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How did the Filipinos become the only most Americanized people in Asia?

The Philippines and the Filipinos are the most Americanized people in Asia because of aggressive colonial policy by the US.

It’s a long story that began across the Pacific, in Mexico. It continued to the small island of Cuba in the Atlantic Ocean and ended in the Philippines. The US took on Spain, stripped her of her colonial jewels and the US became the new colonial power.

The war of the US against Mexico

Mexico was a former colony of Spain that had gained independence only in 1821. The present US states west of the Rio Grande, that is, from Texas to California were all part of Mexico’s territory.

Texas declared its independence from Mexico in 1835 and was annexes by the US in its westward expansion in 1845 and this began the Mexican War.

The US declared that it was the United States’ manifest destiny to expand the territory of the United States to the Pacific Ocean.

Cuban Revolution

At around the same time, another Spanish colony, Cuba revolted against Spain. Cuba was a trading partner of the United States but Spain cancelled Cuba’s trade with the US. This began the Cuban war for independence from Spain.

The US was concerned with the hostilities so near Florida. When in February 1898, the U.S.S. Maine that was docked in the port of Havana exploded and sank, the US Congress had its pretext to intervene to “preserve Cuban independence.”

The Cubans also pleaded with the US to intervene in its armed struggle against Spain, so the US came with guns blazing. This began the Spanish American War which ended just two months later in April 1898 with the withdrawal of Spain from Cuba and the signing of the Treaty of Paris.

Treaty of Paris of 1898

Spain was waning as a world and naval power. It had begun losing one by one, the colonial territories it had held in the Americas since the 1500s.

When the US and Spain signed the Treaty of Paris, Spain relinquished all interests in Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Guam but more importantly, Spain ceded the Philippines to the US for the sum of $20 million. The US, a growing international power, wanted a foothold in the Pacific. It annexed the Hawaiian Islands as well.

Philippine War of Independence

Since 1896, the Filipinos had been fighting a revolutionary war for independence against Spain. The problem was, the Filipinos had no professional army. The revolutionary army was composed of volunteers. The leaders quarreled among themselves regarding strategy. One faction wanted to seek the help of the US to defeat Spain. This was the faction of Emilio Aguinaldo. Aguinaldo wanted aid from the US in the form of muskets and ammunition. To everyone’s dismay, the US did send guns and ammunition but these were carried by American soldiers who landed on our shores.

As usual the Americans meddled in affairs that were not theirs because they wanted to be the new colonizer. They meddled in Cuba, they annexed Texas, then they took all the territories of Mexico from Texas to California. When Spain ceded its territory in Guam, the US annexed Texas on its way to claim the Philippines after it had paid $20 million US dollars for it.

The US policy of benevolent assimilation

Now, being Protestants, the US thought that it was their burden to educate the savage people’s of the world and tutor them in democracy. They disregarded the Filipinos’ struggle for independence against Spain and insinuated themselves in the Philippines as the new colonial master.

They thought the Filipinos were not ready for democracy (being savages) and they took upon themselves the White Man’s burden to educate us in democracy by “benevolent assimilation”.

The Philippine-American War

Naturally, some Filipinos who had been fighting against Spain were suspicious of the US government’s intentions and refused their help and their meddling. They took up arms against the invading US troops and thus began the Philippine-American War.

They said hostilities began in a place called San Juan Del Monte. An American sentry called out to several Filipino men: “Halt, who goes there?” But the Filipinos kept walking anyway. So the US sentry shot the Filipinos. This began the Philippine-American War. By all accounts, it was bloody. They did to Filipino villages what they did to the Native American nations — they killed civilians and noncombatants, women and children in a strategic move called hamletting. They burned standing fields of rice and other crops thus starving their enemies and whole swathes of the population in a move they called the scorched earth policy.

The US launched a bloody war against the native population that was up in arms against Spain and would not now down to another colonizer after it had just thrown off the yoke of a previous colonizer.

Hamletting and scorched earth

The cruelty of the US military against the Native American people’s in the West and Northeast of the United States was replicated in the Philippines. The United States implemented the practice of hamletting. They took whole villages and rounded up all the residents and placed them in concentration camps.

They tortured men suspected of being guerillas, they mutilated men and women and summarily executed those who were suspected of being rebels. The pistol called the Colt .45 was invented in this era specifically to stop Muslim dissidents dead. They starved out the rebels by setting fire to rice fields, standing forests and plantations.

Neocolonialism of the US

If you think about it, this meddlesome foreign policy of the US was repeated in Korea in the 1950s, in Vietnam in the 1960s to the 1970s and in other parts of the world. The US has adopted a foreign policy that posed the US as “savior” of democracy when all along, it wanted sources of raw materials, markets to dump their manufactured goods, and strategic positions in the world. In short, the US foreign policy is neo-colonialist.

At the time, the US was also rising as an industrial and manufacturing power. It needed cheap raw materials and cheap labor as well as markets for their manufactured goods.

American education and the Thomasites

Neo-colonialism is still colonialism like Spain’s but the US wanted to differentiate itself from the traditional colonialists by being a bit more “benevolent” and “friendly.”

The US pursued a policy of educating the natives. The US sent a boatload of teachers on board the USS Thomas to begin a public school system from primary until high school and establish a public state university system (they established the University of the Philippines). Previously, Spain refused to educate the natives and refused to teach them the Spanish language. They allowed public education only in 1863. Prior to this time, education was only private in schools and universities run by religious orders. Even then, the priest-run schools were mostly education in religion, practical arts and vocational skills.

Nursing and medical education. They brought in doctors and nurses to establish a public healthcare and hospital system, and established the Philippine General Hospital when under colonial Spain, most hospitals were run by religious orders. The US also brought in nurses to educate and train Filipino nurses.

Aggressive public infrastructure works. They began putting Filipinos to work to improve the road infrastructure system. They figured that if Filipinos males were busy building roads and earning money, they will not think of war.

They took the cobblestone roads and wood bridges the Spanish used and built concrete roads and bridges such as the Jones Bridge in Quiapo, Taft Avenue, Dewey Boulevard (now Roxas Boulevard) Kennon Road, Burnham Park, etc. They established a highway system of which Highway 54 is the most famous (we call it EDSA). The Americans figured, if the Filipinos think we are helping them modernize their society, they will be less inclined to take up arms.

Legal education and law making. They introduced the American justice system of courts and the Bill of Rights. Even our legislative system is an import from the US. Some of our laws such as the laws on partnership, corporations, sales and agency are copied from the US Code.

US occupation and the colonization of culture

The US created a class of Filipinos who could not only read and write but who are also adept at law making and judicial writing. When before, under the Spanish, lawyering was reserved for the genteel Spanish classes, with the public school system put in place by the Americans, lawyering was open to Filipinos (Indios). The same thing happened to other professions which used to be limited only to the full-blooded Spanish from Spain (peninsulares) and the full-blooded Spanish born in the Philippines (insulares) but never to the brown Filipinos, the Indios.

The US policy in the Philippines was two-faced: they seemed benevolent, and yet, at the same time, violent. They launched a cultural and social overhaul of the Philippines which was still largely a feudal state with big plantations called encomiendas owned by those favored by the Spanish crown (the Madrigals, the Ortigas, the Tuazons, Ayalas, Aranetas, etc.).

Religious overhaul

The Americans brought in Protestant and Baptist missionaries who came in to preach the gospel. Unlike Spain, the missionaries did not force baptisms and wholesale conversions at gunpoint. The US missionaries taught the population to read and write and taught them English. In fact, the different denominations divided up the islands to mark out their missionary territories. There were groups of missionaries that worked specifically with tribes, teaching them not only basic reading and writing but also learning their tribal language in order to translate the Bible for them so that they will have a Bible in their language.

Post-graduate educational opportunities

The US took the brightest people, gave them scholarships (pensionados) and sent them to study in the US for a few years, teach in the US for a few years, and then come back to the Philippines. They took writers from the Philippines and made them Rockefeller and Fulbright fellows studying in the US. When they came back, they became professors in the universities in the Philippines.

Emergence of an English-speaking middle class

Slowly, a new middle class emerged that was not the same as the middle class during the Spanish times. The Spanish and Chinese ilustrados, mestizos, who were half-Filipinos and who spoke Spanish and Filipino were slowly eclipsed by mestizos who spoke American English. And even more slowly today, a brown Filipino middle-class is rising, thanks to Overseas Filipino workers. But of course, to this day, people who speak English with an American accent are more highly esteemed in Filipino society. When a person is English-speaking, people automatically think they are smart.

The Americans introduced baseball in the Philippines and they built the Rizal Memorial Stadium where games were held. Later, they introduced basketball which Filipinos still love to this day.

Export of migrant labor

In the early 1900s, until the 1930s, Filipinos could go to Hawaii or the US mainland to work as vegetable and fruit pickers, work in fishing and canning enterprises all along the Pacific Northwest. They were not required to secure a visa because the Philippines was a territory of the US.

The Filipino migrant workers were discriminated against and they were paid starvation wages but Filipinos came to the US anyway because life was harder in the fields in the Philippines where they worked land that would never become their own without being paid wages at all. Most Filipino farmers in the Philippines were subsistence farmers, agricultural tenants, and sharecroppers only of rich landlords who were absentees.

Intermarriage between Americans and Filipinos

There were anti-miscegenation laws that forbade against Filipino male migrant workers marrying White females. Some Filipino farmers’ sons went to the US as workers and got themselves an education while working in the US. Some of them came back when the US government gave them a free ticket to come home to the Philippines, but more stayed on in the US. These worked and sent money home to the Philippines. Some of them who were able to gain US citizenship took their whole families to join them in the US.

Some American soldiers and American missionaries who had been stationed in the Philippines married Filipinos and either settled in the Philippines or settled in the US. These Filipinos continued to send money to their relatives in the Philippines. Or, when policy permitted, they petitioned to bring over their families to the US.

Philippines, an ally of the US during World War 2

After World War 2, Filipino guerilla fighters were recognized and given pensions by the Americans and later, by the Philippine government. Filipinos began to join the US Navy. In exchange for their service, the US Navy allowed Filipinos to acquire US citizenship. This paved the way for a new middle class in the Philippines who had US citizens for relatives, who sent money and other US goods back to the Philippines for them to consume or to sell in the black market.

Continued US military presence until 1991

The US established 2 military bases in Clark, Pampanga and Subic, Zambales and another small military base in Sangley Point in Cavite. The towns around these two bases showed American movies and played American Top 40 hits. Food places served American-style hamburgers, French fries, milkshakes and fried chicken. Later, the US beamed the Voice of America and the FEN (the Far East Network) which showed US news and TV sitcoms. Little by little, Filipinos taught themselves to become little brown Americans. Many American GIs fathered children with women living and working around the US bases. Some GIs, not all, recognized their Filipino children, others did not. Sad, but true.

English spoken here, enduring American influence

Because Filipinos speak English, they are more competitive in the overseas job market. This is why all over the world, you will find Filipino nurses, engineers, architects, teachers and doctors. You will find construction workers, gardeners, factory workers, and domestic workers who are Filipinos. They elbow out other Asians because they are “Americanized”.

Some will think that being Americanized is bad because it is at the expense of being truly Filipino. This is certainly debatable.

Assimilation of US language and culture

The truth is, according to post-colonial theorists, colonials assimilate the culture of the colonizer as their own. Filipinos, like all formerly colonized people, are good at assimilating the colonizer’s culture and making it their own. They take received forms such as short stories and poetry and made them “Filipino”.

We use English words but we imbue them with our own meanings and usages. We have our own idioms and our own expressions that a native US American speaker will struggle to understand.

We have taken the coloniser’s tongue and we have made it our own. Hence, we have Taglish. Like it or not, the English spoken by most Filipinos is not the same English spoken by Americans in the same way that the English spoken by Americans is not the same English spoken by the British, the Australians, the New Zealanders or the Canadians. There is not one English language anymore because of colonization.

We took American things and twisted them to cater more to our Filipino taste. Just take ketchup, for example. American ketchup is tomato-based and very tangy. Filipino ketchup is banana-based and sweetish. Our spaghetti sauce is the same, we added hotdogs to it and made it a little sweeter. We took things like gelatin and made whole new desserts of them.

Mestizo or mixed cultural influences

So, for people who think we are “Americanized” this may be true at first glance, on the outside. We took on the American influence to help us get by in the world (as an American colony) and then in the larger world (as overseas Filipino workers) but in our core, we are still Filipinos, we have our own beliefs and values. This is what Filipinos do.

We may sound American but our souls are still our own. Even anthropologists (like Bulatao and Paul Matthews) have noticed that while Filipinos identify themselves as Catholics (thanks to 300+ years of Spanish colonial rule), their animistic folk beliefs and folk values persist in what is called “split-level” Catholicism or folk Catholicism. In the same way, Filipinos will identify themselves as “English-speaking” but our English is not American English at all. It is Filipino English.

Filipinos “owned” American language and culture

Just deal with it. The English language and the American culture, once weapons of US colonialism, have become tools for Filipinos to better their lives. Proof? We are the second largest BPO country in the world. US corporations use Filipinos in the Philippines to do their marketing, customer service, and billings. In the US, Filipinos are the second largest Asian minority and very few of us are on welfare. Filipinos in the US work 2 or three jobs because they have to support themselves as well as their relatives back in the Philippines.

Revenge of the oppressed colonials

If you have ever been in a hospital anywhere in the US, you would notice that most of the nurses are brown Filipinos. This, I suppose, is the revenge of the oppressed colonials. We take the shackles the colonizers put on us and we make them our own.

Just watch us.

From Quora

Atty. Adelaimar C. Arias-Jose
Registered and licensed attorney in the Philippines.