‘Some General Ideas About Filipino Communities’

I recently came across the following passage and though it was published in 1909, I suddenly had a feeling it was being written about America in 2019:

The ordinary people of the villages think of the town government, not as something that belongs to them and in which they may share and by which they should benefit, but as something that has to be maintained and to which taxes must be paid and they probably feel that the least of it there is, the better for them. Their ignorance and timidity are such also that it is still very easy for them to be abused by a powerful and unscrupulous man or official, defrauded, and deprived of many of the rights which the laws of the Philippines say that the people shall have.

It was in an essay called “Village and Rural Improvement Societies: A Series of Articles for Fourth Grade” by David P. Barrows, Director of Education, in Philippine Magazine, Vol. 6, No. 2, 1909, under a subsection titled “Some General Ideas About Filipino Communities.”

Barrows was in charge of reforming a national public educational system in the Philippines when it was a colony of the United States. In speaking about the “ordinary peoples” of the Philippines — the poorly educated working class that included my ancestors (and thus why I was reading this to begin with, wondering about what the education system was like for my ancestors, what those first years of America’s colonial system was like in the day-to-day implementation of a policy called “benevolent assimilation”) — he could’ve been talking about my fellow Americans who decry “big government” and taxes and think the system is rigged to only benefit the “elites.”

Are my fellow Americans who think like that suffering from some kind of colonized mind-set? Are the American nativists who support the current administration displaying a pattern of thinking in line with Filipinos who had been living for generations in distrust of the Spanish colonial rulers? Is this just one part of the great irony of the racial resentments being given space and time to flourish by certain white people in these United States: that they don’t rise out of the Western tradition of the Enlightenment; rather, they come out of the destructive system of colonization in which the victimized have historically had darker skin.

Here is an extended version of the passage from “Philippine Magazine”:

Here’s the text:

But while the people were relieved of the worst abuses of the early times, they were not afforded a political education, so that most of the people have remained to the present day with a very imperfect idea of the community’s interests and its government. The ordinary people of the villages think of the town government, not as something that belongs to them and in which they may share and by which they should benefit, but as something that has to be maintained and to which taxes must be paid and they probably feel that the least of it there is, the better for them. Their ignorance and timidity “are such also that it is still very easy for them to be abused by a powerful and unscrupulous man or official, defrauded, and deprived of many of the rights which the laws of the Philippines say that the people shall have. The primary advantage of government is protection against violence, abuse, and fraud, but when the municipal government is bad and the people are credulous and weak, this protection frequently fails to be given. Beside this, the Filipino who lives in the barrio often does not understand that the improvements of the town or village are for his benefit as well as for the benefit of everyone else. He looks on them as something for the advantage or benefit of the officials of the town or of the “principales,” and frequently they are so managed and constructed that they do fail to afford any benefit to the people who live in the barrios. Thus at the very beginning of our study we need to teach the idea that there are certain things in every community which affect everybody, for which everybody should sacrifice and which should be to everybody’s benefit.

Published by Michael Janairo

Writer. Reader. Coffee drinker. Fiction. Poetry. Art. Museums. (My family name is pronounced "ha NIGH row.")

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