Saturday, September 29, 2012

A Comparison of Colonial Experience: The Case of Philippines and Australia

(This is a reaction / critique of John Docker's The Neocolonial Assumption in University Teaching of English. Yes, I do have a summary of Docker's article. If interested, just email me so I could post it on the blog.) 

Like Australia, there is also a ruling anglocentric assumption in university teaching of English in the Philippines. The difference, however, is that our situation is much worse. This anglocentric assumption imposed upon us is twice sorrier than what Australia has actually experienced. Philippine history has been marred by centuries of colonial exploitations by major colonial powers, namely, Spain and the United States. Worse, in our long period of colonial and neocolonial history, Filipinos, unlike Australian settlers, are native inhabitants of the islands.  

Looking at Fanon’s “hierarchy of culture”, it can be inferred that during the Spanish colonial period, the Insulares who settled in the country can be compared to Australian settlers while native Filipinos can be likened to aborigines of Australia. When the Insulares came to the Philippines to establish Spanish colonial government, they do so by the “virtue of superiority” of metropolitan culture that is mainland Spain. However, because of their removal from Madre España, these Insulares (also included in the group were hispanized Filipinos called Ilustrados) are forced into a “necessary inferiority before the metropolitan culture’s necessary superiority”.

What white colonial settlers in Australia have experienced must have also been felt by the Insulares and Ilustrados in the Philippines who, as John Docker aptly described, are “metropolitan-derived, but not metropolitan, both European and not European”. In the Philippines, both the Insulares and Ilustrados lived and behaved like Spaniards, mastering the language and identifying themselves with the Spanish metropolitan culture – since, according to Docker, they are always “striving to become what they cannot be”. This futile attempt by Insulares and Ilustrados to assimilate with Spain was evident during the Propaganda Movement when group Filipino reformists insisted on annexing the Philippines as part of Spain and asking for Philippine representation in the Spanish government. 

However, throughout the centuries of Spanish colonial period it was perhaps the native Filipinos suffered the worst “psychological disturbance” inflicted by Spanish colonizers. Native Filipinos or indios were looked down upon both by Insulares and Ilustrados, destroying their native culture and excluding them from government and education. Spanish, as a colonial language, can only be restrictedly learned by the affluent. 

(This is not to say that the inability for the population to master Spanish is something to lament about. What I am saying is that, at this present time, Filipinos are becoming more detached in learning our hybrid history during the Spanish occupation. We cannot even access the language of Filipino writers who all wrote in Spanish! It would have been interesting if common Filipinos could directly appreciate the original language used by Rizal or read Spanish texts about how the Philippines was portrayed by Spaniards.)

Once more, during the American occupation, we were again subjected to psychological disturbance when the Americans imposed English as a medium instruction in our educational system. True to Fanon’s insight, it was the still the elite and middle class Filipinos, many of whom are descendants of Spanish mestizos, who first acquired the English language. As a result, they held key positions in government and the academe. 

Because the American government was using the education as its neocolonialist tool, Filipinos have eventually acquired and incorporated English into its learning system. English assured our access to everything American – western films, books, culture, and products. This acquisition of colonial language became the very foundation of our undying colonial mentality or the start of our so-called “white love”.  

When it comes to the situation in the academe, Philippine learning institutions, like Australian universities, suffer too from forced imposition of canonical texts by American and English writers. But worse than Australia, Filipino students’ linguistic diversity hampers their learning because they have to at least learn three languages – the native, national (Tagalog), and colonial (English) languages both for academic and social survival. Also, English canonical texts contain Western themes and context that are irrelevant and inapplicable to the lives of common Filipinos such that, in school, for instance, students had to learn more about winter before they could appreciate Robert Frost’s Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening. 

Indeed, the comparison between Australia and Philippines as postcolonial nations is established through Docker’s revelation that anglocentric assumptions produce detrimental effects to learners in the academe. But perhaps, it would be a meaningful gesture to inform Docker that anglocentric assumption is suffered in many places – native inhabitants suffer worse than colonial settlers; Filipinos in twice sorrier state than Australians. 

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