Student Reflection-Beauty in the Philippines: Materialized Oppression (11.2)

By Bernadine Cortina, Chapman University

In creating this timeline, I felt deeply connected to this work. The theory was alive and in the world for me, and creating this timeline was deeply personal – it was challenging and healing.

Since taking Dr. Jan Osborn’s class, I find myself always in awe of the discoveries I am making in seeing rhetoric in the world – always interwoven and always in the becoming, marked by its consequentiality and the change it inevitably produces as it comes into relations with us amongst other forms. 

Examining beauty in the Philippines through a new materialist lens came out of a realization I made as I started working with rhetoric more consciously. I was uncovering a colonial inheritance, the ghosts of our hauntings. Here, the colonial ghosts that have tormented my very being begin to take corporeal form. 

They materialize. 

I can start to see their mechanisms and their orchestrations, how they hold us all within their grasp. 

As they take a multiplicity of forms in their complex networks of power, I shudder, but I also laugh. 

I marvel at their limitations because, once visible, the illusion of their omnipotence shatters.

In the ashes of that illusion was a sense of empowerment. A liberatory potential catches fire.

We can re-vision. We can shift. We co-construct.  

In an Ethnofiction class I took with Professor Sarah Rafael Garcia, she introduced me to the KnightLab program, where I created my first digital timeline. This broadened my imagination of what research can look like. When Dr. Jan Osborn introduced me to the tracing project, my mind immediately drifted to that digital timeline format. Although a timeline does have notions of a linear movement, a linear time, I loved how the digital aspect and its interaction with viewers as hypertext also challenged that linearity. The image of beauty in the Philippines is deeply connected to colonial histories, a past, but these histories are still present today and materialize in new forms. 

Creating this timeline also emphasized for me the importance of research as storytelling. So much of my heart is shaped by the Philippines, and I draw from our rich oral storytelling tradition. Storytelling is my ancestral birthright. I was reminded that, in this work, I have made efforts to story the Philippine experience, just as our ninunos used kwentos to explain to themselves and each other how the world came to be, how it is, and how it can be. Research is storytelling the truths of our human condition.

Especially in knowing so much of this comes from personal experience, in my own community of friends and family that grew up with shame around their brown skin and immersed in skin-whitening practices, I have tried with this timeline to reach my kapwa Pinay.

Embracing my tongue in its complicated bilingual formations, in using Taglish, and in using poetry and claiming narratives as also knowledge-making, I have kept you in mind, mga kababayan ko. While I know more can be done to make this knowledge accessible, I have tried here to make this story reach those of us who need it most.

Sana naabot ko kayo. Sana maabot kayo.

I hope, with all my heart, that I reach you.