For many cultures around the world who have been impacted by colonialism, the effects are still long-lasting on their youth. One of these effects manifests into a concept known as colonial mentality. Specifically for the Filipino American community, the effects of colonial mentality have a grip on adolescents’ mindsets, shaping everything from their mental health down to their perceptions of beauty.
Whether it’s countries in South East Asia, like the Philippines or Vietnam, or countries in Africa, like Ghana or Nigeria, the colonial mentality affects each respective country’s culture in different ways. Some common effects of colonial mentality include loss of culture or language, changes in perceptions of beauty to fit a eurocentric standard and preference for values that align with the colonizer country’s culture.
The United States is home to 4.2 million Filipino people with a significant amount residing in Southern California. UC Irvine has various student organizations dedicated to Filipino culture including one of the largest cultural organizations in Southern California — Kababayan at UCI.
The current president of the UCI Filipino American Alumni Chapter, Dr. Christine Catipon, works closely with Kababayan at UCI. Catipon is a psychologist who works at the UCI Counseling Center and also serves as the Counseling Center liaison at UCI’s LGBT Resource Center. She defines colonial mentality as “the internalized perception of ethnic and cultural inferiority as a result of being colonized by another group.”
For the Filipino community, hundreds of years of colonization from Spain, Japan and the United States has led to a seemingly universal colonial mindset for Filipinos, oftentimes with many not realizing its impact on their daily lives.
Many Filipinos experience a loss of culture or language, especially for those who don’t live in the Philippines and live abroad in the United States or Canada, of which both are home to significant populations of Filipinos.
The effects of colonialism also manifest through the perception of beauty such as with the issue of colorism — a preference for lighter skin or those of mixed heritage, favoring individuals who are thinner and believing those with fluency in English are superior than those with less experience in speaking it.
Many older Filipinos won’t carry on aspects of their culture or language to their children, afraid it may taint them with accents or stereotypes that go against the status quo in the country they now reside in. Because of this, a great number of Filipino youth grow up not knowing about their culture or language, and if they do, it’s often watered-down, leading them to grow to hate their own culture or language in preference of the culture that surrounds them.
“[The Philippines’ history of colonization] created uncertainty about what really defines our culture, to the point that many Filipinos now have feelings or otherness and shame about our Filipino culture and ourselves,” Catipon said.
Kababayan at UCI’s current Community Advocacy Co-Coordinator Pammy Cabotaje reflected on her own experiences with colonial mentality.
“As obscure as it sounds, it’s almost like I have a colonizer up in my head telling me that I’m not enough, that I have to constantly appeal to a white gaze in order to garner an ounce of respect,” she said. “Again, this mindset is unhealthy and I’m doing my best to not let that colonizer’s voice overpower my own self perception.”
For many Filipinos, the colonial mentality is so deeply rooted in Filipino culture that it can be difficult for many Filipinos to identify it as an issue.
“The interesting thing with Filipinos and colonial mentality is that most will not realize their perceptions about the world are from colonial mentality because it is so prevalent in the Filipino culture,” Dr. Catipon said.
Despite how deeply integrated the effects of colonialism are in Filipino culture, newer generations are working on having discussions about these sensitive topics. Whether it’s in the media like Filipino American actress Asia Jackson’s #MagandangMorenx movement combating colorism, or in the local community like in Kababayan’s “Kommuni-Tea Talks” about specific topics affecting the Filipino community, Filipino youths are increasingly having conversations about aspects of our culture that aren’t often discussed.
“I think Filipino American youth have done a great job opening up spaces to discuss problems within the Filipino community like colorism, anti-blackness, and sexism, but this is just another topic that I hope has more light shed on it because it is something that often goes ignored or unheard of,” another current Kababayan Community Advocacy Co-Coordinator, Roni Medina said.
Having conversations with fellow Filipinos about these topics and being open-minded about others’ personal experiences is the first step. Even if you aren’t Filipino, these experiences may resonate with your own culture. Even if you don’t believe you struggle with colonial mentality, it’s important to listen to those who do and not shame them for their experiences.
“A lot of times I feel like discussions surrounding colonial mentality often target or blame individuals with backward ideas (such as our parents), but I hardly ever hear talks about the systems of neo-colonialism and American imperialism in the Philippines which produced this backward mentality in the first place,” Kababayan general member John Nonato said. “Basically, the discussions don’t really address the deeper roots of colonial mentality, and they kind of individualize the problem rather than seeing it as a systemic issue that can only be fixed by addressing the systems that reproduce it.”
Although it’s difficult to recognize the colonial mentality present in yourself or in those around you, taking the steps to decolonize your mindset is crucial to battling the inner thoughts that may harm your mental health and self-perceptions.
Catipon suggests “getting involved in the Filipino community and working with organizations to dismantle colonial mentality” and reaching out to mental health professionals with a similar cultural mindset to aid in your feelings of cultural inferiority.
Changing your mindset takes time and it can be a difficult process. Know that you are not alone in these experiences and affirm yourself of your abilities separated from the hundreds of years of colonialism that has impacted your country.
“You are not what the colonizer perceives you as. You are not inferior. You are not less than. You determine your own identity, your own worth, and your own self perception. You have the power to be who you want to be and no one has the right to diminish that,” Cabotaje said.
Recognize that your culture is so much more than its colonized history. For Filipinos, our culture runs deep with united strength against colonizers and is rich with indigenous roots.
“We are Filipino because we decided we are Filipino — because our ancestors decided that across islands of hundreds of different ethnicities and languages and peoples, we can unite under this Filipino identity to resist Spanish, Japanese and American colonizers,” Nonato said. “Our ancestors died fighting colonization because they loved our people and had hope for our people, and I hope you can feel the love of a million ancestors whenever you start feeling ashamed of your Filipino identity.”
Camelia Heins is an Opinion Staff Writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.