Monday, August 22, 2011

From the Beautiful Rice Terraces of Batad to the Slums of Manila and All the Way Back Home - The Final Blog

I learned a significant amount about the Philippines that I would never have learned about if I hadn’t participated in this study abroad program. I always knew that the United States, Western countries and their corporations have exploited people and as well as realized the low standard of living that a lot of these people live in, but seeing the urban decay that is Manila definitely made my awareness a lot more real.

I don’t know if my thinking has entirely changed, I’ve always made a conscious effort not to support businesses that utilize sweat shop labor and simply for health purposes I try to avoid fast food. Of course like anyone else I can’t entirely avoid supporting sweatshops. I found part of the experience a little oxymoronic considering the amount of Nike and McDonald’s products that we either directly or indirectly supported. Of course we had to eat cheap but we were doing the same thing abroad as we do at home, which is supporting the system, every time that we went into a McDonald’s for instance. The experience has humbled me though and since I’ve been back hanging out at my Mom’s house, which is a pretty average house without air conditioning, I’ve been thinking about how great it is. I’ve always been fond and appreciative of what I have but I feel like I am a little more so as a result of going to the Philippines.

I decided that I wanted to do some research revolving around communism, since the theory of communism was probably the most widely and prevalently discussed theory over the period of the trip. Since groups like Anakbayan advocate a switch to communism in order to uplift the poor people of the Philippines I went ahead and looked to see if there was a correlation between countries with socialist policies and a better standard of living. In addition I’ve considered whether a worldwide switch to communist principles would address day to day problems that marginalized people deal with such as colonial mentality and feelings of ethnic inferiority.

I went to the socialist party website and one immediate qualm I have with them is their comment directed towards Bill Gates in which they state that it would be nice to have some of his $36 billion. Gates has pledged to donate 90% of family’s wealth as well as convinced other billionaires to donate huge sums of money to charity. On their website they state that it would be impossible to create socialism in a country surrounded by a worldwide capitalistic market. Whether or not this is true there are countries who have implemented socialist policies and these are the ones I would like to discuss. Only Spain, Portugal and Greece still have socialist parties in office (everyone knows how Europe is doing). As we all know Europe is in a debt crisis that is worse than the United States right now and some have attributed that to government spending. Since socialism requires an increase in the size of the government an increase in government spending is also required. With debt issues in the Philippines I can’t say what the likeliness of expanding the government would be and likewise how possible increasing spending for social welfare programs is. I also can’t say how much of a tax rate would be necessary in the Philippines to achieve this standard of living but considering how low of an income Filipinos already have I don’t see where there is room to increase taxes in order to improve social welfare programs. My general problem with the communist solution is that implementing communist/socialist policies such as free healthcare and education is extremely expensive and I can’t help but wondering where that money is going to come from. The cost may be worth it (although I can't propose how to handle the debt that would come with it) considering that the majority of countries with the top 25 highest standard of living offer free health care in some form or another (TrueCost). Countries with widely accessible higher level education also have higher standards of living (Usher, Cervenan). In essesnce, as far as a world wide scale is concerned I simply don’t think that it would be feasible to have a worldwide government instituting communist polices. I do believe if all countries were equal then feelings of colonial mentality and ethnic inferiority would be lessoned but not completely wiped out. Overall I think that the best thing that can happen would be free healthcare, education and internationally recognized wage standards which can lead to healthier people who have opportunities to carry out their lives in a way they can appreciate and be proud of.

In regards to the effects of colonial mentality, I believe that minorities in America and abroad truly may feel inferior. The “skin-whitening” soap that I saw all around is a sure sign of this. I’ve personally never been so bothered by a product, I find it despicable that some company is profiting off of people’s feelings of inferiority in such a blatant and shameless manner. We learned that text books in the Philippines throughout history have been wrought with subliminal messages that make western civilizations and also the white people who head them seem superior. In response to this I believe that re-educating Filipinos and other minorities is important. It may not be happening full force but the very fact that changing educational policies in order to help minorities foster pride in their ethnicity is the beginning of creating change.

Ultimately, I believe that internationally recognized and enforced human rights are the solution. Standards of living revolving around an internationally recognized wage level as well as standards for quality of housing, education and access to safe food and water. This would lift many out of poverty and reduce, though it may only be a slight reduction, the international gap in wealth. In accordance with recognized human rights Filipino women and other minority women working in reproductive labor such as at home healthcare and maid services could not only earn more money but could even work these jobs at home in the Philippines for livable wages that many women seek elsewhere as described by Chang. It could even allow small businesses in the Philippines to rise up and succeed which I think is essential to fostering pride among the people because it is without a doubt disconcerting to see local businesses fail while businesses from outside of the country succeed. Personally, I have trouble being proud of Longview (the largest town next to my hometown) when half the buildings are empty and many businesses are struggling and I would guess that many Filipinos feel the same way about their local economies. The presence of successful Filipino owned businesses would without a doubt encourage Filipino's faith in their own abilities to succeed. Just look at the national pride that is bestowed in Manny Pacquiao. Imagine what successful local businesses would do to eradicate colonial mentality!

My personal experience in the Philippines was mixed but very good overall. As far as the course material and learning experience that I had The University of the Philippines campus was a fine place to study at as was Balay. We read about the effects of U.S. colonialization and saw the McDonald’s employees working for the equivalent of a cheeseburger a day. We read and learned about the wealth gap and we got to see miles of slums and the extensively developed downtown. Our class room experience was good because we spent enough time in the class room that we were academically engaged but were also able to still have a legit experience by actually being immersed in the culture. However, I wish that we would have had class with undergraduate students because the grad students in our class were plenty friendly but they weren’t about to come and hang out with us or invite us anywhere, whereas we were at Ateneo for about an hour and got invited to a house party and met tons of kids our age. Of course the experience is a lot deeper than partying but the scenes we were at were generally older crowds and for me personally, a big part of travelling is getting to meet people.

The group was excellent; I have absolutely no complaints about anyone in it. There was no conflict between any of our members, everyone was supportive and I feel fortunate that group was as awesome as it was. There were a few days where I wasn’t enjoying myself and was being pretty negative and everyone in the group made sure everything was all right with me and honestly a big reason I tried to turn my attitude around was because I felt I owed it to the group after they showed such consideration towards me. When there were some issues with the way our group was behaving during Arnis training, we had a meeting about it and said what we had to say and left the meeting better off than when we got there with the issue behind us. As far as the coordination of the trip went, everything was on lock. The tours, the plane trips and getting around always went smoothly and the advisers all did a great job. My only complaints would be the van size on the trip to Batad, which actually made it more fun and memorable than it would have been if the van fit everyone comfortably so I guess it’s not even really a complaint.

While Cebu, Borocay and Batad were amazing and three of the coolest places I’ve ever been, I have to say I was disappointed by being in Manila. It wasn’t necessarily the congestion, or traffic, or pollution that was disappointing but the city itself was. Honestly, I didn’t look too much into Manila before I committed to the program but if I had grasped it as I do now I don’t know what my decision would have be. All we could really do there was visit malls and there weren’t exactly many nice places to hang out at. I’m not a mall guy and the malls were just like malls in the U.S. so going to malls all the time definitely made the experience less cultural. Also, although it was my fault that I didn’t look into the weather during this time of year, the rain definitely brought my experience down.

In engaging with Anakybayan, I thought it was cool that we were able to meet with an activist group; however I think that they need to look at revolutions in the past and take lessons on engaging their audience through fiery, charismatic speeches. I hate to be a downer but they aren’t going to engage anyone by talking them to sleep. In addition to this I would be interested about what degree of communism they advocate how the system would work. Should the government own everything or just certain commodities such as resources? Will the people who have actually and fairly earned the vast amounts of wealth they have be able to keep their money? If everyone is paid the same amount of money regardless of the service they preform then what is the incentive for people to take on more challenging and stressful jobs? Also, with the doubts that I have about the likeliness of converting the world to communism, I think that they should focus their efforts elsewhere because they do have the ability to create change, but that change is going to have to happen by utilizing the potential of the foundations of the system that is already in place.

When it came to being a Caucasian in the Philippines I never really felt uncomfortable or like I stuck out, even though I did. I didn’t realize coming in that the trip was a “voyage” of sorts for Filipino Americans to discover their roots and themselves. It was moving to see my class mates evolve and connect with their roots, but this left me feeling like “what am I doing here?” This feeling was created only by myself as not a single person in our group contributed to it, but I thought I’d mention it in case other non-Filipinos apply next year. All in all I’m glad I participated in the program, I got to spend six weeks with some very great people, had a lot of fun and got to see some really cool things. I wish everyone in our program the best in life and hope we all stay in touch!

Works Cited

1.) Chang, G. (2004). The Global Trade in Filipina Workers. In Kirk and Ozawa Women’s lives 3rd

Edition. Boston, MA: McGraw Hill.

2.) "Socialist Party FAQ." Socialist Party. Web. 22 Aug. 2011. .

3.) TrueCost. "List of Countries with Universal Healthcare « True Cost – Analyzing Our Economy, Government Policy, and Society through the Lens of Cost-benefit." True Cost – Analyzing Our Economy, Government Policy, and Society through the Lens of Cost-benefit. Web. 22 Aug. 2011. .

4.) Usher, A. & Cervenan, A. (2005). Global Higher Education Rankings 2005. Toronto, ON: Educational Policy Institute.

The Finale

This quarter I spent studying abroad in the Philippines. WOW I wouldn’t have believed it if you told my younger self, but in the future I will be able to say it was the best decision I made during my years at UW.
Before coming on this trip, I had some previous knowledge of the history of Philippines and the prevalence of political corruptness. After seeing the people here and how much the US has infected almost every aspect of life, it adds a whole new dimension to the information I knew before.
Education was one of the biggest topics that we discussed this summer. One question that I became aware of was if the PI was a colony of the US and still holds much military sway in the country why isn’t there more information on the relationship between the two countries in both my US textbook and the local schoolbooks of the PI? One of my favorite parts of this trip was sitting in on Dr. Jose’s class. After reading articles like Constantino’s The Miseducation of the Filipino, it was really encouraging to sit in on one of his classes where the history is taught as it happened, without the Pro-American/Anti-Filipino slant. The same goes for Anakbayan's Education Discussion. Even after 12hours, it was encouraging to see young people still so excited and motivated to bring facts to the Filipino people about their country.

Burning an effigy of the President at the State of the Nation

Another aspect of education that we discussed was if the children of the country were even getting a proper education if they are out on the streets all day begging for money. And what exactly constitutes a proper education? This really inspired me to start a scholarship within FASA to help students get into and stay in the classroom through the CFO. I was also really proud Seattlite when I walked into Starbucks in Boracay and found out that Starbucks and UNICEF teamed up to launch SparkHope which sponsors over 20 schools and day care centers in 9 barangays across the country. 

Other new areas of learning:

Gender roles in the Philippines
  • Outward perception of Filipino women in domestic roles only
  • Dependency on white males
  • I wish we had gotten to spend more time Gabriela

Colonial Mentality is the States
  • Being able to identify it as a tangible problem in individuals here and as a nation back in the PI
  • English as the main language
  • Seeing it everywhere back in the states
    • The airport, my parents, FASA
  • Asia - White is beautiful, US - Fake Tan is beautiful
  • My Family - PHP5,000 every time just to interview with the US embassy to get a visa
  • I am Filipino.

As a final collaboration blog, we all decided to answer a series of questions about the PI study abroad program to encourage UW students to participate in the future. One of my favorite questions from this set was “How was the group dynamic?” This was the first study abroad trip for most of us and I honestly could not imagine this experience without a single one of them.
6 out of 9 of the students were Filipino and choose this program to ask questions, bring closure, and discover something that was missing from their identity – a true pilgrimage to the motherland. For myself, being part of this group, it really helped me to have others there to talk and for the other three, I think it really gave them some context to the things we were learning about (and even inspired them to learn more about their heritage.)
As with most conflicts in group situations, they were caused by miscommunication. The weekly meetings really helped but there were a few times when issues that needed to be addressed right away and were not. I think in the end, everyone was close enough and respected each other that whatever issues there may have been were resolved. After so many times in the Hot Seat, night swimming, losing my phone, and group slumber parties, the group has seen me at some of the highest and lowest points of my life. I can honestly say that I made 12 lifetime friends and I can't image the trip without every single one of them.

Hahaha there could not have been better timing with Aerosmith coming on my shuffle…

I used to be afraid to sing in public... then I went to the Philippines.

I wonder how different my life would have been if I had known more about the Philippines and the history of my family growing up. I remember after high school, my mom always said she would take me to the Philippines but I don't think it would have been able to get as much of it as I did, waiting til I was a little older and experiencing it as a student ready to learn and listen rather than as a vacation with family only.

My mother is from Makati. My father is from Missouri. Before this trip I have always been somewhere in-between, lost in the gray and not sure of myself-especially as the incoming President of FASA... on the other side of the trip, I know I am Filipino. The things I've seen really have transformed my life and I have this inner responsibility to do good for the motherland and help others to realize their inner Filipino consciousness here at home. I knew this trip would be life changing and I think thats why I was so terrified to come, but I don't regret it for a second.

Here are some of my favorite pics from the trip... and I tried to find a silly picture of everyone.. :)

Sunday, August 21, 2011

I'll be back Philippines...

                  It has been nineteen years since I have been in the Philippines and seen my extended Filipino family. The first time I visited the Philippines was in 1992 for my uncle Romulo’s wedding. The only Filipino family members I have seen since 1992 are in the picture down below. They are the only Filipino family members residing in the United States. This picture was taken during my uncle Romulo’s (my father’s younger brother) wedding. When I came back to the Philippines for the second time in June 2011 (a week before the study abroad program), I was able to find this picture in my grandparent’s house in Bacoor, Cavite and re-take this photo using my digital camera. When I saw this picture, I thought in 1992, I was only a flower girl who knew little about her Filipino identity. The only things I remembered was getting mosquito bites all over my body, seeing geckos and cockroaches inside the house, eating Filipino food, playing around my grandparent’s house, and of course my uncle’s wedding.
(1992-From left to right: father, mother, uncle Rodney, uncle Romulo, auntie Loise, grandma, grandpa)

(June 2011-Front row: maid and helper, middle and back row: family members)

It was hard for me to take full pride in being Filipino because I did not “look” like a Filipino. When I told people that I was half Filipino, they would say, “You don’t look Filipino.” or “You aren’t Filipino. Prove it.” I was not able to stand up for myself because I did not know much about the Filipino language, history, culture and traditions. I always showed them my last name or introduced my father to them to prove to them that I was Filipino. Being Filipino started to become my "hidden identity". No one could tell I was half Filipino and I personally did not know my Filipino identity. Growing up, I always felt like I was more Korean American. My mother would cook Korean food almost every day, watched Korean folk and modern dramas, celebrated Korean holidays, and used the Korean language when she had her Korean friends over. When my father was stationed at Osan Air Force Base, my family and I lived in Korea for two years. Being in Korea for two years exposed me to the Korean traditions and culture. When I attended college at the University of Washington, I enrolled in Korean language, history, and literature classes. I was able to fully develop my Korean identity after learning the Korean history and language. Before I attended college, English would be the medium language used in the household. During college, I was able to talk to my mother in both Korean and English.  My father never spoke Tagalog or Ilocano in the household unless he was talking to my grandparents over the phone. He did not know how to cook Filipino food nor did he celebrate Filipino holidays. The only Filipino tradition and custom he upheld was Catholicism. Both my parents raised me as a Catholic and as a family we would attend mass every Sunday, pray before meals, pray the rosary, attend confessions and follow all the other Catholic teachings. My father was very Americanized and he showed more American pride in the household. I struggled with my Filipino identity based on how I was socially accepted and how I was raised.
            The Comparative History of Ideas Study Abroad Program in the Philippines gave me the opportunity to re-establish my Filipino identity. After leaving the Philippines, I have never felt more Filipino in my life. I was able to build up my Filipino pride and learn what it meant to be a Filipino. I was able to learn a little Tagalog, taste different Filipino food, learn the history and culture. Engaging with community members, activists, Philippine University students and staff allowed me to hear different perspectives and views on Filipino history and issues. Being enrolled in Professor Jose’s classes, Commonwealth of the Philippines and United States Policies in the Philippines allowed me to learn and understand how United States exceptionalism took place in political, educational, religious systems. According to the director, Mr. Andresen, United States exceptionalism theory explains that the United States is an exceptional, unique, and superior nation among all nations in terms of its national credo, historical evolution, political, and religious institutions, origins of U.S. hegemony, and the utilization of national histories. The class articles and lectures were connected to one another and explained the colonial intentions and results of the United States. In the Commonwealth of the Philippines class, I was able to learn the beginnings of United States exceptionalism in political institutions. Professor Jose explained that on June 12, 1898 Philippines declared independence and in February 1899, the Filipino American War took place. During the tutelage period from 1901-1913, Americanization took place in the political, educational, and economic institutions. The United States controlled the Philippine government and was under constant surveillance. The Philippine government had to have a high commissioner who became the eyes and ears of the Philippines and had to report to United States President. Filipinos were in the political system but never on top. If a crisis would occur, the United States President could step in at any time and handle the matter. Professor Jose also mentioned that from 1920s on the Philippines became more Americanized through media (music and talk shows on radio airwaves, movies, television, newspapers, and magazines). He further explained that in 1931 the Philippine Independence Congress was established. In 1934, the Tydings-McDuffie Act was approved to provide for self-government of the Philippines and for Filipino independence after a period of ten years. During this time, the drafting of the Philippine constitution was made. The constitution was very similar to the United States constitution. Under this act, Filipinos had autonomy in everyday affairs such as the Filipino Press, freedom of religion, bill of rights etc. Debts and expenses were handled by the Philippine government and the Filipinos needed to comply with the United States foreign policy (military bases, free trade currency tied to the United States dollar). The Philippine constitution needed to be approved by the United States, and immigration to the United States was limited. I learned that during the Philippine Commonwealth period 1935-1946, a final draft of the Philippine constitution was approved by Roosevelt and a supreme court, an executive, legislative and judicial branch was structured with the guidance of the United States. 
                                                     (Professor Jose and the group)

Because the American impact was very strong, the current Philippine political system is still dependent on U.S. political policies today. Anakbayan informed us that there are one-sided treaties with the United States that only caters to the interest of the ruling class. Such treaties include the transfer of military equipment and supplies to the Armed Forces of the Philippines and Police. The English language is also being used in media, religious, political and educational institutions today. In the article, The Miseducation of the Filipino Constantino explains that the schools in the Philippines have resulted to having an “un-Filipino education”. Constantino said, “Philippine history books have portrayed America as a benevolent nation which came here to save us from Spain and to spread amongst us the boons of liberty and democratic.” Filipinos  who read these books were misinformed. Both Spain and the United States wanted to take advantage of foreign trade, land ownership, natural resources and sovereignty. In 1903 military officers were the superintendents of schools and the enlisted men were teachers. They taught the Filipinos the American language, laws, and civilization through education. English became a status symbol while the other native languages were looked down upon. From my experiences here, I have learned that in the University of the Philippines and Ateneo University, English is the medium of instruction. Anyone that I had approached on any of the campuses knew the English language fairly well. The Americans believed it was important for the Filipinos to learn their intentions and understand that they could progress under American direction. The American Indian Education in the Philippines Paulet explains, “The United States wanted to create not an educated elite but an educated populace. Only such a populace could support the governmental and economic system the United States envisioned for the Philippines.” Education was used as a tool to mold Filipinos to think, talk, and act in the “American way”.
Not only has American exceptionalism made an impact on Filipinos, the Spanish colonization from 1521-1898 have contributed to the colonial mentality Filipinos have today. In the article Pappy’s House by Diaz he says, “For Spain, colonial regulation of money, gender, race, sexuality, language and identity took place within, among other institutions and practices. Spaniards produced the idea that they were white parents to indios figured as dark children, or pequenos ninos, or their Anglo-American cousins, the picaninnies, in need of proper guidance and upbringing.”  Both colonizers were light skinned and brought upon the belief that they were superior to the Filipinos. They discriminated against Filipino’s physical attributes and way of thinking by negatively labeling them as uncivilized and dark skinned savages. In the article The Colonial Mentality Scale for Filipino Americans: Scale Construction and Psychological Implications, David and Okazaki have found evidence through research that colonial mentality is passed on to later generations through socialization and continued oppression which negatively affects the mental health of modern day Filipino Americans. Filipinos were brainwashed to believing “whiteness” is exceptional and beautiful. In media, only “white” skinned Filipinos are seen on television, large billboards, magazine advertisements etc. Media definitely portrays "white" to be beautiful and has led many Filipino men and women to internal oppression. When I saw an ad in a magazine for a nose-lift on Cebu Pacific Air, it reminded me of when I thought about getting a nose-lift when I was younger. I used to say I didn't like my nose because it was flat. I changed my mind about wanting to get surgery because I thought that the only Filipino physical attribute I had was my flat nose and that was the only way people would believe I was "half" Filipino. I have to admit, it was a silly idea. After I read the article, I realized that I had a colonial mentality growing up. Especially when I felt more "American" than Filipino. 
The Spaniards have also contributed to the spread of Christianity through education. Both colonizers used education as a means to transform the Filipinos to become “civilized” beings. In every city and island we have visited in the Philippines, Catholic and Christian churches were found everywhere. I had no problem finding a church to attend on Sundays, because there was always one around the corner. In all the churches that I have been to in the Philippines, the priest and the people spoke and responded in English. Other than churches, there has also been a spread of “American” malls located in every city. In every night club I have been to, “American” music was played. The Filipino basketball teams also had “American” basketball players. American exceptionalism was at every location we visited except the untouched Batad Rice Terraces.
Going on this study abroad trip with a diverse group of people allowed me to hear and understand their different views and opinions of the various topics discussed. I really liked how this group had different ethnicities and backgrounds. The only conflict I could remember was when there was miscommunication with the faculty and the students. It was resolved through a group discussion. Overall the group got along pretty well. No one was disrespectful when someone expressed their feelings or opinions. Each member on this trip came with an open-mind and a positive attitude. Everyone was eager to learn and was willing to try something new. I’m very thankful to have had the opportunity to go on this trip. The decisions that were made throughout the quarter were either made by the faculty or the whole group. The type of decisions that were made was mainly for extracurricular activities or free time. A big shoutout to Third for fighting for this program. If it wasn’t for you, I would not have been able to learn and understand American exceptionalism nor would I have been able to get in touch with my Filipino roots. Thank you Leah, Frank, and Kuya Chard for accompanying Third on this trip. All of you made sure each and every one of us was safe. Each of you put in a lot of effort in organizing this trip and I truly appreciate it. To the fabulous 8 student group members, thank you for applying to this study abroad program. If one of you did not attend, the group dynamic definitely would not have been the same. I really liked how everyone had something to offer and we were able to feed off of each other. Thanks everyone for the smiles, laughs, and memories…this experience will forever be cherished. <3

                                                          (Group picture) 
                                                         (Fabulous 9)

This will definitely not be my last time in the Philippines. I plan to return to the Philippines and take part in a community service project(s) that will help benefit my people. I'll be back Philippines...

Philippines As Pearl Of The Orient & The Importance of Living Up To Your Name

Mercy & Strength - I have a lot to live up to...

This is my final reflection and I have yet to formally introduce myself: I am Merzamie. I believe in the significance and power of names to create and define an individual, an entity, and so I put aside Mimi – my outer shell, the name I have adopted to blend somewhat more seamlessly in American society –  to give you a better view of the person who has been engaging in, thinking about, and reacting to the experiences one study abroad group from the University of Washington has been fortunate enough to have here in the Philippines.

Back in Bohol Island, where I was born

When I was born, a great aunt combined both of my parents’ names to create Merzamie. My name literally goes out of the way to signify that I am half my mother, half my father; half Mercedes, half Samson. After receiving 23 chromosomes from each parent, I was born on the 23rd of November, a recipient of a unique and powerful name that means mercy (from Mercedes) and strength (from Samson).

I am Mercy and Strength, personified. It is kind of cool to think about, until the time comes when you realize that you are neither and you have to learn how to possess and be both.

Emilio Aguinaldo's mansion, complete with a bowling alley, a swimming pool, a creepy attic, and secret passages

Though rewarding in many ways, my journey back here, back to the motherland, has turned me loose, shaken me up, and beaten me down, and generally impressed me with the need to live up to my name in order to stay intact and survive. I have been jeepneyed and ferried; I have been flown, paddled, wheeled about and carted around the country; been tripped, flipped, and turned inside and out; I have been disoriented and transformed.

My sister and I before one of our last pre-departure seminars at UW

While years of living in the United States has inclined me to adopt the shorter version of Mimi for assimilation’s sake, there is not enough power in this protective shell of a nickname to sustain my ever deepening and ever expanding sense of identity not only as a Filipina, but as a Filipina living in America. I need to be Merzamie, and be all that my name says I am.

Much like a pearl, I am shedding this outer shell in order to reveal a part of who I am that is ever more precious.

Do you know how pearls are made?

According to a website called The Pearl Market, pearls are natural gems created by a living organism (a mussel or oyster). When a microscopic intruder or parasite enters and settles inside the shell of a mussel or oyster, the organism is irritated and begins to coat the intruder with a special substance it secretes. As the organism repeats this process, layers of the substance build up to eventually form a pearl.
Such a beautiful and hardy thing brought into existence by such harsh forces.

Water fun at Club Manila East, Rizal

My interest in the formation of pearls lies in the fact that the Philippines is known as the Pearl of the Orient. Different people have different ideas as to why the Spaniards gave the Philippines this title. Some speculate that it is because the Philippine seas teem with wild pearls, some cite the nation’s natural resources and beautiful landscape, some its past economic affluence relative to other nations in Southeast Asia, and some give credit to the inward and outward beauty of the Filipino people. These speculations all lend themselves to an image of the Philippines as containing great wealth and beauty – something which I cannot possibly contest. Whatever the case may be, this study abroad experience has stretched my thinking in such a way that I find myself processing information differently and thinking more critically.

Karaoke night; ladies half off, woooh!

In this final reflection, I will share my own interpretation as to why the Philippines has been aptly named the Pearl of the Orient, paying special consideration to the historical events that have served as catalysts to the formation of its national identity. I will then revisit the topics of each of my previous blog entries (six in all), and evaluate my learning throughout the quarter by highlighting various points which drew out a reaction from me. These points would include moments of confusion, understanding, agitation, and hopelessness, as well as those moments from when can be traced an overall sense of ambivalence that has grown and intensified as a result of acquiring an ever evolving, deepening, and truly transformative education this summer.

Taal Volcano in the background. We couldn't get closer because it was extremely active

This picture is a great summary of each of their personalities :D

In this reflection, I will also reflect upon the interactions that occurred within this “UW in the PI” group, sharing how each team member (both students and leaders) contributed to the enrichment of both the program and my experience during this summer study abroad, and including from which points in the process I personally benefited and from which I did not. I have gained a lot from this program, and I can only hope to begin to impart a little bit of that in the following pages.

In front of The Mansion, Baguio

When I read the description of how a pearl is born, my mind instantly reverted back to a reading by Vicente Rafael called “Parricides, Bastards, and Counterrevolution: Reflections on the Philippine Centennial.” In it Rafael recalls the historian Reynaldo Ileto’s observation that, unlike other Southeast Asian countries, the Philippines never had a classical precolonial civilization that it could look back to.
Rafael reflects upon the events the Philippine Centennial serves to commemorate, saying, “In the face of this absence of a classical precolonial order that could be invoked as a symbol of national unity, the Philippine nation-state has instead looked to the Revolution of 1896 and the revolutionary government of 1898 for the origins of nationhood” (362).

The dudes at Bohol, overlooking the Chocolate/Green Hills

Just as I did not know how a pearl is formed, I did not know how 7,107 islands in Southeast Asia came together to form the Republic of the Philippines. It is a curious thing to read that the nation you hold such a high allegiance to did not and could not have existed before colonial rule. There was, apparently, no “suitable source for establishing the archaic and therefore timeless stretch of the Filipino nation” so some historians have instead looked to “the moment of rupture from Spanish colonialism as the ground zero of its historical becoming” (362). This single assumption gives birth to a slew of significant implications.

Man photo before going out to B-Side

It means that, just like the pearl from which the Philippines derives its enchanting title, this island nation came from nothing, was formed when it was needed, and was born because there was a disturbance in the natural order of things.

In Rafael’s own words, “It means that the Filipino nation did not emerge as the return of a glorious past that had been repressed by an alien invasion. Instead, it was precisely the coming of outside forces that allowed for its genesis” (362).


The parallels I’ve drawn thus far are imperfect, however this part in Rafael’s writing definitely strikes me as the strongest support for my own interpretation as to why the Philippines has been aptly named the Pearl of the Orient. If one takes into consideration the process by which a pearl forms, it is not too hard to draw the parallel that both the pearl and the Philippines are/were formed after the organism and the islands reacted defensively against an intruder that entered the system and settled inside it. Rafael and Ileto’s observations that the Philippine’s national and historical becoming were triggered by “the coming of outside forces” together with the fact that a pearl’s genesis set in motion by the organism’s act of producing a substance with which to coat the offending intruder within its home of a shell both lend themselves to a picture of the Philippines as the Pearl of the Orient.

The group minus Mariana and Steph at a really swank club called the Republiq. We were underdressed

I am adamant in defending this title because other nations in Southeast Asia are vying for and trying to wrestle this title from my motherland. I have already expressed my belief in the significance and power of names to create and define an entity. Just as carefully as I have guarded my own name, I believe it is imperative to protect the title of the Philippines as the Pearl of the Orient because it will preserve an image of its beauty and wealth – both of which have been historically misused and misspent by intruders. This is a crime that continues to this day and I am much saddened by the fact that outsiders who are drawn to the beauty of the Philippines would much rather undress her of her charms and forcefully invade her instead of befriending her and engaging in relations based on mutual elevation.

Butterfly farm in Bohol. We had a really knowledgeable guide

The little that I know about international relations convinces me that every actor on the international stage do, indeed, operate based on self-interest, therefore I am wasting my time sitting here being sad that countries like Spain, Japan and the US have thus far chosen to use overt and covert means in their attempts to use the Philippines to further their own interests.

At the airport, excited to embark on our 8-day island-hopping trip!

During my study abroad, my understanding has been broadened to include such topics as the extent of US imperialism, the prevalence of colonial mentality and the reality of a Filipino Diaspora. With every reading, every lecture, every field trip and every time that I engage with other Filipinos that attests to how much damage the Philippines has sustained at the hands of foreign invaders, I feel myself cycle through a range of emotions that have ultimately left me in a state of deep ambivalence. It is as if I am standing by a pool of blood and watching as more of this life-giving substance gush from its source. I weaken at the sight of the Philippines being that source. I weaken because the Philippines is my lifeblood. How then could I help the feelings of confusion, agitation, understanding, resentment, empowerment, and hopelessness that continuously wash over me at the sight of such trauma?

Everyone came out to celebrate Travis' 21st Birthday, B-Side, reggae night

It is defining moments like these that remind me of the need to live up to my name. To be merciful and forgiving of what has transpired in the past – seeking out reconciliation and rehabilitation in the now; and to be strong and resilient despite the emotional strain caused by eating from the tree of the knowledge of my personal and national histories.


During the first week, our readings focused on the United States westward movement. I reacted by writing about the parallels between my family history and my national history and sharing about the initial feeling of bitterness and resentment that I feel are natural when you find out that the information that has been given to you has been one-sided. My bitterness and resentment stemmed from an existence I saw as having been polluted by lies, myths and false memories.

Dean's office at UP

I reacted strongly against the Americanized education I received that excluded weighty matters like the exploitation of the Philippine’s natural resources by the US (Twain), and the genocide US soldiers committed against the native inhabitants of the islands at the turn of the 19th century (Zinn), and instead repackaged history to reflect a more benevolent image of the US as the savior to an uncivilized and un-Christian collection of tribes in the Pacific (Ileto). Despite the sting, I tried not to expend too much of myself over the readings and strived to emphasize forgiveness – the importance of being able to forgive what’s been done in the past and move on.

Very early on, I realized the importance of mercy, but remembering to be forgiving of the past would prove more and more challenging as the program progressed and I came to understand that “the past” is still with us in the present.


The second week focused on readings theorizing American Exceptionalism. Here I had time to reflect on the state of the Philippine education system which, apparently, was modeled after the American system (Apilado). A feeling of being caged in between two flawed education systems welled up inside of me and I had a difficult time substantiating why I hold such a strong belief in the power of education to change individuals and societies for the better.

I grew weary thinking that it would not have mattered whether I had been educated in the Philippines or the US – my education would have still been grossly edited to paint a picture of the Philippines as a poor and helpless nation in constant need of supervision and aid from more advanced countries like the US (Lumbera).

I also began to connect my feelings of isolation in the states to my disconnection with my Filipino heritage and culture. Visiting the Commission on Filipinos Overseas opened my eyes up to the fact that my family and I are not the only ones who have endured what we have. As first-generation immigrants, we did not know the importance of being connected to the past, to the culture, to the people.

The visit to the CFO definitely picked me up emotionally and psychologically. There was something very comforting about the fact that we were not the only ones. Readings like Bose’s “Baguio Graffiti” afforded me a glimpse into another person’s experience of Otherness, or of being isolated and excluded from what is acceptable and admirable.

Holding our own review session after class. The material is that interesting!

I was able to give what education I had more breadth by picking up on some similarities between the Filipino’s story of oppression under the US and other people groups who have likewise experienced current and historical trauma at the hand of the US: Japanese-Americans, African-Americans, and Native-Americans (Alcantara).


The third week focused on Education, and I found myself very affected by Constantino’s “The Miseducation of the Filipino.” I engaged that week’s activity of training for and competing in a tournament for Arnis, the Philippine national martial arts, by likening Education to a double-edged sword and expounding on how America disarmed the Philippines even before the latter could pick up her “weapon” of education.

All three of us girls won both of our matches!

My sense of ambivalence really started to kick in when I gained a deeper knowledge of how the Philippine education system has been used as a colonial tool to capture the children’s minds and subjugate the Filipino people.  That week’s visit to Ateneo de Manila University coincided well with the topic and it was with much discomfort that I observed Constantino’s words manifested in the decisively different environment and mannerisms of the students. Constantino’s claim that “the master stroke to use education as an instrument of colonial policy was the decision to use English as the medium of instruction” was obvious in that the students were very well-versed in English but lacking in Filipino.

Parody of the skin whitening products that physically and psychologically assault women here in the Philippines

With ever growing discomfort, I reflected on how I, too, have become a “little American” as a result of what has been passed down to me not only as a student, but also as a citizen of a “Third World” nation. My ambivalence was such that formulating a decisive claim for each succeeding blog post was made more challenging in that my beliefs and opinions clashed and contradicted as often as the numerous contradictions and paradoxes I observed in the history of the Philippines.

Dog House at Ateneo

In my ambivalence and despair, I did not believe that either Constantino’s idea to reform the Philippine education system or Anakbayan’s armed revolution to take power from the elite and give it back to the people would successfully affect positive change in Filipino society.


The fourth week’s focus was on youth and identity. I found David and Okazaki’s article on colonial mentality very troubling as it details the detrimental effects Spanish and American colonial rule has had on people of Filipino backgrounds. At the same time, I found it insightful and relatable on levels that I had already discussed in previous posts. It put a name to an illness that I felt but could not identify, and I believe this naming is essential in battling the illness, the disease of colonial mentality that pervades Philippine society.

Traditional wear, Baguio 

Overlooking Baguio, a beautiful city where we only spent a day

In putting a name to an entire people’s feelings of inferiority, the construct of colonial mentality explained so much to me in terms of why people here are so invested in looking as un-Filipino as possible and as American as possible. Besides the use of the English language as the medium of instruction (instead of, say, picking one from the hundreds of languages already in use here in the Philippines), the most evident symptom of colonial mentality existing in the Philippines is the Filipino’s attempt to physically appear Westernized: white, blue- or gray-eyed, and blonde (more like iron-colored hair).

Tree swinging and other adventures in Baguio 

Tennis shoes ruins this picture, seriously

The presence of colonial mentality is observable in every being that walks the Philippines – such is the reach of Americanization and the effectiveness of a culture that has been exported to create “little Americans” who look up to the superpower that is the US, perhaps with most never even suspecting that in loving what is not theirs, they harbor an internalized sense of inferiority that is even harder to treat.


The fifth week’s focus was on the National Democratic Movement and Women’s Movement. Again, I felt very strongly about Chang’s and Parenas’ articles on the migration of Filipina women as domestic workers in various countries abroad. The stories that Chang and Parenas shared about the women who sacrifice so much for their families and endure so much at the hands and in the homes of foreigners abroad reminded me of my own mother’s sacrifices and experience of providing for a family divided in two countries as a single and first-generation mother.

From Viola’s article on the situation of Overseas Contract Workers and their role as the Philippine’s “new heroes” from the previous week, to this week’s even deeper exposition on the conditions, abuses and trafficking of women abroad, I began to trace a class of oppression that is deeper and more widespread for women and girls, though an entire people do suffer from negative circumstances brought on by policies put in place by foreigners or by what Anakbayan claims is the puppet presidents in the Philippines.

Don't mess with these girls

Having grown up in a household of very strong women, I decried that the beauty and strength and ability of the Filipina should be so poorly used and so widely abused.  I reflected that, for their beauty, women are sold as sex slaves; and for their strength, women are exported as cheap labor.

About to ride some ATVs in the island of Boracay

And here we are heading towards the highest point on the island

The beginning of an extremely fun night of dancing, Boracay

Chocolate Hills (Green Hills at this time of the year) in the island of Bohol

One of the highest points in Bohol overlooking the hills

Having lunch on a boat down a river, Bohol. My cousin Romualdo and his wife are included in this picture. Family reunions + food + a beautiful scenery = win!

Until this point, I had only read and studied about other people groups’ migrations. It was very interesting to discover that the Filipinos have their own story of diaspora. As aforementioned, moments like these really hammer the fact that we are not isolated events, and we don’t exist in a vacuum.

It is hard to feel merciful and strong in the face of facts and realities like these. As a colored female gaining an understanding of how things really work in a patriarchal society, I feel a sense of helplessness creep in, and I wonder why there is hardly anyone who dares to challenge the system.


The sixth week’s focus was on resistance. I read about the likes of Malcolm X who did stand up for his own people, and David Fagen who, although he was an African-American soldier, still sided with the Filipino forces during the Philippine-American War after realizing the similarities between the plight of his own people and that of the Filipinos who are fighting for freedom and independence. I read figures like these, and I am heartened. There are people out there, and they are willing to fight for not only the women, but the children, the elderly, their fellow men.

Saying goodbye to our UW group :(

As complicated the story and history are, I still believe that the fight for national liberation and personal betterment begins with education: being aware of the conditions of your society and having the concern and the heart to affect positive change within it. This is why I am grateful that the University of Washington was able to sponsor a study abroad here in the Philippines. As I have already detailed, there was much learning, reflecting and engaging going on among the students. I am grateful for each of the other eight students in the program who made this summer one of the best learning and living experiences of my life.


Angelo, I won’t forget how you stayed up late just to accompany me in the lounge, and how your company even came with a sandwich. That was the first time and only opportunity we had to really share deep stories about our experiences in the states and our family here in the US.

The rest of the time, I appreciated your wonderful humor and coveted your dancing skills.


Christy, embarking on this study abroad program with you has been the best and also the most difficult part of my experience this summer.

It has been difficult because, no matter where we are, I retain my old-sister attitude and will always feel protective of you. I also count this as the best aspect because although we each have our own ways of dealing and learning, I know that we will both look back on this trip and be able to say that we took a journey together and, most importantly, that it counted.


John, I think I miss you the most because I talked to and shared with ]you the most. Thank you for your willingness to be vulnerable to me and to the rest of the group. That vulnerability can serve as a source of strength sometimes. It was interesting finding so many similarities between us, and invigorating to hear you talk about the ways you are actively personal, intellectual, artistic and spiritual growth.

You Are The Best Rapper! Now introduce yourself to the world. P.S. That's just Christy's leg


Magdalena, when I am around you I seriously feel safe and sound. You have that calming and nurturing quality aura about you. I admire a lot of things about you, which kind of seem random, but here are the ones that leap to my fingertips: your dedication in attending church despite the hectic schedule, your caring attitude manifested every time you told me that my eye makeup was smudged, your diligence in waiting to eat until everyone else’s order had arrived, and the close bond you developed with Mariana. This was something else to look at.


Mariana, I wish I had known how strong and outspoken you were earlier on in the program. We didn’t get the chance to talk much, until that rocky van trip from Bataan, but I’m glad that you eventually opened up to me. My experience this summer would not be as rich had I missed that chance to sit in the back of the van with you.

Out of all the girls in the trip, you are probably the one I am least worried about because you speak your mind and you do so without hesitation. I still remember your answer to the hot seat question of what you pray about – or something like that.


Steph, thank you for being such a thoughtful and considerate roommate! Despite the fact that we both wanted the single room, I think the arrangement ultimately turned out for the best. I was glad to see you spend time with your family and friends here in the Philippines outside our time together. I hope you do amazing things in FASA this year. I’m looking forward to attending a meeting when I get back!


Terence, your chillness literally makes me hyper aware of how tense I naturally am. Besides the chill actor, I am glad that those nights of walking back and forth from Roc restaurant were filled with conversations about family and financial aid (two things that are obviously really important to us). You are so easy to talk to and so deep in a way that doesn’t often evoke that word.


Travis, fellow English major! We surprisingly did not have nerd out and talk too much literature during the trip. I think that the things we did talk about have been the ones that will embed themselves on my mind the longest.

Besides your great looks, another thing I appreciate about you was in finding out that you are actually pretty family-oriented. I liked that you showed respect for your mother and the loving way you talked about her. I also remember you making a comment about being a one-woman man, a sentiment that is rare these days and one that impressed me about you.

Frank, thank you for making me laugh a lot during this trip. It was great having someone so resourceful as you. I wish you had connections in the Mindanao region, too. 


Leah, thank you for sharing your own family history with me. You are a great storyteller and I wish I had solicited more stories from you. Also, thank you for the thoughtful comments you left on our blog posts. Even though you were doing so to grade them, having such a close reader like you made writing a treat!


Kuya, thank you for always being ready to capture random moments with your camera phone. I went to Divisoria the other day and really missed having you as my tawad man. Strangely enough, one of the things I will miss about you is the way you say Magdalena and Mariana's names. I can actually still hear their names in my head.


Third, thank you for making this program possible for us to join. If it were not for your vision, we would not be here, and I personally might not have had the chance to reconnect with my father and sister. Besides these, thank you for your beautiful family.


Being welcomed into Lolo’s house  was one of the highlights of this trip for me. Family, that’s where it’s at. And because of you and all the patience-inducing moments during this trip, we created a 13-member family in six weeks’ time. 

Dinner in Cebu

With this marvelous group of people, it was not hard to cultivate a sense of belonging. No one was ever left behind in the activities and I don’t believe anyone ever felt separated from the rest. The conflicts that did arise were mainly related to immersion in a different culture and a new and ambitious curriculum. Culture-wise, we had issues with time (Philippine time vs American time); curriculum-wise, we encountered some problems with the blog deadlines (content and extensions), and grading (timely feedback and allocation of points).

Before dancing by a beach-side club in Boracay

Most of these conflicts were resolved through discussions during our Monday quiz sections. I appreciated the fact that the leaders were forthright with us, and treated us like responsible adults. I also really appreciate my classmates for taking the initiative and speaking their minds when unspoken sentiments were palpable in the air and it would have been awkward to speak. Our time together and the bond we formed with each other made bringing up the awkward less awkward. 

The girls with Mark, our local Cebuano

As I sit here reflecting over the activities, information, friendships and conversations that transpired within the six weeks allotted for the program, I can’t help but well up with joy. This has not been a purely academic journey for me. I have accomplished much in terms of my goal of reuniting with my father and his side of the family and getting to know him and my sister during the two weeks that followed the end of the program. Everything so far has been so well laid out. I am thankful to God for paving such a smooth path for me to follow. I am thankful that people and events have coincided in the way that they have. I feel enriched.

This guy played the coolest songs! He dedicated a couple to our table, and one special song for Steph

Despite all the negative emotions that swirl and overwhelm me in knowing about the Philippine’s history and current conditions, the depth, magnitude and implications of the knowledge I have gained here has given me a special responsibility. This trip has asked a lot of me. It has asked me to really look into who I am. When all the information and knowledge I gain turn my emotions and beliefs askew, I call myself back to me by remembering who I am: I am mercy and I am strength. How I have needed to be both and live up to my name during this trip. I can call myself back to the now and, from there, I push onward.

I ate really good rice and Pandan Chicken here, at a really cool mall in Cebu

The Philippines is an enchanting and wealthy nation. The Filipino people are strong and resilient, and the Filipina women are beautiful and selfless in their love for their family.

The Philippines is worth it. The more irritating the intruder’s presence, the more layers are added to this spherical gem,  and the more precious and beautiful it becomes.