Sophia: Hi, and welcome to...
All: Second GenerAsian.
Sophia: I'm Sophia,
David: I'm David,
Hannah: And I'm Hannah.
Sophia: In this episode, we're going to be covering colonialism, specifically focusing on the Philippines. Since the Philippines has a long history of being colonized by outside nations, talking deeper about the effects colonialism has had in the Philippines can teach us a lot about what colonialism means in a global context.
Hannah: But since that's such a complex issue, we decided we're not the ones who should be doing the talking. So for this episode, we're putting the focus on an interview.
David: To unpack the complicated history of colonialism in the Philippines, we sat down with Joy Sales, who studies Filipino American history. At the time of the interview, Joy was a Ph.D candidate in Northwestern's history department, and she has since earned her doctorate, so congratulations to her. Without further ado, here's Joy.
Joy: I guess the most important is the fact that it has been colonized for over 500 years, first by Spain, then by the United States and then by Japan for a short amount of time. You can say it's still considered like a neo-colony of the U.S. And now, probably China. And colonialism is basically like the cause of everything wrong that we see in society today.
Why did all these powers colonize the Philippines? First and foremost, they wanted resources that they couldn't find in their own countries, you know, they wanted, fruit, they wanted spices, they wanted gold. They wanted all these things to enrich their empire. And it's not just the Philippines that became victim of European colonialism and U.S. colonialism, it was basically most of the globe. Colonialism and imperialism has shaped the the politics, the culture, the economy, the military relations between the Philippines of the countries. It's shaped all of that.
Sophia: Prior to the arrival of Spain, the Indigenous people in the area now known as the Philippines had a rich culture, some of which was erased by Spanish colonizers.
Joy: The Philippines, it's an archipelago, and Spain kind of drew an arbitrary boundary around all of them. Because it's an island country, it's comprised of hundreds of different cultures, contrary to what most Western history will say about the places that it has conquered, like the Philippines and the people were you know, explorers themselves.
They traveled; they went to India, Indonesia. I mean, the reason why we have Islam in the Philippines is because people from the Middle East migrated there, so there's already a rich history of travel and cultural exchange between the islands that later became the Philippines and the rest of the world. And I mean pre-colonial Philippine culture had amazing innovations, like the Rice Terraces.
There was also a distinct culture of matriarchies and recognizing different genders that aren't just male and female. There was a lot of different things going on around the Philippine Islands before colonization. I think the Spanish I mean they tried to erase some of it.
Catholicism is a form of domination. It was a way of destroying the communal culture, destroying matriarchal culture as well as the animistic culture. I mean Tagalog itself is still 30% Spanish. Unlike Latin America, you know, Spanish friars didn't teach Filipinos Spanish because they were afraid to educate them. Only the elites knew it. But I mean the language was preserved in a way but still like Spanish words were incorporated into it.
I mean what makes, I think, the Philippines unique in Asia is the fact that it has been colonized for so long. But what also makes it unique is that it's waged a lot of revolutions. And in fact, the Philippine revolution of 1896, the first national revolution against colonialism, was the first of its kind in Asia.
So even though you know these systems of domination and hegemony brought on by Western powers are so entrenched in Philippine Society, people have fought against them, some people have resisted them, because they recognize that there's something wrong with the system that is in place and that even when you know, the foreign powers are "gone," I put that in air quotes, their legacies are still very apparent. The biggest examples like for Spanish Colonialism is Catholicism, one of the biggest examples for the U.S. Colonialism is English. The fact that Filipinos in a U.S. context know English more than their Asian counterparts here, and that's not a coincidence. It's because of U.S. Colonial education in the Philippines which created a system that made English the primary language of instruction.
Hannah: U.S. Colonization has impacted the way many Filipinos view America, which has in turn affected the mindsets of Filipino immigrants to the U.S.
Joy: I mean when the U.S. colonized the Philippines, it had this policy of benevolent assimilation. And so it cast itself as, you know, a more altruistic colonizer than perhaps the British or the Spaniards. And that ideology is still pretty strong and the fact that a lot of Filipinos say that, "Oh well, you know, yeah, the U.S. colonized us but they brought us English, they brought us democracy. They brought us industry and modernity," which is not true. The people who did that were Filipinos who were working, who were farming, who were toiling under U.S.-led capitalism. Those are the people that brought modernity, not the United States. And so I think there is kind of a reverence for the U.S., like deferring and kind of seeing the U.S. as a leader. Because the United States, when it was our colonizer, institutionalized the importance of assimilation, there is definitely a culture of Filipino Americans, similar to other Asian Americans, wanting to attain that kind of like well-off, almost white but still ethnically Filipino type of lifestyle. And that's definitely, I think, put onto like the children of Filipino immigrants too, like you have to be a doctor or a nurse or whatever, you have to have a career because that is like a symbol of like belonging in the United States. But you know that is, you know, the way it is for some people, but for other people it's not.
A lot of Filipinos who are trying to just survive, who are working behind the scenes, who are nannies or maids in hotels. And sometimes those people do achieve what we would call "The American Dream." They get paper somehow, they move to the suburbs and then they have kids and those kids become doctors, et cetera.
Yeah. What I'm trying to say with that is that here in the U.S., there's, for Filipinos and other Asian Americans, there's a lot of desire to achieve the American Dream, which is fine. But at the same time it's not what's going to create a solution to legacies of colonialism and imperialism, and some people don't care about those things and some people do. So, I would say that in terms of people that do care about changing the system that is in place here and in the Philippines, there is a global movement of that that was started the Philippines in the '60s and it's called the National Democratic Movement. And it seeks to attain national democracy in the Philippines, which means a sovereign nation that is led by the majority of the people.
When a lot of the countries that were colonized by Britain, France, whatever, the United States, became independent around the mid-20th century and had these aspirations of being a people-led nation, there were problems of kind of the elites and government re-inscribing the hierarchies that were exacerbated during colonialism, but I think because of that history, people are more aware of how that can happen. I mean basically the solution of that is not to have the same people who were in power to still be in power, because those people are usually the ones who collaborate with foreign powers. And so really, they should not be in power anymore if we were to have a truly Sovereign government. That's kind of, I think, the lessons that we can take from that decolonization movement is you know, who's in power, and are they really serving the interests of the majority of the people.
David: Joy thinks those looking to decolonize themselves need to be aware of the history that affects them.
Joy: You can't erase that history, and in fact, that history is what makes us who we are.
I mean, one of my favorite Filipino historians, his name is Renato Constantino. He was actually sympathetic to the movement for National Democracy in the Philippines back in the '60s. His whole argument when he wrote the first Marxist history of the Philippines is that we wouldn't be Filipinos without this history of colonialism and imperialism, and we are Filipinos because we have confronted colonials imperialism in different ways, through armed revolution.
But I think for Filipinos in the U.S., you know, there is a growing awareness of like the history of colonization the Philippines. I think more young people of color are seeking to decolonize themselves. And really, if we're really going to give credit, that movement was started by Indigenous people here in the United States. So yes, we were colonized by the United States and now we're living here, in what we can say like "the belly of Empire."
We are also living on Indigenous land. So technically we're also settlers. And Filipino-Americans, as people who are here, we are relatively privileged. And when we go back to the Philippines and like have our own moments of trying to find ourselves, are we doing it in a way that's similar to how white people go to Asia and just like "find their identity," or are we doing in a way that's actually like cognizant of what's going on in the Philippines, not romanticizing it, seeing it for what it is and understanding the complicated history of this culture that we want to recuperate in order to feel a sense of decolonization? So I think if you really want to decolonize, you have to be part of, or at least supportive of, the actual people on the ground who are actually trying to realize their sovereignty whether it's here in the United States or in the Philippines.
I think if you just kind of surface-level try to decolonize yourself via cultural objects or representation without addressing the material conditions of why people are oppressed, you are in fact participating in neocolonialism in a way. Just because we're Brown doesn't mean we can't invest in neocolonialism, neo-imperialism. I think to decolonize is to end capitalism and imperialism basically. And racism. So if you're not doing that, then you're not really decolonizing.
Sophia: Ultimately, Joy thinks knowledge of history is key to enacting positive change, both on a personal level and in terms of making an impact on the world.
Joy: I'm a historian, so I'm just going to say that you got to learn your history. And not from the lens. of a white person, because a lot of histories of the colonized world, now decolonized world, are written by white people. So don't read that, at least not first. Read it by your people first and then maybe read the white stuff, the whitewashed stuff.
And so I mean, it's kind of like that José Rizal quote, "No history, no self." José Rizal was a nationalist hero who died protesting Spain. So he said that not just you know, "learn history and you'll learn about your identity," but he said it in a moment of Revolution. So, you know, it's a step towards not only like finding your identity, but also actually understanding how to deconstruct and change what's going on in the world today.
David: Thanks again to Joy for sitting down with us. We really appreciate the interview, and we think it was a very enlightening discussion.
Sophia: Thank you so much for listening. We hope you've enjoyed our episodes this quarter, or I guess our one episode, but don't worry. Next year, we hope to be coming back with more. Have a great summer!
[Second GenerAsian Outro - Tenny Tsang]
Our theme music was composed by Tenny Tsang. This is NBN Audio.