Back In Place

* – In response to Out-of-Date by IWriteAsIWrite.  Thanks to The Greatest for pointing this out.

The beauty of the Web is exchange; that there is no need for name-calling or caustic responses.  While the author may have misspelled my thinly-disguised pseudonym, I’d like to say that I stand corrected on the many flaws he or she did point out in my previous entry, but in many ways, I do stand my ground.

I do agree, if only that I myself am founded in the same perspective that I try my best to balance out.  Yet my bone of contention, as the author points out, remains the same: decolonization.  The anecdote I started the entry with can be attested to by Filipino schoolchildren.  Race is still pervasive.  Those of us who have had the benefit of learning things at a higher level may know that race does not exist but culture does, but not to those who sit in 60-students-to-a-teacher classrooms.

By “decolonization,” I do not mean flinging ourselves back to 1520 and back.  History can only move forward, and we cannot bring the datus and the barangays as they existed, and we certainly cannot demolish the condominiums of Makati to give way to huts near the Pasig River.  To decolonize does not mean to redact or revert: it means to rediscover. To decolonize does not mean to deny, but to dispel.  To decolonize does not mean to destroy the past.  To decolonize means to undo the fabric of colonization, and to use the threads of everything – good, bad, and ugly – to create our magic carpet to a whole new world (doh).

I’m no longer as acquainted with my books and readings as I’m supposed to be, but we’re past the intervention of essentialism; for all intents and purposes, we’re free.  Freedom should bring us closer to exploring the past long buried by colonization.  Yet the method to the whitewash destroyed what it can of culture and built what it can of race.

I agree: decolonization, or in the author’s terms, strengthening ties to the national whole, is a very, very delicate balancing act.  If colonization is an addiction, then education is the intervening therapy that should reverse its ill effects and make for a more balanced point-of-view and way of living.  If colonization is an addiction, then decolonization is recovery, rediscovery, and re-identification: much like what a recovering smoker like myself would do a day at a time.

Nineteenth century European colonization brought to the fore 19th century ideas which are still regarded as “true and scientific” to this day, in the 21st century, in a public school classroom.  Things like “race.”  Or religious dogma.  Or shame in complexion.  Or the de-emphasis and degradation of pre-colonial culture.  Or building our identity for years on the basis of something as outdated and outmoded as race: 19th century knowledge treated us as nothing more than “brown.”  The mere fact that authors talk about “a Filipino race,” or that consumers are so focused on the superficiality of skin whitening, speaks of the success and pervasiveness of colonial mentality: the very thing we should break away from when we decolonize.

The benefit of colonization is that through hundreds of years of subjugation, it did lump divergent cultures together into the general category of indio, or people that should pay tribute to the crown of the Master.  It formed, in many respects, a sense of unity.  Yet on the downside, the unique identities and practices of these divergent cultures may have been lost, relegated to footnotes, no longer practiced, and perhaps even dead.  If we need to thank colonization for its influences in building the Filipino people we should, but we should not forget that it is also instrumental in destroying parts and wholes of it.  If we need to thank colonization for its contributions to the national identity we should, but we should not forget that it destroyed lots of identities in the process.

Distancing ourselves from what we already know to be false and to be degrading means to bring us closer to what we were before colonization, but at the same time using the knowledge we have now to create a framework of development that works for us.  To paraphrase Fanon, it is to use the past – good or bad or ugly – to open up hope for the future.  Our proud past can hold the hope and inspiration for us to bring a better future for ourselves.  When we distance ourselves from things like race and slavery, we should be brought closer to things like our divergent pasts and the legacies of our forefathers.  Yet we cannot dwell on that.  We must move forward.

The best way to decolonize is not to merely catalogue, nor is it to go back to year zero, but to educate.  The movement is to clarify what’s hazy about our history by digging as far back as we can.  The moments of solidarity we had to achieve common goals will eventually be undone to highlight the differences we have, yet we’re kept together by the project of creating and affirming an identity for ourselves.  That kind of decolonization: going back to the idea of “mixture,” it comes with the (probably) impossible task of de-hyphenating ourselves and making ourselves whole.  We are who we are because of our past: emphasizing who we are does not mean wiping out every vestige of who we are now to go back to who we were before swords and crosses and guns and red rays.  It means recovering the past, and putting that past back in place.

It takes a movement, for example, to take people out of Mall of Asia or Trinoma, and make them genuinely interested in well-kept and well-maintained museums to pre-colonial culture.  It takes a movement to look over lesson plans and schoolbooks, and configure them in such a way that they educate students about our past: who we were, where we came from, and what we can do moving forward.  Rather than put history and anthropology as repositories of trivia, they can be integrated into education so that they’re not merely known and forgotten eventually, but lived and preserved.  It takes a movement to make historiography and anthropological study a Government priority, and take the lessons learned from there to create equitable, just, and fair policy.  So little of precolonial culture is taught to students, is carried over to the real world, and is made readily available for the people as, say, glutathione.

The fact remains that we were colonized: the many aspects of our country’s diverging cultures were damaged – and yes, even improved – because of it.  We shouldn’t even deny that we were colonized: that’s impossible.  Yet we shouldn’t deny ourselves the opportunity to continue looking for historical artifacts, to revitalize dying indigenous languages, to relive indigenous ritual and to document and practice.  Living – as well as educating ourselves in long lost traditions, ritual, and history – is the therapy that should bring us closer to our past to open hope for the future.  I agree: our focus should not be destroying or denying history, but rediscovering it, making it instrumental in our constant building and rebuilding of national identity.

We need to “fling ourselves back to the 1520s” only in the sense that the anthropologists and sociologists and historians among us – so few, in a world continued to be colonized by quick wages in corporations – should rediscover the past and make it available for the public.  We cannot reverse history, but we can reconcile with it, rediscover who we are, and rebuild ourselves into the harmony of differences – and similarities – that keep us together, more than break us apart.

Indeed, from where I see it, despite our divergences me and the author converged.

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