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[OPINION] Little brown Americans

Vince Bernardo

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[OPINION] Little brown Americans
'We tend to think we are the crème de la crème of Southeast Asia mainly because of our high proficiency in [English]'

We are good English speakers, and it is true that we have used this in a lot of aspects that helped our country globalize. But we tend to think we are the crème de la crème of Southeast Asia mainly because of our high proficiency in this foreign language. However, this skill that we have mastered after nearly a hundred years only proves that the Philippines lacks nationalistic ideals and had failed to promote its own language to its very own citizens. (READ: [OPINION] How our native languages benefit society)

We are known by foreigners to be a hospitable country, not because this is a characteristic intrinsic to us, but because Westerners instigated supremacy, which in turn made us easily conform to the wants and ideas of their nations.

In 1959, Renato Constantino wrote a piece entitled “The Miseducation of the Filipinos.” In it, Constantino described the effects of the colonial public education brought by the Americans to our country. In the middle of reading the article, it made me ponder on how deeply American values are embedded in our minds and in our accepted social behaviors. I was certain that my very own mind was still conquered by the Americans even if they are not physically here. I’m even writing this article in American English.

Filipinos developed an inferiority complex in relation to their former colonizers. Despite the fact that we are a sovereign nation, the Filipino mind remains to be the mind of a little brown American. When Filipinos think about Christmas, they think of Santa Claus, snow, or Christmas trees, even though none of these exist or originated in our country. When offered a chance to migrate to the United States, not a single Filipino would think twice to get that green card. And language? We tend to bow down to anyone who speaks and writes fluently in English. We associate the use of the language with being knowledgeable, and those who are not fluent are usually considered uneducated.

The Philippine education system is comprised of subjects that use the English language. It was woven into our system and consequently, into the minds of our students. Additionally, parents now prefer to raise their children with English as their mother tongue. Why? Because it is seen as something that only the few can have. The English language has become part of the identity of a social class. A lot of Filipino families today try hard to enroll their children in private, English-speaking schools no matter how low their income is. The majority of private institutions persist as English-speaking campuses, amplifying the exclusivity of the English language in the country. (READ: [OPINION] It’s time to change how Filipinos see the national language)

Why are we where we are today? In World War II, Japanese soldiers used fear and brutality to try to control Filipinos, raping hundreds of Filipina women, killing thousands of Filipino soldiers, and making more than 60,000 war prisoners walk ungodly lengths in the Bataan Death March. Filipinos developed hate and resentment toward the Japanese. Almost the same happened with the Spaniards.

Americans, on the other hand, were seen as our friends, our big brothers. They transported around 600 teachers and soldiers to teach Filipinos and develop public schools in our country. When the Americans departed, we were left with a generation of Filipinos who were proficient in English. Indeed, we should be grateful for the education and help that the Americans brought us, but what they also did was subtle military strategy. For them, the best way to capture people was not through capturing their physicality, their army, or their government. It is through capturing their minds. 

These days, we still glorify the English language and consider our own as the poor man’s tongue. Laws, bills, ordinances, resolutions, memorandums, and executive orders are all written in the English language. This method of policy-writing makes it tough for Filipinos who have not attained higher education to understand the very laws that are made for them. Worse, a lot of Filipinos continue to be deprived of basic education especially in rural areas of our country. There is a Latin phrase usually used for this: ignorantia juris non excusat (ignorance of the law excuses no one). But we have to ask ourselves, are the basic laws understandable for majority of Filipinos?

We were conquered by the Americans more than a century ago. Constantino’s article was written more than 60 years ago. But why does it feel like it was written yesterday? Why do the effects of colonial education still linger in our society? We celebrated the 122nd declaration of Philippine Independence last week, yet how free are we really? 

Removing English from our educational system might be a tremendously radical idea, but it might be one of the solutions to cure the nonexistent nationalism of Filipinos. –

Vince Bernardo is an upcoming political science student who spent his high school days as a student journalist. He was also the head of their school’s student government and continues to serve the country by volunteering and fighting for social justice.

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