program, but I stayed anyway. Later on, I discovered who the presenter had been. Life went on, I found that person’s blog and said we’d been two feet away from each other without realizing it. Then she said, “Aren’t you So-and-so’s student? When I told him that I was doing Internet research, he said that he had a student working on Filipino bloggers and said he’d put me in touch with you. But now it’s redundant, since you’ve found me anyway”.

It’s fascinating to discover firsthand how small the world is. Still, it wasn’t such a big coincidence, since academia is structured in a way that facilitates linkages across continents. Think of how many people an average professor is connected to, how many students they’ve taught, how many professors they’ve studied under, and how many classmates they’ve had. Quite a lot, so if two randomly selected academics should discover that they’re connected in some way, it’s not really a surprise. Besides, my story took place at a conference, which are designed to create connections between the people who attend.

Why do I care about networks? Because nowadays, people’s social networks extend online, in ways similar to what I’ve discussed about myself. And this is one of the things I’m studying in my research: networks, not just social networks, but networks of blogs and networks of bloggers. While I was contacting other Internet researchers I was also building a network of Internet researchers for myself. That, or I was linking into an already existing network. When you study networks, you’re never entirely sure that you’re not constructing what you’re studying.

It’s also in the nature of networks to constantly be expanding. People make connections, and those people go on to make other connections, and so on. So it’s kind of hard to study something that’s always changing. But more on that in a later post.

Networks, people. Not just computer networks, but networks in general. That’s what I’m studying. And I hope now you understand why.

I am the Gatekeeper

My application for a travel grant to New York was rejected. I was going to interview some New York bloggers, but apparently my trip was “poorly justified” in my application. I hadn’t discussed enough the importance of offline context, the everyday lived reality of identity, and of course my participants’ personal and local experiences of transnationalism. They (you know who they are) told me that I could reapply and explain these things more clearly. Plus I should include an abstract of my proposal and a letter from my supervisor corroborating my reasons for wanting face to face interviews. The good news is, they did approve $200 for research assistants and $100 for photocopying, even though the plane tickets were the point of the application and those other things were just in case I came in under budget and still had money to spare. Aaarrggh. This is probably going to set me back by two weeks. Good thing I can still do phone interviews and other research.

Bonus points if you remember what movie the title of my post is from. It’s very relevant to the topic.

What does Sarapen mean?

Penpen de sarapen
de kutsilyo de almasen.
Haw haw de carabao
batuten.

Sayang pula, walang pera.
Sayang puti, walang salapi.

That is a children’s rhyming chant from the Philippines. Specifically, it’s a Tagalog rhyming chant. There are different versions, but I suspect mine is slightly wrong. What can I say, it’s been years since I learned all this stuff. My brother says it’s “Sayang pula, tatlong pera” and so on, and my uncle adds the verse:

Sipit namimilipit
Gintong Pilak
Namumulaklak
Sa tabi ng DAGAT!

He also says that there are more verses that he can’t remember. But what does the rhyme mean? You got me, I only have a Grade 4 education in Tagalog. I think it’s a nonsense rhyme anyway. “Kutsilyo” is knife, “almasen” is warehouse (in Spanish), and “carabao” is water buffalo. The “sayang pula” verse makes no sense to me at all: Too bad it’s red, there’s no money, too bad it’s white, there’s no money? What is that supposed to mean? I originally remembered this as “oras pula” and “oras puti” or “red time” and “white time”, but no one else in my family remembers this version, so perhaps I just made it up.

Continue reading What does Sarapen mean?

So, who am I and what am I doing here?

Right, like I said before, my name is Jesse de Leon. I’m a Master’s student in Social Anthropology conducting my research on Filipino bloggers. I’m what’s known as a 1.5 generation immigrant: someone who immigrated as a child old enough to remember the country they were born in. In my case, I immigrated to Canada from the Philippines when I was ten years old. I consider myself as having grown up in both countries. I know that if I had grown up entirely in the Philippines, I would be a different person than what I am today.

It’s therefore understandable that I’m interested in issues of migration, transnationalism, and identity. I’m particularly interested in what identity is like for other Filipinos who have migrated. Do they consider themselves as being completely Filipino? Or do they see themselves as being Canadians now (or American, or Australian, or so on)? But it’s not just migrants that I’m interested in, but also their children. How Filipino do they feel? Where is home for them? How do they relate to being Filipino and to being Canadian (or American, etc.)?

Now, this is all well and good, but lots of other people have examined these issues. What am I doing that’s new? Well, I’m investigating Filipino migration and identity, but I’m investigating them through blogs. Specifically, I’m looking at how Filipino bloggers talk about these issues. I’m also looking at how Filipino bloggers don’t talk about these issues. There’s a lot more to what I’m doing, but this is the essence of my project.

And that, dear reader, is what I’m up to.

Hello world

And welcome to this blog. My name is Jesse de Leon and I’ve set up Sarapen to coordinate my research project on Filipino bloggers. It’s a place for me to order my thoughts about my research as well as a place where the people I study can find me online. I also hope to use Sarapen to disseminate information about my research to anyone interested. Expect more as the days go by.