Tag Archives: history


Since the Spanish colonization of the Philippines, Filipinos seem to have been used mainly for their skills and labor. First it was within the country, growing and exporting crops for the Spanish empire. Then when the Americans took over in the 1900s, Filipinos started working in the US’ agricultural sector. They were sent to Hawaii as well as Mainland United States. This partly explains the considerable Filipino population in Hawaii. The other reason is that Filipinos also served in the US military, beginning in World War II. The Americans also began drawing educated Filipino professionals, including nurses, doctors, accountants, and engineers. Non-professionals also began working in other countries as artists, musicians, and laborers.

The former president and dictator Ferdinand Marcos instituted the Labor Code of the Philippines, which eventually created the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (later becoming part of the Department of Labor and Employment), which basically functioned as the middle man between countries and Filipinos looking to work overseas. By 2023, the Department of Migrant Workers is set to be launched, looking over the rights, benefits, and welfare of overseas workers.

The country’s main industries are varied, from manufacturing, ship building, tourism, etc. But as of writing this article, around 10% of the country’s GDP is through remittances sent by Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs). This can be any laborer from skilled doctors to house helps. For decades, they have helped support countless of households and raised them to the middle-class, especially with the average monthly salary in the Philippines being 12,500 pesos ($240 US) in 2021. One can only imagine how much remittances can help with such a dire salary. One person working overseas can significantly improve a household’s lifestyle even if the OFW is only earning a meager salary by the overseas country’s standards. Now, imagine if this OFW is doing technical work. The remittances could potentially cover the salary of one or two people working in the Philippines of more, depending on the amount.

This is why it is in the best interest of the Philippine government to encourage Filipinos to work overseas, despite the long-term brain drain it might incur. Sure, the country is losing medical professionals, scientists, and engineers who decide to work abroad, but A) can companies in the Philippines compete with the salary these professionals can potentially earn in another country? And B) the remittances they send would be significantly higher than an OFW working as a blue collar laborer. This is not unique to the Philippines, however. One of the nurses who helped my mom was from China. Working in Canada as a hospice nurse, he used to be a surgeon in China. Better salary plus democracy, I don’t blame him for moving and working in Canada.

As countries develop and their populations move to jobs in cities, more and more industries in countrysides need migrant laborers to supplant the shortage of local workers. Take South Korea for example. Most Koreans are leaving their hometowns and moving to Seoul and its satellite cities in the hopes to work in its many conglomerates. Agricultural and manufacturing industries are then increasingly becoming more dependent on OFWs. It is not uncommon to see farmers or fishing boat captains leading a group of Filipinos to work in the absence of willing locals. An interesting aside, farmers in Korea are also left wanting for brides since many Korean women do not want to work in farms and take care of their in-laws in the countryside. This leaves Korean men in the countryside looking for partners overseas, particularly China, the Philippines, and Vietnam, creating matchmaking industries in Korea and these countries.

Growing up in the Philippines however, I learned of the term “japayuki,” which had a derogatory implication, suggesting that women OFWs in Japan working in the entertainment industry or “japayukis” are actually working in some form of prostitution. Technically, “japayuki” means any Filipino working in Japan, so foreign men doing manual labor or people working in a technical or medical field are indeed “japayukis,” but the word and the nebulous meaning of an “entertainment” visa feeds into the term suggesting prostitution. A couple of things however. One, in Korea, many foreigners who are arrested for prostitution in the country are either in the country on an entertainment visa or a tourist visa. Two, when I was in Hong Kong, I happened to stumble upon a very upbeat and packed bar with a big band playing. Lo and behold, it’s a group of male Filipino musicians on stage, most probably in the city on an entertainment visa. So yeah, despite the two things I mentioned not being in Japan, there’s probably a bit of truth on either takes on the term “japayuki.

OFWs are referred to locally as “modern-day heroes” not only for the fact that they are overseas, away from their families and scrimping away in order to send money back home, but sometimes they are subject to abuse by their employers, not to mention sometimes stigma at home, especially with the term “japayuki.” And again, working overseas or being away from one’s family in order to support them is not a uniquely Filipino thing; Nearly a quarter of a million Sri Lankans live and work in the UAE. But in the Philippines, it is about 10% of the GDP. One in ten Filipinos work overseas. In Korea, they have a term, “gireogi appa” or goose dad. This refers to Korean fathers working in Korea in order to finance their families overseas. These fathers probably deal with the same loneliness as OFWs, but they’re definitely better paid and the money they send goes outside of Korea and does not come into the country.

13% of male Filipino workers are categorized as unskilled laborers. This mean they could either be working as living assistants or domestic workers. For women, the percentage is 58%. These are low-wage, unskilled work, and women are more vulnerable to abuse by their employers. They can also suffer stereotypes of being uneducated, submissive, or simply be mail-order-brides. It’s a heavy burden to bear and yet, Filipina domestic helpers seem to be ubiquitous. I’ve seen them here in Seoul employed by US expats. Also in Hong Kong, I’ve witnessed thousands of domestic helpers gather on their Sunday day off around Victoria Park in Causeway Bay to have lunch together, catch up with friends, gossip, and pray. Often living with their employers and having limited free time, I thought the gathering in Hong Kong was a way for local domestic helpers not only to reconnect with the Filipino community but also as a survival skill, to collect a bit of peace and sanity after a busy six-day week.

As I mentioned in another article, the concept of a poorly paid house help was a product of Spanish colonization. Rich families would employ someone from a poorer caste to perform domestic chores. To this day, many Filipino families would employ “katulong”s (house helpers) or “yaya”s (nannies), and these families don’t necessarily have to be especially rich in order to afford a house help. It seems that Filipinos have taken the concept of “katulong” and turned it into a service that could be exported.

OFWs are not just limited to working in different countries however. Many are working in companies whose countries are questionable at best.

A friend of mine from the Philippines once surprised me when I learned that she started working as a photographer for a cruise ship. “What a totally random occupation!”, I thought. Later, I learned that Filipinos are some of the best targets for cruise companies to employ. For one, many Filipinos have a strong maritime heritage, and another is that English is spoken as the official second language. Filipinos also have a reputation for being polite and hospitable. Unfortunately, cruise companies work in a legal limbo. Royal Caribbean for example is registered in Liberia. Policing labor practices or even investigating crimes is a gray area at sea and the government of the Philippines is willing to turn a blind eye to these things. Compensation for injury or a lost limb while working in a cruise ship can be notoriously low, if they’re even awarded. Cruise work is also notoriously long with time off counted in hours rather than days. Despite all of this, however, Filipinos are willing to risk working in a cruise ship in order to send remittances. Looking at the salary of different cruise ship occupations, the lowest ones are more than double the average salary in the Philippines. Twice in Manila, I’ve chatted with bartenders in hotels, later learning that they both got their training working in cruise ships. Apparently, about 30 percent of OFWs work in cruise ships, tankers, or other shipping vessels.

So yes, God bless the OFWs. They are indeed heroes, working away from their families and opening themselves up to abuse and exploitation. If only the Philippines had a better economy and the lure of working overseas will no longer be as strong. Fortunately, business process outsourcing seems to be getting more and more popular in the country, with the Philippines being more attractive to businesses than India. I hope those jobs get to replace working overseas and that more people get to stay in the country with their families.

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The Out-of-Taiwan theory and My Outdated Education Regarding the Philippine Origin

The Philippines, being a group of islands with villages separated by mountainous regions, there are a number of creation myths coming from different groups of populations. There’s the Lumawig, the great spirit myth coming from the Igorot population, the creation stories from Bagobo, Bilaan, etc. I’m not an expert on the subject, but I grew up being taught the Tagalog creation story, which is probably the most common one.

In the beginning, the world was nothing but sea and sky. A great bird that was tired of flying stirred up the sea to create some land on which to land and rest. The sky and the sea created some islands and the bird built a nest on one of them. The sea breeze and the land breeze married and gave birth to a bamboo plant. The great bird split the bamboo and out of it came a man and a woman. I believe they were named “Malakas (strong)” and “Maganda (beautiful).” They married, had numerous children, and they became the origin of all races due to a bit of child abuse. Yes, child abuse.

The couple got sick of having so many children that the father began beating his children with sticks. The children hid in different places around their house. Those who hid in hidden rooms became chief of islands, those who somehow hid inside the house’s walls became slaves. The children who ran outside became free men. Those who hid in the fire pit became black people (or the local “Negritos”). The ones who fled to the sea and later came back became white people.

The latter part regarding child abuse was not widely taught, but it’s still part of the creation myth nonetheless. It’s interesting to note that patriarchy and child abuse is baked into the culture from the creation myth itself. That’s something I’ll be writing about later. But speaking of baking, another Filipino creation myth involves god baking men out of clay and it exemplifies the special place of Filipinos in the eyes of the creator.

After creating everything in the world, god decided he needed a caretaker to oversee all of his creation. He created man out of clay and baked him under the sun in order to animate him. At first, he didn’t bake man long enough. This created white people. Next, he baked man too long, and this created black people. Finally, he baked man “just right,” and this created the Filipino race. To modern ears, the story sounds like a mixture of Goldilocks and racism.

Now, those are taught in school as myths. There might be some variations to the stories, but they’re basically the same stories.

What was taught to children when I was growing up as the scientific and accepted theory of where Filipinos came from was through a series of migrations, the “wave migration” theory.

The first settlers of the archipelago were the “Negritos.” They arrived around 10,000 years ago. The term “negrito” is a Spanish diminutive which means “little black person,” but seems to be widely accepted in the country. There are over thirty ethnic groups in the Philippines which are grouped as “Negritos” sharing similar characteristics and cultures. They were mostly hunter gatherers but some also practiced agriculture.

The second settlers were the Austronesians. They theory called them “Indones,” believing that they came from Indonesia. They arrived around 4,000 years ago and formed their own different groups as well as alliances with different populations of Negritos.

The third to land and settle in the archipelago were the “Malays” around 900 CE. They mostly inhabited the southern part of the country while the Indones settled through most of the archipelago. Now I remember having some trouble differentiating Indones and Malays when I was first introduced to the concept. In my young mind, I thought they were too similar.

This theory is Beyer’s Wave Migration Theory, but I remember it being taught only as “wave migration.” I’m not sure how strong the archaeological evidence is for this theory, but I think people believed it mainly due to the credibility H. Otley Beyer, the founder of the Anthropology Department of the University of the Philippines; that and the Filipinos’ commonality with their neighbors. Filipinos certainly share a lot of physical and cultural similarities with Malaysians and Indonesians. Malaysian and Indonesian can even sound like Tagalog or other Philippine languages sometimes. Heck, during my trip to Bali, I was confused for a local a couple of times.

I think what is more widely accepted as plausible these days is the Out-of-Taiwan theory. Archaeologist Peter Bellwood suggested that Austronesian peoples originated from the island of Taiwan, and from there, migrated across Southeast Asia, East Africa, and the Pacific. It began around 6,500 BC and continued until 3,500 BC. What’s interesting about this theory is that while the Austronesian people spread to different islands across the world, in Taiwan itself, the Indigenous or Austronesian people only account for 2% of the people, with 97% of the population being ethnic Han Taiwanese.

The theory is supported by linguistic, archaeological, cultural, and genetic evidence. According to the theory, Austronesian settlers arrived in the Philippines from Taiwan around 2200 BC. Once there, they assimilated with the Negritos who arrived earlier. Arriving in Luzon, they spread southwest towards Borneo, Indonesia, and Malaysia. They even spread much further east to Madagascar at around 500 CE. They spread southwards to New Guinea all the way to New Zealand, arriving there by around 1200 CE. They spread east all the way towards Easter Island and Hawaii by around 900 CE. The Austronesian people share similar cultural characteristics, technologies, and took with them similar domesticated plants and animals.

Instead of the Philippines being a receptacle of different waves of settlers, after the Negritos settled, the archipelago basically became a launching port for the Austronesian expansion. The previous “wave migration” theory was wrong and had it the other way around. The Austronesian people originated from Taiwan and spread from the Philippine archipelago. The Out-of-Taiwan theory connects Filipino ancestry with Malaysians, Indonesians, as well as Melanesians and Polynesians. Which again, might explain why I was once confused for a local native the last time I was in Hawaii.

Now, I didn’t really learn about the Out-of-Taiwan theory until a Taiwanese classmate taught me about the existence of an Aboriginal population in Taiwan. I didn’t know they existed. And really, who could blame me since they’re only 2% of the population. But it wasn’t until I dove deep into the subject did I come to learn about the Out-of-Taiwan theory. Now maybe I’m old and I’m showing it by my knowledge of the curriculum I was taught when I was young, but I wonder if young Filipinos these days are still taught the “wave theory.” I mean, if it wasn’t for a chance encounter and a random conversation about aboriginal population, I wouldn’t even have know about the Out-of-Taiwan theory and the scope of the Austronesian expansion.

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National Heroes and the Problems with the 5 Peso Coin and ‘Spoliarium.’

I’m not the best person to talk about Filipino heroes. There are names that Filipino children are taught and grew up knowing. Jose Rizal is the national hero of the Philippines. He was a member of the Filipino Propaganda movement against the Spanish occupation and the author of Noli Me Tangere and El filibusterismo. Andres Bonifacio was “The Father of the Philippine Revolution.” Marcelo del Pilar was one of the leaders of the Reform Movement in Spain. Apolinario Mabini was known as “The Brain of the Revolution.” And there are many others. From the earliest hero, Lapulapu, a chief who killed Magellan but also died in the Battle of Mactan, Filipinos made heroes from those who opposed the Spanish occupation, a period which lasted for 333 years. Even the first Filipino saint, St. Lorenzo Ruiz, was sent to Japan and eventually to his martyrdom due to a false accusation that he had murdered a Spaniard during the occupation.

The Philippines was also occupied by the US and the Japanese, but the Americans had a relatively less directly antagonistic and more complicated relationship with the Philippines despite a three-year strife. To this day, the US remains a partner and an ally of the country. As for the Japanese occupation, which Filipinos fought with the help of US support, figures like guerrilla leaders Luis Taruc, Terry Magtanggol, and Marcos Agustin are not as famous as the ones who led Filipinos against the Spanish.

So if there are better sources for Filipino heroes out there, what am I to write about? Well, I have a couple of bones to pick. The first one is with Emilio Aguinaldo, the man on the 5-peso coin. He was a veteran of several revolutionary wars and was officially the first and youngest president of the country, the First Philippine Republic, which lasted about two years before the break of the Philippine-American War. He was a brave and brilliant soldier and leader when he was younger. I will not take that away from him.

After his first capture by the Americans, he took an oath of allegiance to the United States. However, during this time, his former allies who fought the Spanish alongside him are still fighting what they see as colonial forces, who are this time the Americans. Andres Bonifacio instituted the Tagalog Republic which refused to recognize the government of Emilio Aguinaldo, especially since it now surrendered to the Americans. Bonifacio and his brother were captured and implicated in a crime allegedly done by those under Bonifacio’s command. In a sham trial with a jury filled with Aguinaldo’s advocates and a defense attorney that believes his client was not innocent, both Bonifacio brothers were found guilty and sentenced to death, but later to exile. This was later reversed back to execution.

Aguinaldo is also believed to have ordered the assassination of Antonio Luna, one of the most brilliant generals fighting against the Americans at the time. Luna was invited to a location via telegram sent by Aguinaldo for a meeting, only to be confronted by army officials he considered enemies once he arrived at the meeting location. Luna never received a telegram that the meeting with Aguinaldo was cancelled, if there ever was a telegram. He and his companions were slaughtered in a plaza in front of a church immediately after the failed meeting. After the death of Luna, Luna’s men were left demoralized and eventually surrendered to the Americans.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese invaded the Philippines. Aguinaldo famously sided with the Japanese and implored General Douglas MacArthur and the Americans to surrender to the Japanese. He naively believed that the Imperial Japanese Army would free the Philippines from American occupation and finally give them independence. Someone should’ve told him the meaning of “imperial.” This is the Japanese empire that enslaved people, did horrible experiments on prisoners, tortured POWs, and raped women in the countries they invaded. He later became part of what many considered a puppet government and discouraged guerrilla warfare, spreading anti-war and pro-Japanese propaganda. As much as I love current day Japan, the Imperial Japan of the past was disgusting. Aguinaldo must know what the Japanese were doing at the time and what they are capable of. He cannot be that naive. The Rape of Nanjing was in 1937, just a few years before the Japanese invasion of the Philippines in 1941.

Later, when the US defeated the Japanese and regained control of the country, Aguinaldo went into hiding and was later arrested as a Japanese collaborator. He would’ve spent his last days in prison if he wasn’t pardoned by Manuel Roxas, the country’s fifth president.

Now, despite his earlier actions as a revolutionary, doesn’t his later actions as a leader seem slimy and unprincipled? Jose Rizal and Andres Bonifacio bravely faced firing squads. I’m not sure if the older Emilio Aguinaldo would do the same. He seems more a conniving politician than a revolutionary. If it weren’t for the Americans, maybe the Philippines would still be a Japanese colony, all with the help of Aguinaldo. I wouldn’t want this man’s face in coins.

Another hero I have an issue with is Juan Luna, the celebrated Filipino artist. While I admire The Battle of Lepanto and think it’s a masterpiece, I’m frankly not a fan of Spoliarium. I think it was only elevated by the commendations of his friend Jose Rizal who compared the abuse and indignities suffered by gladiators under Roman rule to that of the Filipinos under the Spanish. As a piece, I do not find it exciting at all. Even the name is gibberish to me. I suspect it is made up the same way vomitoriums don’t really exist. I also find it odd to elevate him so much when most of his famous works are done in the European classic tradition with European themes; there’s not many that connect to the Philippines and the culture of the country. I’m not even sure if Jose Rizal’s interpretation of Spoliarium is Juan Luna’s intent or if it was just incidental.

Juan Luna was a bully, a serial wife abuser, and a double murderer. I think his success and being a pensionado got into his head and wouldn’t think twice to abuse his wife who he eventually shot dead through a door along with his mother-in-law in a fit of jealous rage. After being arrested and charged, he was acquitted on the grounds of crime of passion and temporary insanity; insanity over his wife’s unfounded infidelity. This was 1893 and misogyny was to be expected, but it still saddens me how women seemed to be so disposable back then. Now many artists are famously horrible to women or their muses. Auguste Rodin was not particularly good to Camille Claudel. But she was able to rise as a renowned artist herself and certainly didn’t die from gunshot wounds from Rodin.

What’s fascinating is that even after the double murder, Juan Luna was still able to continue his career and even be a part of the Philippine Revolution. This is like letting OJ continue his career successfully and even be elevated as a hero even after the murder of his ex-wife. There are better Filipino artists out there: Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo, Guillermo Tolentino, and Fernando Amorsolo. None of them are sociopaths.

No hero is perfect, of course; most of the US’s Founding Fathers kept slaves. But I think it would help to know some of the less known history of the Philippine’s heroes. I say this because I actually grew up hearing a lot about Juan Luna, not really knowing that he was such a despicable human being.

Lastly, while I have nothing negative to say about Jose Rizal, there’s an argument that Andres Bonifacio, “The Father of the Philippine Revolution” is more deserving of the title national hero. Rizal inspired Bonifacio in his revolution, but Philippine historian Renato Constantino argues that Rizal was a “United States-sponsored hero” who was against the Spanish occupation and already passed away before he could make any comments regarding the American occupation. Andres Bonifacio fought and lost in the Philippine-American War. Rizal had a more diplomatic approach to change while Andres Bonifacio was more radical and troublesome with occupiers, including the Americans. His guerrilla warfare could even be compared to that of Che Guevarra, famously assassinated by the CIA. Even at a young age, I thought that Rizal seemed privileged: traveling overseas, socializing with elites, romancing women, etc. Most historians believe that Jose Rizal was unknown to many Filipinos at the time since he was often overseas and frequently associated with the elites. Contrast this with Bonifacio who had an image of someone who was down in the trenches fighting with the people. I found it odd that Jose Rizal was the national hero compared to someone who had a more direct hand in Philippine independence and similarly had to face a firing squad.

Another person who supposedly advocated for making Jose Rizal the national hero instead of Andres Bonifacio was Emilio Aguinaldo; Emilio Aguinaldo who allegedly had a hand in the execution of Andres Bonifacio. Why would he give someone the honor of national hero when he was instrumental in his demise? That, and he was also very much in line with the forces that Andres Bonifacio was fighting against.

God bless Jose Rizal and his sacrifice. He is a hero; I will not argue that he’s not. But I cannot help but think that his elevation to national hero over Andres Bonifacio was part of American propaganda. You wanna be a hero and save your country? Write a book and traffic in allegories. Don’t be a guerilla fighter.

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The Long Reach of Spain

Traveling in Osaka with a Spanish friend of mine, we passed by a restaurant that specializes in Filipino dishes. Nonplussed, he recognized many of the Filipino words written outside of the restaurant.

“Erm, dude, the Spanish occupied the Philippines for three hundred years!”

Ferdinand Magellan landed in the country in 1521, then later set about converting the locals to Christianity. The island of Mactan resisted the Spanish which later resulted in the Portuguese explorer’s death. The leader of Mactan, Lapulapu, was hailed as the first hero of the Philippines. The discovery of the archipelago started the Spanish occupation with Miguel Lopez de Legazpi arriving from Mexico in 1565. later making Spanish Manila the capital of the Spanish East Indies. Superior technology, Catholic missionaries, and dividing and conquering separate villages helped conquer and unite the archipelago. The name of the country is derived from King Philip II, the king of Spain from 1556. Many of the provinces, cities, and towns continue to have Spanish names, such as Las Pinas, Los Banos, Camarines Sur, San Fernando, San Juan, Pamplona, etc.

Having a Spanish surname doesn’t necessarily mean a person has Spanish ancestry. The Alphabetical Catalogue of Surnames is a book of Spanish surnames in the Philippines published in response to a decree that established Spanish family names and surnames to colonial subjects. Catholic converts took surnames like “de los Santos (of the Saints)” or “de la Cruz (of the Cross),” while others took well-known Spanish surnames. Surnames were given to one family per municipality, avoiding surnames being based on ethnic background or association. The surnames available however were based on provincial capitals, secondary towns, and smaller villages. Thus, a person who has a certain surname would most likely have roots in a specific town. I myself have a Spanish surname: Reyes. Reading up on this topic, I didn’t realize that my surname had a coat of arms!

Some Filipinos however chose not to change their surnames. Indigenous Filipino names include Abay, Katindig, Lacsamana, Mapili, etc. Researching the topic, I found out that the surname Bagonggahasa exists, which unfortunately means “newly raped.”

The Catholic faith is probably the most influential and enduring legacy of the Spanish. Around 80% of Filipinos are Catholics and the island is dotted with many ancient Catholic cathedrals. The Philippines calendar is filled with religious holidays, and Christmas and Easter are celebrated as proper sacred holidays. It is not uncommon to see Filipinos wearing crucifixes and have homes decorated with crucifixes and statues of saints and the Virgin Mother. So yes, thank you Spain for that ever-present Catholic guilt! (Guilt, a key factor in developing obsessive-compulsive disorder)

One things about the Catholic faith and the Spanish influence is that through them, western culture permeated the archipelago. Customs and philosophies became more westernized in what was one a predominantly Eastern Muslim country. Slaves or “alipin”s existed in the Philippines prior to colonization. When the Spanish came, the Laws of the Indies already forbade holding Filipinos as slaves. However, seeing that native tribes in the Philippines would use slaves, some soldiers seized non-Christians and took them as slaves. Later, the encomiendas system was instituted in the country. It was a Spanish labor system where a conqueror takes on natives as slaves, while the slaves in turn get education as well as protection from their masters. Slavery was not as commercial as it was in the Americas, and most slaves were tasked with doing household chores. Later when Spain fully outlawed the use of native slaves, it opened the import of foreigners for slave use, particularly Africans. Even some Filipinos had African slaves working in their homes back then. The use of a non-family member as a house help is a Spanish legacy. With the classes between the rich and the poor remaining, especially between city and country-folk, Filipinos to this day still continue to commonly have poorly paid helpers in their households called “katulongs.”

Arts and culture have been heavily influenced by the Spanish occupation. Artists have been trained and commissioned to produce works with European tastes in mind. Juan Luna, a Filipino revolutionary hero and national artist, was famously trained in Europe. With galleons from Spain and Mexico arriving in Manila and with Filipinos being sponsored to study and train abroad, Spanish influence in the arts permeated Filipino culture. Even the art of fine embroidery was introduced to the Philippines by Spanish friars. Some folk dances as well as the fashion which had heavy Spanish influence introduced during the occupation still remain in the country.

Filipino cuisine has also been heavily influenced by the Spanish. The name themselves betray their Spanish origins: lechon, leche flan, paella, embutido, puchero. The most popular alcoholic beverage in the Philippines is San Miguel beer. Not only is the name Spanish, but beer itself was originally brought in from Spain. Food and drinks in the Philippines can mirror those in many Latin countries. I remember visiting a Spanish restaurant here in Seoul and having the empanada and thinking, “this is no different from the ones in the Philippines.” The Spanish brought with them their cuisines, and they also brought with them non-native crop plants including corn, guava, avocado, coffee, papaya, and squash. Growing up in the Philippines, I learned a folktale regarding the origin of corn. It was about a girl obsessed with her silky hair who later turned into the plant. I think it’s a more entertaining picture than simply saying it’s a plant crop brought in from Mexico.

As I initially referenced, there are plenty of Spanish words that made it into the Philippine vernacular. 20% of words in Tagalog are Spanish or Spanish in origin. The use of numbers in counting money and telling time is also done in Spanish. I imagine a Filipino learning Spanish would find it simpler compared to other languages, much like an English speaker learning a Germanic language or a Korean learning Japanese. A common Tagalog greeting “Kamusta” was derived from “Como esta,” the Spanish greeting. Heck, many Filipino profanities have Spanish roots.

Spain also established friar-run schools. It would seem that back then, throughout the world, the best way to take the native out of the natives is through religious schools. Spain however didn’t implement what was equivalent to the residential schools in Canada. I believe the Catholics were truly invested in elevating the Filipino population and making them part of the Spanish empire and not simply making them Spanish. The schools, along with a heavy helping of religious teachings, added business and math into the curriculum. It also opened the country to higher sciences being open to Spanish empire. One of the most well-known historic institutions which still exists to this day is the University of Santo Thomas. It was established in 1611.

Once the country was conquered, the Spanish deliberately implemented incentives through the taxation system the inter-mixing of races. At the time, there were twelve recognized ethnic groups in the country, though the categorization might not be reflected genetically. The categories consider where a person was born or whether they have converted to Catholicism. This makes it quite fluid and not very scientific. Peninsulares and Insulares for example are two separate groups, the only difference is that peninsulares are people of Spanish decent born in Spain while insulares are born in the Philippines. I’m not sure what genetic genealogy testing would show in the average Filipino. Filipinos are Austronesian in origin, but I suspect there might be more Han Chinese ancestry appearing in my case rather than Spanish. Despite the cultural influence of Spain, I’m just not sure about the prevalence of Spanish blood among modern-day Filipinos despite the number of mestizos and mestizas in the country.

A group of tourists in Seoul did take notice of me one time and asked me if I spoke Spanish, to which I replied, “Lo siento. No hablo Espanol.

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Dark Times


When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in a flag and carrying a cross.”

Sinclair Lewis might have thought about the sentiment above, but there’s no proof that he actually uttered those words. But in any case, for the things that are happening in America right now, those words certainly will do.

After riots have broken out over the murder of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis police, Donald Trump emerged from his bunker, had the police shoot tear gas at protesters to clear some room around the White House, and declared that he will allow military force within the country to quell the riots. Instead of backing down from his previous “once the looting starts, the shooting starts” comment, he doubled down with threatening to have the US military turn their might against Americans (As if the police aren’t already happily using military gear and tactics against Americans). And to complete the faux Lewis quote, he stands on a photo op holding a copy of the Bible as a prop. It was a slow and steady crawl, but fascism has come to America.

One of Trump’s favorite dictators, Duterte of the Philippines, has used similar tactics to cement his hold in his country. The Philippines is very similar to what’s happening in the US. Under the guise of the war against drugs and for the betterment of the country, he has sicced the police force as well as vigilantes to rein terror on drug users and suspected drug users. In the name of national security, he has silenced many of his detractors, even shutting down the country’s largest broadcaster, ABS-CBN. Just recently, Trump threatened to shutdown Twitter. If he had it his way, he would’ve shut down CNN and MSNBC a long time ago.

Now regarding his announcement regarding authorizing military force if state governors couldn’t get the protests under control. Much like his approach to the coronavirus, instead of leading, Trump is letting governors fix their problems independently, allowing him to take credit if the governors succeed and blame governors should the situation get worse. It’s leadership by cowardice. What Trump doesn’t seem to realize though is that it is illegal for the military to act within the US borders, and the only time the military is allowed to quell insurrection within the United States is if it’s under the request of the state’s governor. Now, which crazy governor would willingly point the guns of the US military on their own citizens?

What’s disheartening is the fact that amidst the protests, the coronavirus is still spreading. At the moment, the US is nearing 2 million cases, by far the highest in the globe. Should there be a surge in infections, it would inevitably affect the poorest in the country, and in this case, it would be felt more by minority communities protesting police violence. As if they weren’t suffering enough prior to the death of George Floyd.

The thing is, I believe the current protests are not only the result of decades of police abuse and racism. They are also the result of the US being fed up with 2020, if not the whole of Trump’s presidency. Communities have been ravaged by the pandemic. People have been suffering from the recession. There has been a constant rise in hate crimes in the US. The news has been a constant train of one injustice after another. And dumb, white people are angriest over the slightest discomforts… to the point of going around carrying guns to legislative buildings to protest wearing masks designed to keep them healthy. Which they all do unmolested, I might add. And so when the world saw Derek Chauvin slowly kill George Floyd by kneeling on his neck, which was ironically very reminiscent of Colin Kapernick’s protest against police violent, something inside many people’s hearts have died as well.

What police officers in US cities are doing right now as well as Trump’s move towards fascism is such a collective shame that many parts of the world have taken notice. There are rallies in many major cities. It is such big news here in Korea that people have started donating to black causes in the US. Even Iran is asking police officers in the US to treat its citizens more humanely. It’s like the whole world is looking at the most popular guy in school and seeing him hurt and embarrass himself.

I take no joy in seeing Donald Trump fail. It is frustrating to see him be evil or simply be inept and not see anyone stand up against him effectively. I have great love for Minneapolis. I have love for the US. Depending on who you ask, the country is Canada’s closest ally. So it’s infuriating seeing Trump fail America and the world again and again. And he seems to save his most vile poison towards minority populations and immigrants. Being a minority and an immigrant myself, I have felt the hurt of bigotry. I too have been racially profiled both in Canada and in Seoul. But I cannot even begin to imagine the pain and suffering to be a black person in America right now. The “vicious dogs” and “ominous weapons” that Trump has bragged about earlier were meant as a threat against protesters, but I have a feeling they are especially trained for Americans who don’t happen to be white.

Things are dark right now. It is extremely dark. With racism and disease, and as Trump hoisted that Bible in front of cameras, it is very difficult to imagine light at the end of this long and dark tunnel.

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Dodgy History

Monster Base

Re-listening to Malcolm Gladwell talk about Brian Williams and how memory often distorts over time, I started thinking about how distorted my flashbulb memories are. One example I wrote about before was a picture of me on New Year’s Eve when I was six years old. My face was covered in smoke. For the longest time I thought it was me and I created this memory of me enjoying myself at that time. That is, until I started remembering that I was sick at that time and there was no way I could’ve been out celebrating New Year’s at that time.

Anyway, Gladwell mentioned that our memories of key historical events tend to distort even within a year’s time. And as an experiment, I would like to list a few historical moments that would probably be distorted or disputed once I read it again after a while. Our memories aren’t perfect. We often distort and unintentionally lie to ourselves. These lies become our truths.

-COVID-19: I had a pretty bad and/or uneventful Valentines day. I remember going to Korean class after work. A couple of days later, things got really hectic at work as we scramble to cope with the effects of the virus infection.

-Park Gun Hye: I didn’t want to go to any of the rallies because as a foreigner, I was technically in the country by the graces of the government. The protests were not my fight. I did go once. I remember watching Park Gun Hye leave her home on television when she finally got impeached.

-Umbrella Revolution: I remember meeting several students who were protesting what was happening in Hong Kong. Hong Kong is my favorite city ever. To this day, it still upsets me what the Chinese government and the Hong Kong police have turned such a dynamic place into.

-Donald Trump election: I was at work and was quite disappointed that Hilary didn’t win. I was following the Young Turks and MSNBC on Youtube. What a shitty day! The Chinese girl working next to me never talked to me once all that time I worked with her. This is why I never bothered remembering her name.

-Fukushima: I was home. I remember being disappointed that the release Yakuza: Dead Souls was postponed.

-Iraq Invasion: I had a roommate at the time and he was giddy at the prospect of watching Saddam’s military get utterly destroyed in a matter of days. “Shock and awe, baby!”

-9/11: I was getting ready to go to school when I saw the news on television. I had a CRT television in my room and I remember seeing smoke come out of the towers. I was wondering if I should go to school or if there was going to be school for a while. Then I remember it was everything people could talk about in class.

-Y2K: I was in Hong Kong waiting for the apocalypse to happen. The city would’ve been a great place for me to be stranded in. Sadly, nothing happened, and I had to fly back to Canada afterwards.

-Napster/file-sharing: I remembering illegally downloading Radiohead B-sides in weird formats. At the time, I was also trying out different programs to send text messages from the PC to cellphones. The first person to ever introduce me to t he Internet was Mr. Hanuscuck from our tech and woodworking class. He mentioned “surfing the Web,” and even back then, I thought the term was dated.

-Death of Princess Diana: I was in a van with my mom and dad picking up my sister as she gets off from a shift at a hospital. I heard it on the radio. We were on our way to have dinner somewhere. I remember thinking about those paparazzis chasing her as if it was a Mad Max scenario.

-Rise of the Internet: I remember being in a student conference about this in St. John’s Ravenscourt. Some girl across from me was flashing me with her skirt during a discussion about the Internet’s implication in the future.

-OJ Simpson not guilty: I was in an art class. A classmate of mine was doing a poll of the class minutes before the jury was to be announced. Even then, I knew he did it but was not impressed or could not follow the prosecution’s case. I said, “not guilty.”

-Soviet Union Collapse: I was in school. There were talks about the new countries that were bound to be born out of the event. Around that time, our teacher had us debate communism versus capitalism. I was on the side of communism.

-Nintendo: God bless my mom for buying us a Nintendo system. I remember being the luckiest kid ever when she came home with it. Our first game was Circus Charlie.

-AIDS epidemic: I remember reading extensively about this on National Geographic. There were also TV specials about it, but the magazine article stuck to me. Oddly enough, I don’t remember thinking it was a gay disease.

-EDSA Revolution: I don’t remember much about it, just mostly the songs. My father was and is a pro-Marcos guy. Politics was not often discussed at home. I recall a couple of days being thankful that he came home in one piece.

-Iran hostage crisis: I was coming home from school when I heard the news on the radio. I was eating the driest and crumbliest cookie ever. A neighbor kid gave them to me as an apology for inadvertently stabbing my hand the day before.

-End of the Vietnam War: I remember when it ended, my uncle, who is a veteran, had a lot of opinions about it. I was too young to get involved so I just ignored it and mostly played with his model airplanes and helicopters. It was the first time I got to thinking about small scale models.

-The Cuban Missile Crisis: I was visiting my grandfather and he had the TV on. I wasn’t too interested in it and neither was he. I remember him grumbling that it was mostly an American thing and something that Canada shouldn’t bother with. He was preparing lunch at the time and reheating/remoistening a bowl of rice by adding some water in it. I thought it was odd.

-George VI dies: I was babysitting a neighbor’s kid, Courtland, and he was climbing on to my shoulder while I was trying to read the newspaper. I remember thinking, “We’ll be seeing a lot of this new Queen.”

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Foldout Hubris


Short entry showing an attempt at a foldout. It was more complicated than I thought, especially with my art style. I tried making a self-portrait (which I’ve never done before), and all of these elements add up to something which doesn’t look like me at all.

The lesson? Small steps. Don’t take on too many things at the same time.


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Kimonos and Fake News


I’ve been doing a bit of an informal survey after hearing a friend spout off what sounds like anti-Japanese sentiment disguised as facts. In an attempt to disparage the character of Japanese culture specifically and the Japanese people in general, she mentioned that the kimono was designed specifically for the woman to easily have sexual encounters with men at a moment’s notice. That is why what appear to be cushions or pillows are attached at the back of the outfit. This factoid (or to cut to the chase, this lie) seems to be designed to hurt the Japanese image by basically calling their traditional attire a sex attire and by virtue implying that Japanese women have a history of having loose morals.

I’ve been asking Koreans around me about the reason for the kimono’s design and most people reference this rather risqué explanation to different degrees, with some being more polite than others. This was very fascinating since the people I asked were mostly well-educated people who have visited Japan several times, if not lived there for several years. They mostly came up with the same explanation, although some expressed doubts regarding its veracity.

Now, I’ve read about kimonos, seen them worn many times first-hand, and been with people who had it put on. There are many degrees, but kimonos can be quite complicated to put on. It took my friends almost an hour to have it put on them, and this is with a professional assistant. When you see people walking around Japan with their Sunday best kimonos, these are mostly complicated attires with several layers. They are not the fastest things to take on and off. Probably the easiest and least layered kimono I could think of are the yukatas worn in the summer, but compared to the Korean hanbok, they are probably a little more complicated to put on and off, so I don’t understand this idea of “easy access.” As for the cushions or pillows attached in the back. They are otakos or oversized ribbons mainly placed there for aesthetic purposes. I would hardly consider them pillows. One of the reasons for putting so much material around women at the time was that it was considered ideal for women to have a straight, flat figure. It was simply the aesthetic at the time. And as for pillows and the idea of having women basically be on their backs, Japanese women, when fully attired in traditional garb will have a very complex hairdo. Back then, they would never rest their head on pillows for fear of ruining their hair, and instead rested their head and neck on what amounts to a wooden platform. The whole pillow/easy access thing is simply a fantasy.

But what lends it credibility is a bit of truth. One is that there is a history of courtesans and prostitution in Japan which does involve the image of geishas wearing heavy make-up and kimonos. But this is counter to the easy access image the rumor I’ve been hearing. Another bit of truth is that kimonos are usually tied from behind, thus women would often require assistance when putting on such complicated attire. Prostitutes would sometimes tie their kimono in front so they could easily put them on and off without assistance, but that it not the only sole reason to wear a kimono with the ribbon in front. Elderly people for example, would tie their kimonos in front to make it easier to wear them. In any case, there are many reasons why kimonos could be tied in front, but I think the originators of the easy access lie just latched on to the prostitution story and made it true for all kimonos.

But what is the purpose of the lie. I imagine it is a relic of anti-Japanese sentiment in Korea. I ask people where and when they first heard of this explanation and not many people could tell me exactly when. It seems to have been rooted in their childhood. Thus, even when I offer a counter explanation, some find it hard to divorce themselves from the old take. Perhaps it was designed to disparage the Japanese, and in doing so, boost Korean nationalist sentiment. This is not the first time I’ve seen this happen. In the 80s, children in the Philippines were taught that Armando Lite invented the ArmaLite (M16), Agapito Flores invented the fluorescent lamp, and Eduardo San Juan invented the Lunar Rover. There’s a possibility that Eduardo San Juan did exist as an engineer, but there is no record that he was the chief engineer for the Lunar Rover. And as for the other two, they are nothing but clever puns. But why make up the lie? They were designed to boost national pride, encourage children to take up science and engineering, and instill a bit of anti-American sentiment since all inventors were said to have had their inventions stolen and their credits removed, thus making the lies unprovable. I suspect the Japanese kimono lie was created in the same vein, especially since the Koreas were occupied by the Japanese the same way the Philippines was occupied by the Americans.

I believe this is an early attempt at “fake news” or propaganda. Unfortunately, with me trying to disprove the old “fake news,” I could be labeled as “fake news” as well. I’m not sure if propaganda had the same vicious back and forth cycle back then as well. I figure some lies just faded after people saw the light of truth and reason. But maybe I was being naïve in thinking they are not as persistent, after all, what was my friend spouting? And to bring it back to the modern era, I had my wife look up some of the anti-Japanese sentiments my friend was spouting including the kimono explanation online. True enough, she finds them in a Korean anti-Japanese site. Old “fake news” makes it to the modern age.

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A Twist!

ThomasDArc McGee.jpg

I saw the movie ‘Wind River’ a few days ago.  The movie piqued my curiosity when I saw Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen starring as leads. I thought it quite unusual to have two actors who are featured in the Marvel Avengers franchise work together in a totally unrelated film. It seemed a tad distracting.

The movie was surprisingly decent. It was a murder mystery, although the mystery was fairly straightforward. And although the film was set in Wyoming, the wilderness and the issues regarding Native Americans echoed those of Canada’s First Nations’, particularly the way the government often has a lackadaisical approach to their problems. The film makers didn’t portray Native Americans as cartoons either. They portrayed them as real people with real concerns. The film’s focus in particular happens to be one that haunts my hometown as well, the victimization and disappearance of Aboriginal women and how authorities and society in general seems to not care about them. The RCMP doesn’t often put too much effort finding missing Aboriginal women despite the number of reports. A more comprehensive report on the violence that Aboriginal women suffer can be found at the RCMP’s own website.  It is silly how there would be days of news coverage for missing women of other ethnicities but most Aboriginal women don’t get much coverage should they ever disappear. So with all of this in mind, I was quite pleased by how the movie seemed to focus on this issue. Although a couple of instances with the male gaze was a tad inappropriate and unnecessary.

The whole thing didn’t play out like a typical theatrical release. It seemed to be more suited to something I would watch on television as opposed to the big screen. The mystery was not that complicated either and there was so big twist in the end, so the story was not that memorable. Or so I thought.

As the credits rolled, there it came in bold letters: Produced by the Weinstein Company.

That was a twist of M. Night Shyamalan proportions. A movie that champions the plight of women, particularly of Native Americans who are often marginalized, bringing them to light much like the #Metoo movement has brought to light abuses not just in Hollywood but in many places in the US and around the world… that movie just happens to be a property of the same monster that victimized countless of women and whose actions inspired the #Metoo movement in the first place.

Bravo ‘Wind River,’ bravo.

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Get Over Yourself


Look, America doesn’t have a monopoly on being the light of democracy, the beacon of hope, the shining city on a hill. Actually, it’s far from it. Since they elected their current president, with one tragedy after another, I keep hearing “we are better than this,” “this is not us,” and “not all Americans.” Now I do agree that Trump and his supporters are not ALL Americans, but I disagree with everything else. Particularly with what’s happening right now at the American borders, the separation of immigrant children and their internment in abandoned Walmarts, this is exactly what America is.

People often say that America’s original sin is slavery and white supremacy. But even that statement ignores a much earlier sin, the displacement and genocide of Native Americans. But just looking at the Trump presidency as a microcosm, there is a pattern which is very similar to the rest of America as a whole. The vilification of Mexicans, the Muslim ban, the attack on NFL players, the blatant disregard to the crisis in Puerto Rico, the splitting and internment of immigrant families… one key they have in common is the absolute vile treatment of people of color. If you’re not white, there’s a great chance you might have a shittier American experience. And again, not all of America is to blame for what is happening. But it is very telling that despite the crisis on the border being the top news item for a couple of days now, instead of Trump losing popularity, he actually gains favorability. Not only that, he appears to have more power among his political party. Being disgusting towards young, immigrant children and putting them in internment camps is proving to be quite good for Trump. Americans might like telling themselves that they are the land of the free and the home of brave, but those same free and brave people often allow awful things to happen right in their own backyard. This is not the first time Americans kept an internment camp. They did so just a few decades ago.

After the Muslim ban was announced last year, there were lots of protests. It was great to see people standing up for their Muslim brothers and sisters. Eventually, the courts ruled that the Muslim ban was unconstitutional, and the president’s own words betrayed the hateful intent of his policy. But since then, there hasn’t been much collective outrage and action over the many injustices which Trump has orchestrated. Why didn’t Americans march for Puerto Rico? Aren’t Americans marching every day for Flint, police shootings, school shootings, or any other issues? Heck, even when the Muslim ban was finally partially enacted, there was nary a protest. Did people just get tired? Were people distracted? Did the free and brave people have other plans that day?

Unless Americans can exorcise their demons, they really shouldn’t be allowed to wax poetic indulgently about being American. Americans can’t say, “this is not who we are. This is not what we do.” No, this is exactly what you do. America is the one person in the room with the most guns who regularly lets bad things happen to minorities. That’s just how it is. And I don’t want to sound too high and mighty, but as a Canadian, we have a long history of sins against our Native populations as well, but you will never hear me say that that is not what we are, that “we are better than this.” Canadians are vile towards their Native populations. That’s what we are, and we should be better than this.

I love Americans. I have friend and family in the US. My nieces are Americans. I really hope that their future America would be better than this. The America I see in the news is the ugliest I’ve seen in years. It can be ugly for people like me and my nieces. As a person of color, I’ve seen racism rear its ugly head in Canada and even here in Seoul. But as Americans, I worry about my nieces. I can handle racism. I’m old and I’ve seen it enough times to know how to roll with it. But they are still far too young. And judging by how the US government and Trump supporters are being vile towards child immigrants, it is apparent that not even children are spared from the dark ugliness of the American experience. In truth, my nieces are raised in a fairly privileged lifestyle. I like to think that they’re growing up in an environment where deplorables have very little chance to make contact with them.  But despite all of that, I fear that it only takes one ugly accident to ruin a person’s day if not a person’s life.

In any case, Americans really do need to get it together. This has gone on far too long. People used to joke that “Trump is bad, but at least he’s not building internment camps.” Well, the camps are now here. What do you do? Where are the free and brave people?

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