‘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.

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Friday Photo: One Peso Note from Philippines, 1922


On the wall of The Bahn Mi Shop restaurant in White Plains, NY, a one peso note from the Philippines. The small text across the top of the currency says, “BY AUTHORITY OF AN ACT OF THE PHILIPPINE LEGISLATURE, APPROVED BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES JUNE 13, 1922.”  That president in 1922 was Warren G. Harding, often regarded as one of the worst presidents. The signature in the center of the note says “S. Osmeña” (for Sergio Osmeña). Beneath  that is says “President,” and he was president of the Philippines from 1944 to 1946.

Book review: ‘A War of Frontier and Empire’

First published: Sunday, October 7, 2007, in the Albany Times Union

sibleyAs President Bush tries to shape his legacy in regards to the Iraq war, he should pick up David Silbey’s engaging history “A War of Frontier and Empire: The Philippine-American War, 1899-1902” (Hill and Wang; 272 pages; $26).

Though both were wars of choice, the details are quite different. Still, the generalizations that can be gleaned from Silbey’s account are eerily familiar: a quick and stunning conventional military victory turns into longer-than-expected guerrilla warfare; a failure by the United States to understand its enemy; a sense of racial superiority that enflames troops and politicians in Washington; and a native population whose loyalties seemed to change depending on the time of day.

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A primer: How Americans taught Filipinos to see the Philippines

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As part of the U.S.’s colonial policies of “benevolent assimilation” in the Philippines, they set up a system of universal education. At first, the primers were geared toward U.S. children (with references to things outside of most Filipino experiences such as snow), and then new primers were made.

This page comes from a 1908 Revised Edition of the First Primary Language Book by O.S. Reimold.

This is the entirety of the essay and image to go with lesson 40 (what follows it are a description of centavos and pesos, and then “Written Exercises” such as “Write the names of ten things that you can buy in the market.”).

The questions the passage raises for me are: Who is the we? Is it the teacher (whether a Filipino or American) and the school children in the moment of the lesson? Or maybe I’m reading the “We” all wrong, and perhaps it refers to all the members of the colonial system? After all, wouldn’t it be too much to expect school children to have spending money for the market? So then is the “We” supposed to be a generalized “everyone,” as in “everyone goes to the market”? Then again, the “we” seems to be in opposition to the “many people” in the previous sentence? Couldn’t it be possible that some of the Filipino children learning to read, speak and write in English through this lesson be part of the “many people”? Is there a class distinction at play here that may be confusing to some of the student? Doesn’t the act of naming the shopper (Natalia) as opposed to the seller (“the man”) further that kind of class difference? And then, if the narrator can name one of the people depicted in the image, how is a child supposed to respond to those final questions about who is buying and selling the chicken? Are children supposed to know the names of the people? Are they supposed to respond with a gender identification (“the woman”/”the man”)?