Why Colonization Still Affects Me Hundreds of Years Later

History of Colonization in the Philippines

The Philippines has had its fair share of struggles as a country. Starting in the 1500s, Spaniards invaded the territory and did its best to converge Filipino and Spanish culture together. So, this was Philippines’ first experience with colonization. This experience brought about a mixed culture with Spanish influence seen in our food, religion, and language. After our war with Spain (where US was an ally of the Philippines), US took over the colonial reigns and further colonized us as a people by integrating education and government systems similar to American forms of these structures. These two systems of foreign rule influenced Filipino religion, norms, educational systems, and other large aspects of the country. And now, I see this all in my experience as a 1.5 generation Filipino woman, or Pinay, living in California, undocumented, and a student in a top-tier public university. I see the influences of Spanish and American rule in the way we treat religion, mental health, and the color of our skin. All of this I have unlearned and questioned throughout my experience at UCLA. Why is it that Filipinos have a bias towards lighter skin? Why are we so largely Roman Catholic? Why is there a large divide between genders in the Philippines? Why is there corruption within the local and national government? And it seems as though that the answer it always leads back to is colonization.

How I still live with colonial effects

Even on a daily basis, there are some ways in which colonization affects me somehow. One of these is the lack of representation of Filipinos in many spaces, especially in higher education. According to Buenavista, et. al’s article, the racial identity of Filipinos in America is characterized by liminality and invisibility. The term liminal refers to transitional stage between two boundaries and characterized by ambiguity. This is seen in the almost paradoxical experiences Filipinos have in America. We are racialized as a minority by other minority communities. Buenavista also talks about the invisibility of the Filipino community, and our experiences. Being lumped into the Asian category, many people forget the unique history we have had with America and Spain. Most people see us as part of the “Model Minority Myth” where Asians are placed into an ideal of educational, professional success that erases the systemic oppression that we currently face. Because many Asian immigrants came through due to the “brain drain” of Asian professionals into American companies, certain ideals were perpetuated by those families. However, this success does not discount the racism we face as foreign bodies, despite some having a stronger connection to their American identity than their Filipino one. Additionally, this vast grouping of Asians is detrimental to my educational success. I am an undocumented student whose mother is disabled and whose father earns a lower middle income. However, my identity as an Asian (and the stereotypes/generalizations connected to it) makes it seem that I do not have any struggles and can breeze through life. Buenavista’s theories of liminality and invisibility are hurtful to the Filipino-American experience, and its basis is because of our connections with America.

My self esteem is also something that has been shaped by colonial connections. My skin is obviously brown. There is no way of escaping the fact that I have brown skin because I tan very easily and even a slight touch of sunshine warms my face up. I am proud of my melanin, but it took a long time to love myself when my skin was on the darker end of Filipino complexion. All over magazines, television shows, movies in the Philippines, lighter skin was always more desirable. Leading artists were always fair—the women especially so—and I never thought I was beautiful because I did not fit into those standards. I had wavy hair, while everyone wanted long, silky, straight hair. Colonialism affects our standards of beauty, even until today. Darker skin always seems to have a negative connotation in the Philippine media, and papaya soaps always within reach at the local Filipino grocery store. These ideals of beauty came by through Spanish and American influence. Lighter skin was never preferred until these European countries made their ways onto our lands.

Why We NEED to unlearn and decolonize our minds

It was only through college that I started to unlearn these thoughts of self-internalized hatred towards Filipinos, and critically analyze my relationship with my motherland. And it took a while. I am still unlearning the effects today. I am learning to be more open about my mental health and to be more open overall. Only through these types of understandings will we see more activism and visibility within our community. No longer will we feel inferior to the US, or feel as though we owe something to the US, but we can feel proud to come from a history and culture full of resilience. We need to end the miseducation of America as Filipino’s savior during the Spanish-American War and World War II. We must learn as a community the ways in which this government has been complicit in our racialization in white and other minority communities. We must understand that we are not inferior to the United States, and that we must stand against the injustices America has done, and still continues to do to our community and country.

 

 

Resources

  • Andresen, T. (2013). Chapter 4: Knowledge Construction, Transformative Academic Knowledge, and Filipino American Identity and Experience in The “Other” Students
  • Buenavista, T., Jayakumar, U., Misa-Escalante, K. (2009) Contextualizing Asian American Education Through Critical Race Theory: An Example of U.S. Pilipino College Student Experiences New Directions for Institutional Research. (No. 142, pg. 69-81)
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