I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked, after criticizing the United States (on literally ANYTHING): “If America is so bad, then how come so many people want to come here?”
Record needle screeeeeeeeeeeech.
It’s time to set the story straight. Not everyone who immigrated to the U.S. actually wanted to come here. My parents didn’t. They wanted to stay put in the Philippines with their families and their friends. So why did they move here? It’s time for a history lesson…
After Spain colonized the Philippines for 300 years, there was a huge war in 1898 between the U.S. and Spain. Filipinos fought the Spanish alongside the Americans. This war ended with the Treaty of Paris in which the Philippines, along with Cuba and Guam, were ceded to the United States. The people of the Philippines didn’t welcome the American occupation because they realized they had just been traded from one ruler to another and they (rightfully) wanted their own independence. This led to the absolutely BRUTAL, 3-year-long Philippine American War which set the template for how the United States went on to ruin (oh sorry, democratize and occupy) other nations. All in the name of capitalism and U.S. imperialism (and let’s not forget — the U.S. hatred for all brown people). United States President William McKinley called the war a "benevolent assimilation" but in truth, it was a genocide of our people.
The Philippine American War resulted in the death of over 4,200 American and over 20,000 Filipino combatants. As many as 200,000 Filipino civilians died from violence, famine, and disease. Depending on which account you read, the death toll of Filipinos is sometimes reported to be as high as 1-2 million. It also resulted in the Philippines becoming a colony of the U.S.
The reasons your history books glossed over this war is because it contradicts everything that the U.S. says it stands for when it comes to foreign policy. It also reveals the true intentions of the U.S. government.
After this came what Filipino historian Renato Constantino described as the great "miseducation" of the Filipino people. The U.S. created a public school system in the Philippines and recruited legions of American teachers to teach Filipino children about U.S. history, politics and culture. Academically gifted Filipino men were sent to college in the U.S. In exchange, these pensionados were required to return to the Philippines and serve as teachers, engineers and civil servants.
From a very young age, Filipinos were schooled to admire the U.S. and to think of themselves as Americans. Filipino students were conditioned to equate the United States with civilization, righteousness, and opportunity. Filipino culture, on the other hand, was given little value. This is called internalized oppression or colonial mentality. With this, a culture of migration took root. When Filipinos arrived in the U.S., they found themselves subject to rampant prejudice and discrimination.
Why did the U.S. do this? Easy answer. Colonial exploitation. The Philippines is chock full of mineral rich, natural resources. The U.S. wanted to get their hands on our cash crops, such as sugarcane. American companies and owners bought farmland to use for export crops. By the twentieth century, the Philippines was exporting so many of its agricultural products and natural resources that it could no longer feed its own inhabitants.
The U.S. also wanted to expand their consumer base by forcing millions of Filipinos to purchase U.S. goods. It was a one-way economic relationship that benefited only the U.S. This, coupled with the U.S.-supported dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos, had a direct effect on the underdevelopment of the Philippines that we still see to his day.
The American government supported Ferdinand Marcos' dictatorship from 1965 to 1986 so that they could maintain their military bases in the Philippines and prevent another communist government in the region, since this was during the Cold War.
When Reagan took power in 1980, Marcos had already been ruling the Philippines under martial law for eight years, with the full support of former Presidents Richard Nixon, Gerald R. Ford and Jimmy Carter. Reagan’s support for an additional six years meant Marcos and his military could rack up more human rights abuses with impunity. (Rhonda Ramiro, Huffington Post)
Marcos’ regime is one of the reasons many Filipinos fled and immigrated here to the U.S.. He looted and economically wrecked the Philippines. Before Marcos took power in 1965, the Philippines was tipped to become the Japan of Southeast Asia. Marcos spent the next 21 years turning it into a kleptocratic backwater.
So where are we now? Roughly 40% of Filipinos live on $2 a day, while 10% of the nation’s 105 million people work overseas to send money home to an economy lacking in employment opportunities. This is why the Philippines’ biggest export is its human capital. Overseas remittances contributed US$31.29 billion to the Philippine economy in 2017 alone. That’s one-tenth of the country’s entire GDP.
Not surprisingly, the current president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, is an open supporter of Marcos.
In order to understand the reasons for Filipino migration the U.S., you need to understand first that America’s relationship with the Philippines is unequal and much more beneficial to the U.S. economy. It could even be called a labor contract, which is why Filipino immigrants are overrepresented in agriculture and nursing.
Long story short, the reason so many Filipinos immigrate here is because U.S. foreign policy made it necessary to the country’s survival. It has nothing to do with actually “wanting to come here.”
OUR IMMIGRANT JOURNEYS
On Saturday, June 8th, I’m curating an exhibit featuring the works of Filipino and Filipino-American artists who will explore the theme of immigration and tell their own stories through their work. It will take place at the annual Katipunan Filipino Fiesta in Timonium, MD from 11 AM - 6 PM. There will be a spoken word performance by Jenny Lares of the Baltimore Asian Pacific Arts Collective (BAPAC) at 1 PM.
The exhibit is brought to you through a partnership between Katipunan of MD and the MD Humanities Council. Our Immigration Journeys is a project directed by Dr. Maryanne Alabanze-Akers, a dean at Morgan State University and board member of the Katipunan of MD.
WANT TO LEARN MORE?
Listen to episode 13 of my podcast. Alvin Camba and I discuss modern day American colonialism in the Philippines. "American imperialism" is seen as an insult, especially to Americans. Americans don't like to think of themselves as imperialists or colonizers because the country was founded after an anti-imperialist revolt. The United States calls itself a republic, but let’s be real — how is it any different?
Here is a great video that explains why there are so many Filipino nurses in the U.S.
You can also read these books to delve deeper. #DecolonizeYourBookshelves