Trading Spaces

Kale Fajardo finds that despite the idea that we live in a small world, the connections that space and technology facilitate can also reinforce cultural identification.

Kale Fajardo
Kale Fajardo
Photo: Kelly MacWilliams

We live, or so we're told, in a global village, where physical location, distance, and borders have been rendered irrelevant by supersonic jets and fiber optic cables.

But even before September 11th recharged our awareness of fault lines, anthropologist Kale Fajardo wasn't convinced that globalization always turned the borders between countries into leaking membranes.

The reason? Not all things global are fast, digital, or homogenizing, Fajardo says. More than 90 percent of the world's trade happens via ships that take two to three weeks to cross oceans. Forgotten by pundits, global shipping has important and often overlooked effects on the identities of those who work on ships and in ports.

Fajardo should know. This assistant professor in the Department of American Studies has spent ten years researching Filipino involvement in global shipping. Last summer, Fajardo spent two weeks doing followup research aboard a container ship traveling from the port of Oakland to the port of Hong Kong, via the Northern Pacific Rim, with stops in Tokyo, Osaka, and Kiaoshung.

Those ships and the sea they traverse are "in between" spaces, Fajardo says, where crew members are quite isolated for weeks at a time from the worlds they help to connect. And they are staffed by crews who hail from around the globe: Fajardo's ship last summer included crew members from Kiribati, Germany, and the Philippines.

Contrary to the conventional wisdom that globalization blurs identities, Fajardo found the opposite effect on board the cargo ship: the contained space strengthened, rather than diluted, the national identities of the ship's crew members.

Take, for instance, the ship's Filipino members. Within Asia and globally, Filipinos have been feminized as a people, notes Fajardo. Working in over 200 countries, they have been subjected to a global reputation that is often racist and mysogynistic: "Many Filipinos, particularly, women, work as overseas contract workers," Fajardo says. "Because of power imbalances, images and narratives of the Filipino subject have emerged, saying that she's a victimized woman, particularly because she might work as a maid, nanny, or prostitute, or because she immigrated as a 'mail order bride."

Seafaring has become a way for Filipino men to resist global stereotypes. "Seafaring provides a kind of alibi or opportunity for saying, 'We're not the victim. We can be seen in this more manly, heroic way," Fajardo explains.

The same spaces and technology that facilitate connections can also reinforce just how culturally different and distinctive we remain. And that's a side of globalization that we don't see when we're reading about the latest McDonalds to open in Moscow.

By Danny LaChance

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This page contains a single entry by CLA Reach Magazine published on July 13, 2007 10:44 AM.

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