In this installment of Abstracts I Fell Out of Love With, this piece comes from an application I sent to an anthology on traveling around Southeast Asia that never got off the ground.
Secured Tourists, Exposed Locals: Imperial Nightlife in Honolulu and Manila
While traveling around tourist destinations in Southeast Asia, one cannot help but be made uncomfortable by the historical reiteration of Western colonization. From the officious restaurant servers to the children selling bracelets, brown locals seem to always be serving white tourists. For critical ethnic studies scholars like Vernadette Gonzalez, the symbolic imaginings of Western tourism in Southeast Asia are made possible by colonial infrastructure, which can expose the relationship between tourism and militarism within “the historical and present- day tropics” of the United States. Yet for the tourist, the roots of these neo-colonial norms are deracinated in nightlife areas, where they are free to encounter locals not seeking money or access, but, like them, are there to play.
This presentation analyzes how nightworlds, as spaces of hybridity, artistry, and connectivity, reduce distinctions between tourist and local. Through short stories by Filipino/Hawaiian authors such as R. Zamora Linmark, Kristiana Kahakauwika, Lysley Tenorio, and my own travel experiences, I argue that nightlife in spaces like Manila, Honolulu, and other places of rampant American militarism, plays a major role in counteracting the guilt from neo-colonial complicity, as the tourist is made to feel “at home” in the dark, distinctionless nightlife. At the same time, these nightworlds link tourist practices to histories of military intervention and colonial dominance, histories that so often go erased by official tourist practices (sunbathing, massages, trekking and temple tours). Indeed, these stories open up what Victor Mendoza has called “queer nomadology,” a reading method that can “track the sexually, narratologically, and topographically wayward agent without capturing it discursively through progressive signifying practices” (816). In inviting tourists to “play” with locals, such nightworlds allow the Westerner to trace the violence of colonial history through casual encounters with sex work, and the tension towards foreign bodies.