This month is Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage month. Why do we need to pause to think about the AAPI community? Because so few people know or understand our history as Americans. As of the 2010 census Filipinos are the second largest Asian American group in the US…but few people know how we got here.
I got these pictures from E.J.R David’s book Brown Skins, White Minds: Postcolonial Filipino American Psychology as well as a Facebook post citing “The Forbidden Book”. The first picture is a depiction of President McKinley’s – and therefore white American – treatment of Filipinos when the Philippines was taken as a U.S. territory (along with Puerto Rico). We were already a Christianized nation thanks to 350 years of Spanish Catholicism. But here in the picture, the “savage” Filipinos are in need of a new baptism into the waters of civilization. It’s a hard picture for me to look at. As a Filipina American Protestant Christian, I am the grandchild of this picture. Do you know how that feels for me to admit that? Yea, it effing hurts.
I was born in Los Angeles, CA to two immigrant Filipino American parents. I was raised in Seattle, WA. I only speak English, and can only understand Tagalog (but fluently in my defense). I have brown skin, black hair, and a Spanish last name. I am 100% Filipino and 100% American. I’ve been to the Philippines for less than 2 months of my life. I have white friends who have lived in the Philippines for longer. I did not choose any of this, this is simply who I am. But yes I do choose to follow Jesus, so I guess that part’s on me. I am a product of the American missionaries that came to the Philippines and a product of the American baptism in this picture. Filipinos were adopted into the US family, but treated as “little brown brothers“. As a Filipina American, I’ve been trying to prove my birthright in a country that has treated Filipinos as an illegitimate child.
I’m not going to delve into too much here since I know I will be writing more about colonization and the theological implications of it in the future. For now, I just wanted to post the picture and give you a glimpse of the tension I’ve been feeling lately. If I talk about white supremacy or colonization or racial injustice, it’s because this is my historically situated pain. If I defend those who are marginalized, it’s because this is how I’ve often felt. If I say #BlackLivesMatter and support DACA students, it’s because I resonate with parts of their pain. This is the generational baggage that I carry and it is a lot to carry. I do not carry just my own pain, I carry the pain of the manongs and manangs (older siblings) that have gone before me. Oh and yes, being a woman only adds to this weight.