Monday, August 13, 2007

Fay Olympia, of PISTAHAN and Little Manila Foundation, has this to say about the "Books for the Barrios" project. This response is from the pagbabalikloob listserve.

I speak as a Filipina who, as a child, attended schools run by Americans. I also grew up in a little American enclave somewhere in what is now Metro Manila, having learned to speak English before my own Filipino.

As a result, I was surrounded by children’s books from the US and I devoured them. It was all age-appropriate, nothing prurient. Think Dr. Seuss, Mark Twain and the Book of Knowledge with its bits and pieces from beloved American writers of children’s prose and poetry. By the time I was in high school, I knew more about Betsy Ross’ supposed sewing of the first American flag than I did about the first Philippine flag and Marcela de Agoncillo.

But after coming to the US as an adult and learning what the culture and nation’s history was all about, I now realize that those books were instrumental in the colonization of my mind and helped create highly inaccurate impressions of the supposed superiority of all things American vis-à-vis all things Filipino.
I also realized that my life-long dream of coming to the US was fed by what those books contained: oversimplified images of American childhood, home life as well as small-town, farm and city life that barely hinted at segregation, made no mention of the Trail of Tears or signs that said "Positively No Filipinos Allowed."

Now you tell me how that helps equip Filipino children as future participants in nation-building?

How I would love to have read the true history of Philippine relations with the US and understood its context including the enslavement of Africans, the Civil War, the Indian Wars, the exclusion of Asians, the Manongs among them, along with other aspects of US history that those books failed to mention.

How much better would my self-image have been if I had read the stories we have today of how courageously our ancestors fought and died for freedom in the Philippine-American War and how they refused to shoot at Black soldiers as an expression of solidarity versus white oppression? How less likely would I have been to accept white entitlement and supremacy if I had instead read children’s books that proudly showcased my people’s traditions, cultures and history before and even during western colonization?

I could go on and on.
If we truly want to help the Motherland and its children, then let’s be part of the solution and not wittingly or unwittingly perpetuate systems and mindsets that have kept Filipinos captive for generations.

It’s so easy to keep sending what we know people back home associate with America and will value. Yet do we ever stop to think why we keep putting can upon can of
Spam in those balikbayan boxes though we health-conscious Californians know it’s a health hazard (what about all that fat and sodium?) and don’t eat it ourselves? Just because people back home are poorer than we are doesn't mean that their psychological and physical needs are any different from ours.

I would like to think that by now, I have imbibed the best of what America stands for---the true meaning of equality, free of the contrived hierarchies and knee-jerk prejudices against our own people that our former colonizers so assiduously fostered as a means of conquest. Surely none of us in this listserv want to be instruments of continuing "benevolent assimilation. "

There are many (though not enough) children’s books written and made in the USA that empower and tell the stories of people of color like us. If I were to send books to the "barrios" at all, these are the ones I would send.

Fay Olympia

p.s.I used to work in local government and trust me, even the term "barrio" is considered derogatory in the Philippines and is no longer in use. The preferred term is "barangay."

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