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“I Am Already Annexed”: Ramon Reyes Lala and the Crafting of “Philippine” Advocacy for American Empire

  • Theresa Ventura (a1)


This article reconstructs the American career of the Manila-born author Ramon Reyes Lala. Lala became a naturalized United States citizen shortly before the War of 1898 garnered public interest in the history and geography of the Philippines. He capitalized on this interest by fashioning himself into an Oxford-educated nationalist exiled in the United States for his anti-Spanish activism, all the while hiding a South Asian background. Lala's spirited defense of American annexation and war earned him the political patronage of the Republican Party. Yet though Lala offered himself as a ‘model’ Philippine-American citizen, his patrons offered Lala as evidence of U.S. benevolence and Philippine civilization potential shorn of citizenship. His embodied contradictions, then, extended to his position as a producer of colonial knowledge, a racialized commodity, and a representative Filipino in the United States when many in the archipelago would not recognize him as such. Lala's advocacy for American Empire, I contend, reflected an understanding of nationality born of diasporic merchant communities, while his precarious success in the middle-class economy of print and public speaking depended on his deft maneuvering between modalities of power hardening in terms of race. His career speaks more broadly to the entwined and contradictory processes of commerce, race formation, and colonial knowledge production.


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1 Lala, Ramon Reyes, The Philippine Islands (New York: Continental Publishing Co., 1898); Ramon Reyes Lala, “A Filipino View of Filipinos,” The Literary Digest (May 27): 603–4; Ramon Reyes Lala, “A Prominent Filipino's Views” [Address at the Wellesley Club of New York Annual Banquet], excerpt from the New York Herald, ca. 1900.

2 I am taking a cue from Chang, David A., The World and All the Things Upon It: Native Hawaiian Geographies of Global Exploration (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2016), which urges us to treat indigenous people as explorers rather than passive objects of exploration.

3 The literature on how Philippine elites contested and shaped the collaborative colonial state is large and growing. In brief, see Rafael, Vicente, White Love and Other Events in Philippine History (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2000); Kramer, Paul, Blood of Government: Race, Empire, the United States, and the Philippines (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006); Go, Julian, American Empire and the Politics of Meaning: Elite Political Cultures in the Philippines and Puerto Rico during U.S. Colonialism (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2008).

4 Salman, Michael, “Confabulating American Colonial Knowledge of the Philippines: What the Social Life of Jose E. Marco's Forgeries and Ahmed Chalabi Can Tell US About the Epistemology of Empire” in Colonial Crucible: Empire in the Making of the Modern American State, eds. McCoy, Alfred and Scarano, Francisco (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2009), 260–70, 261.

5 Leon, Adrian De, “Working the Kodak Zone: The Labor Relations of Race and Photography in the Philippine Cordilleras, 1887–1914,” Radical History Review 132 (Oct. 2018): 6895.

6 See, in brief, Paul Kramer, “Power and Connection: Imperial Histories of the United States in the World,” AHR (Dec. 2011): 1348–91 and, more recently, Oliver Charbonneau, “’A New West in Mindanao’: Settler Fantasies on the U.S. Imperial Fringe,” The Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era (2019): 304-323. On triangulating Filipino-ness with blackness and indigeneity, see, for instance, Baldoz, Rick, The Third Asiatic Invasion: Empire and Migration in Filipino America, 1898–1946 (New York: NYU Press, 2011); and Moray, Michael, Fagen: An African American Renegade in the Philippine-American War (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2019).

7 Jacoby, Karl, The Strange Career of William Ellis: The Texas Slave Who Became a Mexican Millionaire (New York: W.W. Norton, 2016), xxvii.

8 Vigil, Kiara M., Indigenous Intellectuals: Sovereignty, Citizenship, and the American Imagination, 1880–1930 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015), 19.

9 Lala's strategies are strikingly different from those of Vigil's figures and David Chang's Hawaiian travelers who contributed to the category of global indigenous. It does, however, anticipate the rhetorical strategies of the mid-twentieth century “model minority.” See, for instance, Wu, Ellen D., the Color of Success: Asian Americans and the Origins of the Model Minority (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2013).

10 Lala, The Philippine Islands (1898), preface.

11 Mabini to Luista Blanchard, Nov. 9, 1900, reprinted in Kalaw, Teodoro, “Two Mabini Letters,” Philippine Magazine 26:1 (June 1929): 409–10. Kalaw published this letter as part of a series on Mabini's attempt at writing in English.

12 My thanks to Megha Sharma Sehdev, and William G. Clarence-Smith for their insights. It is also worth noting that while “Reyes” would indicate that Lala had a mother of Spanish and/or native descent, his use of “Reyes Lala” does not conform to the Spanish convention in which the apelido paterno precedes the apelido materno. Pending research in the Philippine National Archives Radicación de extranjeros and/or Pasaportes may reveal a more exact birth location and passage to Manila for Lala-Ary.

13 Lala, The Philippine Islands (1898), preface. I must thank Michael Riordan, archivist at St. John and the Queen's Colleges, Oxford; and Fiona Colbert, biographical archivist at St. John's College, Cambridge, for their assistance.

14 Clarence-Smith, William G., “Migrantes del Sur de Asia en Filipinas a lo Largo del Siglo XIX” in Filipinas, siglo XIX: Coexistencia e interacción communidades en el imperio español, eds. Elizade, Maria Dolores and de Lemps, Xavier Huetz (Madrid: Ediciones Polifemo, 2017), 363–92.

15 Marche, Alfred, Luçon et Palaouan: Six Annnées de Voyages aux Philippines (Librairie Hachette et Cie: 1887), 37, refers to “Lala Ari” as a “Hindou” and notes his many languages. National Centennial Commission, eds., Reminiscences and Travels of José Rizal (Manila: National Centennial Commission, 1961), 52, 53; Maria, Felicia Prudente Sta., The Governor General's Kitchen: Philippine Culinary Vignettes and Period Recipes, 1521–1935 (Manila: Anvil Press, 2006), 156, 209.

16 The Directory and Chronicle for China, Corea, Japan, the Philippines, Indo-China, Straits Settlements, Siam, Borneo, Malay States (Hong Kong, 1894), 733.

17 Clarence-Smith, , “Middle Eastern Migrants in the Philippines: Entrepreneurs and Cultural Brokers,” Asian Journal of Social Science 32:3 (2004): 425–57, 432–33.

18 Chu, Richard, The Chinese and Chinese Mestizos of Manila: Family, Identity, and Culture, 1860s–1930s (Netherlands: EJ Brill, 2010).

19 Aguilar, “Between the Letter and the Spirit of the Law: Ethnic Chinese and Philippine Citizenship by Jus Soli, 1899-1947,” Southeast Asian Studies 49:3, 431–63, 444. See also Mojares, Resil B., Brains of the Nation: Pedro Paterno, T.H. Pardo de Tavera, Isabelo de los Reyes and the Production of Modern Knowledge (Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2006).

20 The relationship between multiple merchant communities and nationalism demands more study. Clarence-Smith, “Migrantes del Sur Asia,” notes that Philippine nationalists denounced South Asian merchants as parasitos chupasangres at times of heightened tensions. South Asian merchants, meanwhile, later formed Manila-based organizations in support of Indian independence (384).

21 Rizal, José, Noli Me Tangere, trans. Augenbraum, Harold (New York: Penguin Classics, 2006), 30.

22 Mariano Ponce spent time in Hong Kong and Tokyo, both of which hosted pan-Asian organizations. Mojares, Resil B., “The Itineraries of Mariano Ponce” in Traveling Nation-Makers: Transnational Flows and Movements in the Making of Modern Southeast Asia, eds. Hau, Caroline S. and Tejapira, Kasian (Chicago: University of Chicago Press), 3263.

23 National Archives and Records Administration; Washington, DC; ARC Title: Index to Petitions for Citizenship. Naturalizations Filed in Federal, State, and Local Courts in New York City, 1792–1906; NAI Number: 5700802; Record Group Title: Records of District Courts of the United States, 1685–2009; Record Group Number: RG 21

24 Scarano, , “Pro-Imperialist Nationalists at the End of Spain's Caribbean Empire” in Endless Empire: Spain's Retreat, Europe's Eclipse, America's Decline, eds. McCoy, Alfred W., Fradera, Joseph M., and Jacobson, Stephen (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2012), 136–47, 138.

25 Guerra, Lillian, The Myth of Jose Marti: Conflicting Nationalisms in Early Twentieth Century Cuba (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2005).

26 Vigil, Indigenous Intellectuals, 17.

27 Silva, Noenoe K., The Power of the Steel-Tipped Pen: Reconstructing Native Hawaiian Intellectual History (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2017), 124–25.

28 José Rizal, “The Philippines a Century Hence,” La Solidaridad, September 1889–January 1890, reprinted in 1912.

29 Alonzo H. Stewart, “Report to the Secretary of Agriculture Regarding Conditions in the Philippine Islands.” Printed May 29, 1908, and added to Senate Register as: 60th Congress, 1st Session; Document No. 535, p. 27.

30 Aguinaldo (1898) in Agoncillo, Teodoro, Malolos: The Crisis of the Republic (Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press, 1960), 6768.

31 Cullinane, , Ilustrado Politics: Filipino Elite Responses to American Rule, 1898–1908 (Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2003), 54.

32 Quoted in De Leon, “Working the Kodak Zone,” 69.

33 Halstead, Murat, Pictorial History of America's New Possessions (Chicago: HL Barber, 1899); White, Trumbull, Our New Possessions (Chicago: National Education Union, 1899), cover page.

34 Crook, D.P., Benjamin Kidd: Portrait of a Social Darwinist (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984), 116.

35 Alleyne Ireland to William Rainey Harper, n.d. quoted in Franklin Chew Lun Ng, “Governance of American Empire: American Colonial Administration and Attitude, 1898–1917” (Unpublished diss., Dept. of History, University of Chicago, 1975, p. 58). Blatt, Jessica, Race and the Making of American Political Science (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018), 60.

36 Sullivan, Rodney, Exemplar of Americanism: The Philippine Career of Dean C. Worcester (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Center for South and Southeast Asian Studies, 1991).

37 Kramer, Blood of Government, 179–81, 216, and 366–69. See, as well, Rice, Mark, Dean Worcester's Fantasy Islands (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2015).

38 Cano, Gloria, “Blair and Robertson's The Philippine Islands, 1493–1898: Scholarship or Imperialist Propaganda?,” Philippine Studies 56:1 (Mar. 2008): 346; Salman, “Confabulating Knowledge,” 262.

39 From the Continental Publishing, Co. to The Century, May 9, 1898. Manuscripts and Archives Division, The New York Public Library. “Continental Publishing Co” New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed June 11, 2018.

40 Vigil, Indigenous Intellectuals, 59.

41 Kramer, , “Empires, Exceptions, and Anglo-Saxons: Race and Rule Between the British and American Empires, 1880–1910,” Journal of American History 88:4 (Mar. 2002): 1315–53; Kirkwood, Patrick Michael, “Lord Cromer's Shadow: Political Anglo-Saxonism and the Egyptian Protectorate as a Model in the American Philippines,” Journal of World History 27:1 (Mar. 2016): 126.

42 Cushman K. Davis in Lala, The Philippine Islands, iii.

43 Davis in The Philippine Islands, iii.

44 Francis Vinton Greene to General Daniel Butterfield, Sept. 8, 1899, one folder, Ramon Reyes Lala Papers, New York Public Library.

45 Lala, “A Prominent Filipino's View.”

46 Lala, “A Prominent Filipino's View.”

47 All primary material for this paragraph from Lala, “A Prominent Filipino's View,” ca. 1900.

48 Lala, The Philippine Islands, 152.

49 Lala, “Gold in the Philippines,” 74.

50 Lala, “A Trip Through Luzon,” 388.

51 Rizal, Josė, “Sobre la indolencia de los Filipinos/On the indolence of the FilipinosLa Solidaridad 2 (1890): 322-27.

52 Lala, “A Trip Through Luzon,” 388.

53 Colby, Jason M., The Business of Empire: United Fruit, Race, and US Expansion in Central America (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2011); Zimmerman, Andrew, Alabama in Africa: Booker T. Washington, the German Empire, and the Globalization of the New South (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2010).

54 Lala, “Attitude of the Filipinos,” 672.

55 Lala, “The Nobility of Spain,” Independent (Oct. 1899): 2738--43, 2740.

56 Lala, “A Filipino View of the Filipinos,” 604.

57 Henry Cabot Lodge to Theodore Roosevelt, Oct. 17, 1901. Theodore Roosevelt Papers. Library of Congress Manuscript Division.

58 Lodge to Lala, Oct. 26, 1901, one folder, Ramon Reyes Lala Papers.

59 JG Harbord to Lala, Nov. 13, 1901, one folder, Ramon Reyes Lala Papers.

60 Taft, William, Letter from the Secretary of War (Washington, DC: GPO, 1901), 13.

61 Los Angeles Herald, Sept. 11, 1898.

62 Lala, “A Trip in Luzon,” Everybody's Magazine (Sept. 1899–June 1900): 381–88, 381.

63 Lala, “A Prominent Filipino's View.”

64 Morning Call, Jan. 15, 1904, in “Senor Ramon Reyes Lala, Filipino author, lecturer and publicist,” undated brochure, box 180, Redpath Chautauqua Collection, Special Collections Department, University of Iowa, 4. [Hereinafter “Senor Lala.”]

65 Gerstle, Gary, Crucible of Color: Race and Nation in the Twentieth Century (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001).

66 Keasbey, Lindley M., AAAPS 13 (May 1899): 99100, 100.

67 New York Times, “A Filipino American's View,” April 14, 1899, 6.

68 Lears, T. Jackson, Rebirth of a Nation: The Making of Modern America, 1877–1920 (New York: Harper Perennial, 2009), 56.

69 Unterman, Katherine, “Boodle over the Border: Embezzlement and the Crisis of International Mobility, 1880–1890, Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era 11:2 (Apr. 2012): 151–89.

70 Jacoby, The Strange Career of William Henry Ellis.

71 Jacoby, The Strange Career of William Henry Ellis, 134.

72 Lala, “A Trip in Luzon,” 381.

73 Leader, Dec. 2, 1903 in “Senor Lala,” Redpath Chautauqua Collection, 4.

74 Lala, “Lecture Notes on the Philippines,” MSS .L35, American Museum of Natural History, New York, 56.

75 Redpath Chautauqua Collection, Special Collections Department, University of Iowa, 4. “Senor Lala.”

76 Cullinane, Michael Patrick, Liberty and American Anti-Imperialism (New York and London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), 131.

77 Sixto Lopez, “Do the Filipinos Desire American Rule?,” Gunton's Magazine, June 1902.

78 De Leon, “Working the Kodak Zone”; Kramer, Blood of Government, 245–51.

79 Aguilar, Filomeno Jr., “The Riddle of the Alien-Citizen: Filipino Migrants as U.S. Nationals and the Anomalies of Citizenship, 1900s–1930s,” Asian and Pacific Migration Journal 19:3 (2010): 203–36; and Burnett, Christina Duffy & Marshall, Burke, eds., Foreign in a Domestic Sense: Puerto Rico, American Expansion, and the Constitution (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2001).

80 Senor Lala.Hoganson, Kristen L., Consumers’ Imperium: The Global Production of American Domesticity, 1865–1920 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007), 159–60.

81 Ramon Reyes Lala, “Lectures Notes on the Philippines,” MSS .L35, American Museum of Natural History, New York, citations pp. 1, 2, 3.

82 Lala, “Lectures Notes on the Philippines,” 3.

83 Lala, “Lectures Notes on the Philippines,” 7.

84 Lala, “Lectures Notes on the Philippines,” 17–18. It should be noted that “Jews of the Orient” is the title of an anti-Semitic and anti-Chinese pamphlet by Siam's King Wachirawut (1917). It appears that the prejudices born of Southeast Asian tensions with diasporic merchant communities were among Lala's tools for domesticating the Philippines to the U.S.

85 Lala, “Lectures Notes on the Philippines,” 25.

86 Lala, “Lectures Notes on the Philippines,” 28.

87 Lala, “Lectures Notes on the Philippines,” 49.

88 Lala, “Lectures Notes on the Philippines,” 50.

89 Lala, “Lectures Notes on the Philippines,” 50.

90 Lala, “Lectures Notes on the Philippines,” 40.

91 Lala, “Lectures Notes on the Philippines,” 42.

92 Lala, “Lectures Notes on the Philippines,” 41–42.

93 Lala, “Lectures Notes on the Philippines,” 42.

94 Lala, “Lectures Notes on the Philippines,” 66.

95 Lala, “Lectures Notes on the Philippines,” 67.

96 Lala, “Lectures Notes on the Philippines,” 68.

97 Lala, “Lectures Notes on the Philippines,” 69.

98 Bradford Republican (PA), Oct. 15, 1903 in “Senor Lala,” Redpath Chautauqua Collection, 3.

99 Muncy (PA) Luminary, Dec.17, 1903 in “Senor Lala,” Redpath Chautauqua Collection, 4.


“I Am Already Annexed”: Ramon Reyes Lala and the Crafting of “Philippine” Advocacy for American Empire

  • Theresa Ventura (a1)


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