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Tía Isabel’s response to a hispanophobic “Asian”

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Arnaldo’s blogpost about my dad’s hometown received all sorts of commentaries. There was one comment that I just could not ignore: one coming from someone with a Japanese-sounding name. Actually, it’s not really his anti-Filipino/hispanophobic comment that made me stop and read: it’s the response that he got from Chile-based Filipina scholar, Elizabeth “Tía Isabel de Ilocos” Medina (also a distant relative of Arnaldo and a very good friend of our mentor, Señor Guillermo Gómez Rivera).

The bone of contention? That Filipino culture is Asian. Is it? Read below to find out.

Dear Rijuku,

“Asian” is a misnomer, first of all. It’s a label invented by the West, based on geographical location and racial groupings. But the Japanese don’t consider themselves Asian. They are Japanese, period. And they consider themselves superior to the rest of the “Asians”. They consider that only the Germans follow them in superiority.

Human beings are social and historical beings. We are not racial beings. Race is just color of skin. It says nothing about the spirit and worldview. You see lots of Eastern Europeans with slanted eyes but they don’t consider themselves Chinese, Korean, Japanese or Eskimos or Mongols or Tibetans. The Indians of India are Aryans by race but they don’t consider themselves Germans or Europeans.

Filipinos are not the same as Indonesians, Koreans, Thais, Vietnamese, Cambodians, Indians, Malayans, Japanese, Singaporeans, even if we are all classified as “Asians”. We are all very different. Now, in terms of religion, a lot of these so-called Asians share religious practices like Buddhism and varieties of ancestor worship like Shintoism and others practice Islam which arrived in the “Asian” countries through the Arabian Peninsula and so forth.

The archipielago of St. Lazarus, as Magellan called our archipelago, was slowly being converted to Islam but the Spanish defeated the Muslim rulers of Maynilad and spread Catholicism to the Visayans and Luzonianos from the 16th to the 19th centuries, as well as in Mindanáo in the cities where they established colonial rule or in the outposts where they maintained forts.

Because of our Christianization, which was much more widespread than in China or Japan or in the neighboring countries colonized by the Dutch and the British, we developed a culture that was a mix of indigenous monotheism/ancestor worship/animism and Christianity — much like the mix that developed in all of the Spanish colonies of Mexico, Central and South America. So because of this, we Filipinos are much more similar in culture and belief system to the Hispanic American nations, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, than to our “Asian” neighbors. But even the Thais are very different from the Malayans and the Indonesians and the Vietnamese and the Cambodians and the Indians. You can’t put them in the same bag and just call them Asians.

It’s the Filipinos who have accepted this label because we became a North American colony, and our Hispanic Filipino culture and memory were destroyed.

We accepted that label “Southeast Asian” because we became totally subjugated by the U.S. Turned into psychological vassals. And we accepted the new self-image the U.S. imposed on us as The Little Brown Brother.

Are the Indonesians, the Indians, the Thais, the Malaysians the “Little Brown Brothers” of the U.S.? If as you say there is no difference between us “Asians” — realize how racist you are being, how dismissive of our uniqueness — then they should also consider themselves as such. But they don’t. They don’t consider themselves copies of each other. And they don’t read their history books in English like we do.

I won’t convince you of anything, but consider this: 100 years ago, your great-grandparents hated the idea of the Americans making the Philippines their colony. They did not want to stop reading, speaking and studying or teaching Spanish, to study, read, speak and write in ONLY in English.

But since you were born when — in the 1980s? — and there are no writings in your family of the rejection that your forefathers felt for all things American, and you were born in a Philippines that was already TOTALLY re-engineered to be a bad copy of the U.S., then you believe that you are merely “Asian”. That Filipinos are “Asians”. It means, basically, that Filipinos are nothing. Because what is “Asian”? It’s just a sociological term coined in U.S. universities, probably after 1900.

Regards,
Tia Isabel

P.S. A quote from my unpublished ms., Thru the Lens of Latin America: A Wide-Angle View of Philippine Colonial History:

Once implanted, a first colonizer culture, already fused or syncretized with the original local one (i.e., Spanish culture), will resist the advent of a subsequent colonizer culture (U.S. culture). However, with the passage of time, the new generations — who did not experience the moment of cultural transition and its accompanying resistance to a new transculturation (in other words, the [Hispanic Filipino] people’s resistance to adopting a new transplanted dominant [U.S.] culture, due to the inertia of the preceding cultural process) — will have no awareness that such a phenomenon ever occurred. They’ll simply assume that what is now there has always been there (North Americanized Filipino culture), and has always been universally embraced. The younger generations will accept the (North Americanized Filipino) culture they were born into, notwithstanding their parents’ or grandparents’ having once perceived it as invasive and alien, and perhaps even having sworn to resist assimilating it at all costs.

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