Thoughts On Fil-Am Privilege & Neo-Colonialism

An article was published by the Inquirer with the headline: “What Successful Fil-Ams Tell Young Filipinos to Do” (Inquirer.net July 25, 2014) that drew an intense reaction from many people.

With a title like that, how can it not? In our humble attempt to deliberate, process and work through our own reactions, the PULSE team offers a reflection and response.

Fil-Am Privilege

To be Filipino-American – or any person of Filipino descent who has had the opportunity to grow up outside the Philippines – means to be someone of enormous privilege. This privilege is nothing to be ashamed or guilty of – for many of us, we had no say in the matter, as our parents made the difficult decisions to migrate abroad. And let’s not kid ourselves, more often than not, our lives are much better because of it. Better in terms of educational and career opportunity, financial and social resources, mobility that comes from being a US permanent resident or citizen, etc.

To be privileged is one thing. Failure to recognize one’s privilege, however, leads to the perpetuation of an age-old power dynamic that is still so deeply ingrained in our Motherland. Navigating through the effects of colonialism will likely forever be present in the Philippines, but what breaks our hearts is realizing how it has manifested into a form of neo-colonialism in which we’ve replaced the “white foreigner,” with the Filipino-American/Canadian/European/Australian/pick your migrant country of choice.

Neo-Colonialism

When you have a group presented on a pedestal solely for being from abroad, you perpetuate a mentality wherein the “foreign” is considered better than the “local.” More attractive (eg half-white), more intelligent (eg American education) and more successful (eg budding politicians running for X City Council positions). And even if you do not identify with any of these, we Filipino-Americans speak with an American accent, an immediate marker of the privilege of “not being from here.”

But how do any of these characteristics qualify us as those to be lauded or someone who Filipinos should look up to and admire? What have we actually done for the Philippines? How do any of our achievements back home directly impact Filipinos in the Philippines? In all of our accomplishments, were any of them grounded in supporting the Filipino? No, not supporting the FILIPINO-AMERICAN, but the Filipino IN THE Philippines. Because, OBVIOUSLY, there is a difference.

What right do we have to be telling Filipinos what to do? Our brown skin does not give us that right. A tattoo of the three stars and a sun does not give us that right. Being president of a college Filipino-American club does not give us that right. Being selected as a Filipino-American Youth Leader does not give us that right.

To believe that supporting Filipino-Americans and pushing them up into positions of power in America is a wonderful strategy for uplifting Filipino-American communities.

To believe that these achievements will somehow trickle down and support Filipinos in the Philippines is a historically proven strategy that does not work (eg Reaganomics).

What you’ve accomplished instead, is created an army of people who say they are like you, are doing things to support you and make your lives better, but in fact know nothing about you.

And that, kababayan, is recolonization.

Diaspora Involvement

So what do you do? Do you scurry home to America? No! We want you to stay. Really we do. We want you to stay and listen. Learn with us. Strip away any sense of understanding, all sense of ego. And just listen.

PULSE was founded on the belief that there is a role for us, children of migration, in the narrative that is our Motherland. But we cannot create that role. Ways in which we can be involved will unravel, slowly but surely, the more we center our work and understanding on the Philippines and really listen to what she has to say. All of your achievements are not for naught, but before we can apply them – or before they can carry any weight – we must first attempt to understand and really learn from our kapwa Filipino.

Conclusion

We all share a similar dream for the Philippines. A Philippines that is strong and self-sustaining, enough so that its people are able to build fulfilling lives in the country – and can migrate out of choice, not because of necessity. Not because they feel like they have no other option.

A Philippines that is resilient from corruption and natural disaster. A Philippines that our parents and grandparents may not get a chance to see, but one that we can say we helped shape for our own children. Do this for them, for yourself, but also for future Filipino generations.

We have the opportunity to be involved – and so we end by sharing PULSE’s three values:

  1. Have truth and transparency in your work.
  2. Develop a critical understanding of your impact.
  3. Value the journey and the process.

We all have so much we can offer. Don’t let that go to waste. But for goodness sake, check your privilege. As Spidey’s grandfather says: with great power – with great privilege, which we all have as Filipino-Americans – comes great responsibility.

Written by Rovaira Dasig – PULSE