Event | Conference

Keynote Panel, "Reflections on 500 Years of Navigation and (Anti)Conquest"

part of the Mactan500 Virtual Conference

Friday, April 23, 2021, 5:00 -7:00pm (EST)

John D. Blanco (UCSD), “A God is Weeping: Reinterpreting the Conquest”
Oona Paredes (UCLA), “Death on the Beach: ‘Decolonizing’ Mactan’s Pericolonial Moment”
Vicente Rafael (University of Washington), “Duterte’s Phallus: On the Aesthetics of Authoritarian Vulgarity”

Moderator: Dr. Theodore S. Gonzalves (Smithsonian Museum of American History)

The year 2021 marks the 500th anniversary of the rise and spread of Western civilization made possible by Spanish and Portuguese explorers seeking to open global trade routes. From 1519 to 1521, Ferdinand Magellan’s fleet of five ships passed underneath South America to sail over what would later be called the Pacific Ocean, eventually arriving on the island of Guam and then the Philippines. Near present-day Cebu, Magellan was met with resistance by the datu Lapulapu, whose troops overwhelmed him and his men in a battle that ultimately led to his death. Otherwise known as the Battle of Mactan, this event resulted in a Spanish retreat that delayed colonization for 44 years, when Miguel López de Legazpi arrived in Cebu to become the first governor of the Spanish East Indies. It likewise marks the beginning of island resistance against European conquest and colonization that culminated in 1898 with the formal end of Spanish rule as a result of the Spanish-American War and the Philippine revolution.

How do we commemorate these events in the present? What should be the overarching narrative of these histories? Who are its winners and who are its losers? Should this history emphasize a feat of global navigation, or local resistance against overwhelming odds? Should we celebrate the origins and legacies of globalization? Or must we recognize instead the beginning of island conquest by Europeans that was to last for more than 300 years? What do we want to celebrate on this anniversary? What is the significance of this anniversary in the lives of Filipinxs and their colonizers today?


John D. Blanco, “A God is Weeping: Reinterpreting the Conquest”

Reading stories of the “spiritual conquest” of the Philippines during the seventeenth century in the chronicles of the religious Orders against the grain reveals the struggle of natives to understand the anomalous situation of having had their patterns of economy and society fundamentally altered by the Spanish presence, but without a corresponding law or order that would allow them to envision their future under Spanish rule. While stories of gods and monsters in the Philippines are routinely unmasked by missionaries as figures of the devil, a close reading of these episodes suggests the collective struggle of natives to either reinvent their notions of law, religion, and custom under friar surveillance; or appropriate Christian beliefs and conceptions as a way of filling in the gaps of the limits of Spanish reach. Centennials invite us to not only relinquish our obsession with constructing / deconstructing / reconstructing grand narratives, but also to become indifferent to their persistence in favor of allowing the past to speak to our today, in other ways.

Oona Paredes, “Death on the Beach: ‘Decolonizing’ Mactan’s Pericolonial Moment”

In imagining, discussing, and portraying the European Magellan’s arrival in the Philippines, Filipinos tend to focus on dramatizing the moment of his demise at the hands of the native Lapu-Lapu. This aligns with what Julius Bautista points out is a “culture of death” in the Philippines that tends to fixate on the final violent moment of someone’s life, such as Jose Rizal, Ninoy Aquino, Jesus Christ. In this talk I’ll be comparing Magellan’s moment with another comparable voyager-colonizer death at the hands of natives – that of Captain Cook in 1779 at Kealakekua Bay on the Big Island of Hawaii. In popular historiography, both deaths signal a definite turn to coloniality, but I argue against reinforcing the seemingly inevitable trajectory of these and other moments by situating them as pericolonial moments across both space and time.

Vicente Rafael, “Duterte’s Phallus: On the Aesthetics of Authoritarian Vulgarity”

What are some of the sources of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s symbolic authority? Duterte is widely known for his irreverence and bawdy humor that constitute important elements of his governing style. His stories reveal a reliance on invective and an obsession with obscenity. He also makes frequent references to genitalia–his as well those of his critics to the delight of his listeners. He revels in what Achille Mbembe calls an aesthetic of vulgarity that has the effect of establishing a relationship of “conviviality” between himself and his audience. What results is an “intimate tyranny,” much of it centered on the tales of his phallus as it encounters the world. This talk is an attempt to explicate the terms of this intimate tyranny. By closely reading some of his well-known jokes and stories, we see how his humor works by way of a dialectic of vulnerability and vengeance that shores up his popularity even as it consolidates his authority.


John D. (Jody) Blanco received his BA (with honors) from Arts and Ideas in the Residential College at University of Michigan, Ann Arbor; and his MA and Ph.D. from the Department of Comparative Literature at UC Berkeley, California. His research interests concern the colonial roots of globalization between the 16th-19th centuries. The contexts that inspire this investigation range from the Spanish empire in the Americas and the Philippines, to the spread of Christianity in the modern period, to the philosophy of modernity and Eurocentrism, comparative forms of imperialism and anti-colonial struggles, and the legal, religious, and racial dilemmas and contradictions of post-colonial societies and states. Jody’s courses engage with these themes in and through the study of Philippine, Latin American, Caribbean, and US minority literatures and cultures (religious, political, and artistic). He is the author of Frontier Constitutions: Christianity and Colonial Empire in the Nineteenth Century Philippines (UC Press 2009; UPhilippines Press 2010); and the translator of Julio Ramos’s Divergent Modernities in Latin America: Culture and Politics in the Nineteenth Century.

Oona Paredes (UCLA) is an anthropologist and ethnohistorian by training, and she studies the cultural and historical intersections of religion, politics, and identity, especially the ways in which minority “tribal” communities interact with state power and popular culture. Her current field research project looks at traditions of political authority in the modern Philippine state among the Higaunon Lumad, and how this authority articulates with oral traditions (encompassing both customary law and indigenous religion) to reflect acute internal concerns about identity, indigeneity, and cultural heritage preservation. Her earlier archival research documents the extensive colonial-era contact between Iberian missionaries and the ancestors of today’s Lumad peoples, and analyzing the enduring cultural imprint of Western colonialism and Christianity on what was long presumed to be “uncolonized” peoples. Her first book, A Mountain of Difference: The Lumad in Early Colonial Mindanao (2013), frames this significant cross-cultural encounter as a distinctly “pericolonial” experience, in which various Lumad communities actively and strategically incorporated colonial power at the peripheries of claimed colonial territory for nearly three centuries.

Vicente L. Rafael is professor of History and Southeast Asian Studies. He was born and raised in Manila, Philippines, obtained his BA from Ateneo de Manila University and received his MA and PhD from Cornell University. After teaching at the Univ. of Hawai’i in Manoa and the University of California in San Diego, Rafael joined the UW in 2003. He has had post-doctoral fellowships at the Univ. of California, Irvine, the Stanford Humanities Center and has been a Guggenheim and a Rockefeller fellow. His research and teaching include areas in the history of the Philippines, comparative colonialism and nationalism, language and power, translation and the historical imagination and more recently on the comparative formation of the post-colonial humanities. Rafael is the author of several works, including the books Contracting Colonialism, White Love and Other Events in Filipino History, The Promise of the Foreign, Motherless Tongues: The Insurgency of Language Amid the Wars of Translation, and has edited Discrepant Histories and Figures of Criminality in Indonesia, the Philippines and Colonial Vietnam.

Theodore S. Gonzalves is a scholar of comparative cultural studies, focusing on the experiences of Asian American / Filipino American communities. He has taught in the United States (California, the District of Columbia, Hawai’i, and Maryland), Spain, and the Philippines. Theo is Curator in the Division of Cultural and Community Life at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History. He served as the twenty-first president of the Association for Asian American Studies. Theo’s publications include Stage Presence: Conversations with Filipino American Performing Artists (2007), The Day the Dancers Stayed: Performing in the Filipino/American Diaspora (2009), Carlos Villa and the Integrity of Spaces (2011), and, with Roderick Labrador, Filipinos in Hawaiʻi (2011). A member of the editorial boards for American Quarterly and Amerasia Journal, Theo is a founding editorial board member of Alon: Journal for Filipinx American and Diasporic Studies.

About the Conference: https://wp.nyu.edu/artsampscience-mactan500/

The year 2021 marks the 500th anniversary of the rise and spread of Western civilization made possible by Spanish and Portuguese explorers seeking to open global trade routes. It likewise marks the beginning of island resistance against European conquest and colonization that culminated in 1898 with the formal end of Spanish rule as a result of the Spanish-American War and the Philippine revolution.

About the Global Philippine Studies Forum at NYU:

Founded by an interdisciplinary committee of graduate students, the Global Philippine Studies Forum is a series of monthly seminars and gatherings geared toward establishing and advancing the research agenda for Philippine Studies at New York University.

Sponsored by Sulo: the Philippine Studies Initiative at NYU, the NYU History Department, the Bulosan Center for Filipinx Studies at UC Davis, the King Juan Carlos I of Spain Center at NYU, and the NYU Portuguese and Spanish Students Organization.