Essay | Wretched

As a child, when I found out that the Philippines was a former colony of the United States, my first thought was, "Cool." They don't teach you what colony means or what colonialism is in school. Your frame of reference is the American Revolution - you think it means a distant governorship, maybe some taxes charged, but otherwise, everything remains unmolested. Colonialism doesn't mean violence, it doesn't mean the manipulation and systematic molding of people. In school, "colony" is just an empty term meaning, "part of."

So it was "cool." Cool, because it meant I wasn't really an Other anymore. It meant that I didn't have to represent this strange, foreign outside image and that I fit in to the mainstream like everyone else. That I should be accepted as one of them. I was glad. I felt normal.

This was the outcome of a one hundred year plan. The stage is set like this: There was a random smattering of islands in Southeast Asia. Seven thousand, give or take, populated with different peoples, different ethnic groups, different languages and tribes and religions. Spanish explorer Magellan tries to sail across the world, but crashes into one of the islands and gets a dagger the liver for his trouble. Trade goes through with the Chinese, with Muslims, with their neighbors, and various parts of the island show the influence.

Fast forward. A guy (well, a king) named Philip sees thousands of islands and over 70 different languages and decides to draw a border around all of them and call them his own. With no regard for their own ethnic borders and unique culture, the Spanish forced the creation of a single nation out of many. King Philip decides to name the nation, and thus the people, after himself. Their message was Catholicism. The fever caught on everywhere except in the very north and the very south.

Fast forward, again, this time roughly 500 years. The people have taken the name Pilipino, or Filipino, derived from Philip, or Felipe. They finally fight off the colonizers. A revolutionary and polymath named Jose Rizal uses the term Pilipino as a personal identity, to much controversy. In some ways, it's an inspiring call to unity, a call for one people with the singular purpose of fighting off their oppressors. In other ways, it's an acceptance of the colonialist structure forced upon them.

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