Philippine Resistance and Medical Care under U.S. Empire

Left: Cholera Squad, Philippines (Photo: Library of Congress / Bain News Service on Wikimedia Commons; cropped) / Right: Filipino students in Taytay (Photo: Filipino Types; Racial Anatomy in Taytay. A. The Men by Robert Bennet Bean, Bureau of Printing, Manila, 1909; cropped)

Philippine Resistance and Medical Care under U.S. Empire

Christine Peralta, postdoctoral fellow at Center for Research on Race and Ethnicity in Society at Indiana University, analyzes medical care, healing and resistance in Taytay, Rizal in the early 1900s through a feminist lens.

By Kitty Hu (UCLA Center for Southeast Asian Studies)

Alternative Understandings of Healing and Resistance

"Since 1960, there has been about 150,000 Filipino nurses living in the U.S.," said Christine Peralta, a postdoctoral fellow for the Center for Research on Race and Ethnicity in Society and visiting assistant professor of history at Indiana University. "These women did not come out of thin air, but are living legacy of multiple groups of women invested in healing their communities."

In a colloquium on February 2, 2021, Peralta spoke about redefining resistance and non-elite women's healing, particularly in the context of American empire in the Philippines. Sponsored by the UCLA Center for Southeast Asian Studies, this conversation, moderated by UCLA professor Stephen Acabado, offered alternative understandings of the medical and social history of Taytay, Rizal, a site of political resistance against biomedical experimentation under U.S. colonial powers.

Elaborating on the actions of people during this time who engaged with "alternative modalities" which were framed as deviant by U.S. colonial forces and records, Peralta urged students to instead rethink non-elite Filipinos' demands and care practices as resistance against U.S. empire.

The Legacy of Queen Taytay

Peralta said whenever there was a cholera or waterborne outbreak, U.S. forces would patrol the Marikina river, where Taytay was situated, which made it difficult for ordinary people to access the water and activities that funded their livelihood.

"It became a contentious space for many Filipinos," Peralta added. "Colonial officials used the potential spread of cholera to expand their medical and political authority," said Peralta, citing U.S. officials' "power grab" to determine the deployment of armed forces and distribution of resources. "Disease risks were used to validate the erosion of Filipinos' basic rights."

In 1905, fear of another cholera spread led to U.S. seizure of the Filipino peoples' water supply. In response, a native woman blended "Catholic religion and Indigenous therapeutic" to fill an abandoned tank with water and medicinal herbs, attracting many who pilgrimaged to the area for relief from the disease. She called herself "the healer of all ills," eventually becoming known as Queen Taytay to her followers.

Peralta called for students to understand Queen Taytay's "deviance" as resistance. "Quarantine and sanitary measures are deeply stratifying and often overly burdensome and unequally regulatory to those most vulnerable in our society," said Peralta, which explained why women, in particular, found alternative methods of care and protest.

Through trickery and coercion by colonial authorities, Queen Tatytay was later forced to go to Manila and arrested and imprisoned in the San Lazaro Hospital. The accounts of her imprisonment greatly vary.

Local People Power

Four years after the epidemic, Taytay was deemed an "experimental town or a living laboratory," because of the town's infamy and proximity to Manila. Researchers used racialized ways of analyzing body metrics to study "non-elite Filipinos," rationalizing surveillance tactics through framing Filipinos as uneducated and unsanitary.

Peralta said this framing of Taytay as "backwards" was used by colonial powers to validate inequitable access to healthcare, but may have also reflected the community's wants for medical care to be more localized. The town had a bad reputation because of their association to the native practices of Queen Taytay, but it is evident through colonial reports that she fundamentally shaped knowledge formation and non-elite resistance in the area. This resistance, Peralta said, extended beyond the periodization of the Philippine-American war.

"We associate care with colonized forms of care," concluded Peralta. "I'm trying to capture these moments of insurgency through Philippine care work to fundamentally reevaluate what care work does, without modeling American medicine, but being in dialogue or retorting against those strategies."


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Published: Tuesday, February 16, 2021

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