Savage Madonnas: 'La Mujer filipina' in the nineteenth-century colonialist imaginary

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The fiction of a national Spanish "family" that embraced the inhabitants of its "overseas provinces" was promulgated insistently in nineteenth-century colonial discourse. The fragility of this fiction was demonstrated dramatically in writings about the Philippines by peninsular Spaniards, as they tried to reconcile the profound cultural, linguistic, and ethnic heterogeneity of the archipelago with the notion of biological and cultural filiation. In his 1886 painting Espana y Filipinas, the Philippine reformist artist Juan Luna allegorically portrayed Spain and the Philippines as matron and racialized adolescent, suggesting that the Philippines' future depended on its mestizo population. In the same year, Faustina Saez de Melgar imagined both the Philippines and the Americas as "nuestras hijas" in her anthology of costumbrismo sketches, Las mujeres espanolas, americanas y lusitanas pintadas por si mismas. The volume's title evoked a fantasy of feminine agency belied by the fact that virtually none of the sketches were written by a member of the "type" portrayed; and that the volume was illustrated not by a woman but by Eusebio Planas, known for his eroticized sketches of women. Josefa Estevez, a peninsular Spaniard, contributed the essay on "La filipina," in which she distinguished sharply between the Christianized populations of the archipelago and the non-Christianized "salvajes." Rather than contributing an ethnographic study of the "savage" tribes, Estevez represented this "tipo" through two narratives of sexual brutality and conquest. Both narratives suggested that the social structure of the non-Christianized colonial Philippine populations was not only untenable but unimaginable: the only moral compass available to these populations was to be found in female instincts of maternity and heterosexual love, which were ineffective against the uncontrolled instincts of lust and rage that guided both native and Spanish male characters. Estevez's conventional invocation of the power of Christianization rings hollow in the face of her portrayal of the sexual opportunism, abuse and abandonment suffered by the native woman at the hands of the putative father of the colonial family. Ultimately, in both Estevez's text and Planas's illustrations, "civilization" through mestizaje in the Philippines is portrayed as impossible.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)21-34
JournalLetras Femeninas
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2015


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