The statue of bigotry
FROM A DISTANCE - Veronica Pedrosa (The Philippine Star) - July 20, 2019 - 12:00am

Welcome to our world, all of you who were surprised or shocked this past week by US President Trump’s outrageous racist challenge. “Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came?” Trump wrote on Twitter about four women of color who also happen to be elected opposition representatives in a deeply divided democracy.

Welcome to the immigrant experience in lands of hypocrisy and cynicism; this is the lived experience of actual people in the nation that is supposed to be our closest ally in that other world of geopolitics. “Give me your hungry, your tired, your poor, I’ll piss on ‘em/ that’s what the Statue of Bigotry says/ Your poor huddled masses, let’s club ‘em to death/ and get it over with and just dump ’em on the boulevard,” quipped musician Lou Reed of the immigrant struggle in the USA.

This is a world where it is all too easy to shrug off Trump’s insults because they just express prejudices that are normally below the surface. “Go back! You’re different from us! We belong! You don’t!” “Send Her Back!” Trump’s supporters shouted, and in my head I heard again the vile insults of a random man on a street in London many years ago.

Donald Trump is not a random man and his words cannot be shrugged off, nor should they be normalised. He is chief executive of the only superpower (in the sense that since the demise of the USSR, only the US projects power in two continents), his actions have global consequences, and so there’s been international outrage. It is also the nation that an estimated four million people of Philippine heritage call home. As the United States’ only former colony, the Philippines and its people are doomed to disappointment there. Filipino-Americans have been called an invisible or hidden minority, and yet the first Filipinos arrived in what was then New Spain, in 1580 before any other Asians and long before the US existed.

It’s been 120 years since Rudyard Kipling’s poem “The White Man’s Burden” was published in “The Times” of London. Now widely known as a poem of imperialism, what’s not as well known is that it was written by the British poet to inspire the US government to colonise the Philippine Islands.The idea was that like other European nations, the US should start an empire to bring civilisation to brown savages elsewhere. In fact it was quoted at length by a Senator, shortly after it was published, to argue against colonisation: “Those [Filipino] peoples are not suited to our institutions. They are not ready for liberty as we understand it. Why are we bent on forcing upon them a civilisation not suited to them, and which only means, in their view, degradation and a loss of self-respect, which is worse than the loss of life itself?” he said.

Nobody listened, and in 1899 US forces killed more than three thousand Filipino freedom fighters in 24 hours. More Filipinos died defending their country on that first day of the Philippine- American War than did Americans in Normandy on D-Day.

It was a race war, when the form of torture now known as “waterboarding” was first employed against Filipinos. “The country won’t be pacified until the n*ggers are killed off like Indians,” veteran soldiers told newspaper reporters, adding it was necessary “to blow every n*gger into n*gger heaven.”

“The US has always depended on racism to survive and thrive,” says Vicente Raphael, history professor at the University of Washington and author of several books on the Philippines that combine history, anthropology and post-colonial theory. He points out that this Trumpian version of racism will have different consequences for Filipinos and Filipino Americans. “It means, of course that US foreign policy directed at the Philippines and domestic policies – from immigration to affirmative action to health care to employment--will continue to be shaped by racial biases and preferences.”

It’s not yet clear how Filipino-Americans are responding to Trump’s attack on the Squad, according to Professor Patricio Abinales of the University of Hawaii - Manoa and expert on Philippine studies. He points out “existing surveys of the voting patterns of Filipino-Americans, (show) over 30% of them preferred Trump over Hilary Clinton in the 2016 elections. Another study has shown that of all the Asian-American communities, it has been Filipinos who have voted Republican.”

Indeed, a Pew Research Centre survey in October last year showed, 78% of those asked in the Philippines said they had a lot or some confidence in President Trump to do the right thing, a far bigger percentage than that in almost every other nation surveyed. Despite all the history of colonisation and racial discrimination against Filipinos, we appear to be unwilling to break the affinity with the US government, perhaps precisely because of the historic dynamic between “the colonizer and the colonized.”

The deep and complex links have apparently led to a self-defeating situation of Filipinos supporting the populist Trump project, even as it seeks to exclude us as non-whites. Could we be exercising our own form of racism, by failing to acknowledge the facts of a history that’s been stacked against us by a long line of US governments long before Trump? Why else would we deny our own heritage and side with our oppressor, whitewashing (pardon the pun) the truth?

“There is of course a counterpoint to this vicious history: the history of popular, cross-racial and cross-class resistance, most of the time local, but at times graduating into large scale solidarities to challenge and push back against the racist legacy of the US,” Rafael points out. In the US on Thursday, Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, the target of those calls to “Send Her Back” actually did arrive back in Minnesota. At the airport she was greeted by another crowd shouting about her, but this time it was “Welcome Home Ilhan.” I expect there were some Filipino-Americans among them.

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