Colonial mentality? Ever heard of it? Chances are that you probably haven’t heard of such a term. Well to understand this term and provide a little more context to it, we are going to explore a little bit about Pilipino history and try to provide the roots of where the colonial mentality originates from. The Philippines has had to deal with two phases of colonization: the first comes from the Spanish because Spain acquired the Philippines as a territory through colonization with the first wave of Spanish colonizers, led by Ferdinand Magellan. The more important phase of colonization that the Philippines experienced that affects most if not all Pilipinos and Pilipino-Americans today was the U.S. phase. As the Philippines was acquired from the Spanish-American war as the result of the Treaty of Paris in 1898, officially making the country a colonized territory of the U.S. as a result of the Philippine-American war, thus starting the roots of what is now known as the colonial mentality.
Now to get on the real stuff of defining the colonial mentality. It is defined by Lakandiwa M. de Leon, author of “Filipinotown and the DJ Scene: Cultural Expression and Identity Affirmation of Filipino American Youth in Los Angeles” as “an attempt to conceal the native or indigenous, a manifestation of acute inferiority complex.” What this means is that many individuals who have this mentality consciously hide their native or ethnic identity generally in response to assimilate into the mainstream culture. First generation Pilipino parents in America tend to pass this mentality to their American-born and –raised children. A nuance as part of the colonial mentality is that Pilipino-American youth not only have to search for a history and culture that is sometimes lost or kept from them, but must also battle the mentalities that prevent them from embracing that heritage.
Now how does this exactly relate to privilege, power, and oppression? The two identities we will be focusing on for the sake of this piece is race and ethnicity. Strictly focusing on the definition of the colonial mentality and its influence on Pilipinos, it acts as a system of oppression upon Pilipinos by creating a reasoning that native or indigenous ethnic and racial identity is a source of shame and lower status while being phenotypically white and adopting the mainstream culture is perceived to be a sign of higher status and the right way of being. As the colonial mentality reproduces such thought and logic, what this does is it reinforces the mainstream culture of the United States and those who are phenotypically white as points of privilege and higher status in society.
The bigger question of this all is how to decolonize one’s self of this mentality. There are various ways in which one can do this, but from my personal experience it came from learning about myself as a Pilipino-American and seeking out what it means to be Pilipino ethnically as a American-born youth coming out of Hayward, CA. It wasn’t really until I came to San Jose State University that I had the opportunity to learn about my history and my culture in a formalized class with Dr. Estella Habal. It has provided me with a sense of being on a deep and holistic level that I carry with me everyday. Now this is not saying that I do not suffer from the colonial mentality anymore because there are certain attitudes in which I still harbor within me, but I am slowly working on it as it is a lifelong process. Being in this constant battle of colonized versus decolonized is something that will eventually be won, but I encourage people to explore one’s identity and see where the research will lead one.
by IAN ZAMORA