The Filipino Primitive

Accumulation and Resistance in the American Museum

272 pages

40 halftones

November, 2017

ISBN: 9781479825059



Add to Cart Available: 10/20/2017

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Sarita Echavez See is Professor of Media and Cultural Studies at the University of California Riverside and she is the co-founder of the Center for Art and Thought. She is the author of The Decolonized Eye: Filipino American Art and Performance (2009).

All books by Sarita Echavez See

How museums’ visual culture contributes to knowledge accumulation

Sarita See argues that collections of stolen artifacts form the foundation of American knowledge production. Nowhere can we appreciate more easily the triple forces of knowledge accumulation—capitalist, colonial, and racial—than in the imperial museum, where the objects of accumulation remain materially, visibly preserved. The Filipino Primitive takes Karl Marx’s concept of “primitive accumulation,” usually conceived of as an economic process for the acquisition of land and the extraction of labor, and argues that we also must understand it as a project of knowledge accumulation.


Taking us through the Philippine collections at the University of Michigan Natural History Museum and the Frank Murphy Memorial Museum, also in Michigan, See reveals these exhibits as both allegory and real case of the primitive accumulation that subtends imperial American knowledge, just as the extraction of Filipino labor contributes to American capitalist colonialism. With this understanding of the Filipino foundations of the American drive toward power and knowledge, we can appreciate the value of Filipino American cultural producers like Carlos Bulosan, Stephanie Syjuco, and Ma-Yi Theater Company who have created incisive parodies of this accumulative epistemology, even as they articulate powerful alternative, anti-accumulative social ecologies.


  • The Filipino Primitive is generative and captivatingly relevant amid the current global crises over income inequality, border disputes, and belonging. With fascinating incisiveness, Sarita Echavez See invites us to rethink theft and debt through cultural archives and productions.”

    —Allan Punzalan Isaac, author of American Tropics: Articulating Filipino America

  • “An ambitious, necessary, and timely book, Sarita Echavez See exposes the workings of modern racial representation as a site of accumulation and dispossession. The Filipino Primitive is a crucial read for anyone interested in a critique of the history, structures, and practices of American imperial-racial power.”

    —Denise Ferreira da Silva, author of Toward a Global Idea of Race