Research

Photo Courtesy of the Thulani Davis Collection at Emory University’s Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library

My dissertation, Afro-Filipina Aesthetics: Transnational Sound Cultures and Dance Performances, 1898-1978, focuses on the little-known theatrical and music performances that emerged from transnational contacts between migratory Filipina and Black women performers. Drawing on extensive archival research conducted in the Philippines, France, and the United States, my project historizes Filipina and Black women performers and their relationships across a number of global variety shows and entertainment circuits. In doing so, I argue that migratory Filipina and African American performers in multi-genre variety shows—literary, theatric, and musical cabaret performances—shaped Euro-American imperial notions of race, gender, nation, and migration. Through their variety acts, Filipina and Black women performers formed what I call "Afro-Filipina aesthetics," strategic forms of self-fashioning of their bodies through dress, gestures, and vocals to alter their legibility as racial, gendered, and national citizen-subjects. In turn, their aesthetics reveal the intimate relations that these migratory performers had with one another.

Two key questions guide my research. First, what personal and artistic relationships did Filipina, Black, and mixed-race Afro-Filipina women performing artists have with one another? Second, how did Afro-Filipina women’s cross-racial and experimental collaborations draw from and/or reinvent literary and performance genres? To answer these questions, my project draws on literary analysis, performance theories, and archival methodologies. Chapter 1 examines mixed-race Afro-Filipina starlet Maggie Calloway’s interracial bodabil (vaudeville) performances in Manila and Singapore from the 1920s-1940s. Chapter 2 moves to mixed-race Afro-Filipina actress and singer Marpessa Dawn’s 1950s theater and musical performances with Afro-French and Caribbean artists in Paris. Chapter 3 looks at the “Satin Sisters,” a 1970s poetry-theater collective in San Francisco and New York City that featured Jessica Hagedorn, Ntozake Shange, and Thulani Davis. Chapter 4 concludes my dissertation by examining queer Afro-Filipina aesthetics in the popular American reality television drag show RuPaul’s Drag Race. My work is the first study to compare and contrast how these cross-racial aesthetics developed across major entertainment capitals—Manila, Singapore, Paris, San Francisco, and New York City—during the interwar and post-World War II periods.