Reflection on decolonization

This short piece is taken from a comment I recently wrote from a class on Transitional Justice, changed slightly to make sense outside of this context.

Sometimes I reflect on what it means to be a descendant of colonialism. What it means to be a descendant of histories of violence and trauma that have shaped one’s identity today, along one’s beliefs, about themselves, others, what kind of relationships to have and not have, how to love, how to hate (yourself) …

And often this reflection has felt pointless. What is the point in reflecting on such ‘normal’ things? In other words, what is the point in thinking on such structural forms of violence, where no way out is obvious or easy to attain, and where your own communities may lash out at you for daring to change what they have forgotten is a colonially imposed order?

I also realize my privilege in this reflection. For some, what it means to be a descendant of colonialism is painfully obvious. For example, there is the image of what it means to live as an Indigenous person in Canada, told in numbers of lost, murdered, broken bodies – “this is what structural violence looks like,” how it is lived. I am lucky, in an utterly absurd way, in the fact that I have not had this experience.

Though of course, structural colonial violence rears its head in a different way in my own communities. There was the poverty faced by my mother. The loss of a parent for both my mom and dad, as their fathers were compelled, you can say even forced, into the diaspora in order to provide enough for their families. There are Filipina women lured in into caregiver work, abuses untold, and where told they become cautionary tales for other women instead of a clear sign that something terribly wrong must be stopped. There are those who live hating their skin, language, culture, wanting to adapt and become white instead of brown, instead of the other.

What does decolonization look like. What does it mean to hold, breathe, live histories and experiences of violence and trauma inside of you. What does it mean for this to change. What does it mean to change this life that we have. That was forced upon us. That we somehow have the power to change.

I think it is here that Leanne Simpson and Glen Coulthard speak brilliantly and proudly on resentment and healing within their own communities, and where things like the need to collaborate between communities, to understand mutual pains and so mutual ways of healing, is so crucial.

I think, amidst my questions and confusion, that I’ll begin with the premise that decolonization is the ability to voice, instrumentalize resentment, and do it for oneself in connection to one’s community.

Poetry

It’s been very stressful and busy – I apologize for not posting regularly.

So I pop in today with a bit of poetry –
Please enjoy.

—-

What I long for
is to speak
my language
loud, clearly,
in front of the classroom.

I long to speak my language
– as the legitimate language of instruction
– not to be translated
– not as the exception
– not like we’ll return to English in just a sec

I long to speak and hear
my tongue
to share with others
like me
not like me
and tell the world about myself
and who I am.

Disrupting Vancouver: Recognizing Filipina Women in Leadership.

I just came out of an event celebrating Filipina women in leadership across the world, organized by the Filipina Women’s Network and held at the Philippine Consulate General in downtown Vancouver. At the event, I was surprised to find a friend from university there representing her aunt, and a few other familiar faces from the Filipino community. I flexed my networking muscles here and there as well.

Overall, the event was very inspiring, and it was powerful seeing the recognition as well as occupation of space that the Filipina women took, in the speeches and book readings that they did, and the stories that they told of their lives and working jobs. A thought that I had written a few weeks ago came to me when doing my reflection, which was this: I’ve realized recently that one meaning of assimilation was this – making myself, as a woman and person of colour, palatable to white people, who view themselves as the dominant community in North America and the West. I realized that I did not want to make myself palatable to them – I wanted to be hard to swallow. They would accept me in all my Filipinoness and brown skin, and absolutely nothing less. At this event, I found that the underlying message of the FWN was exactly this sentiment.

In reflecting on this event, I want to note two particular things about it:
1. the emphasis on Filipina with an ‘a’
2. Diasporic stories and representation

First, on the usage of Filipina: notice how the FWN’s full name is Filipina Women’s Network – not Filipino, but Filipina. During the opening remarks, the founder of the organization noted that this was intentional – perhaps a little redundant, given Filipina already referred to Filipino women, but its usage was meant to be transformative and symbolic. In terms of being transformative, FWN wanted to redefine and create a new image of the Filipina. In their opening remarks, they noted how Filipina used to be defined in English dictionaries as ‘maid,’ and how google search results of the word would bring up links of mail order brides, women for sale, and pornography. Knowing how this was both a racist image of the Filipina, as well as heavy stereotyping of women from the Philippines, they wanted to change it, and rightly so. They wanted to emphasize Filipina women in leadership, and also encourage fledging Filipina leaders to take their places in various industries, and reach their fullest potential.

Second, on diasporic stories and representation – I could go on and on about how amazing and powerful the stories of these women are, but for now I will mention this: how powerful their choice is to represent, through their stories, the experiences of Filipina women in the diasporia. For myself, seeing celebrated Filipina women in the sectors I wanted to enter, namely diplomacy and trade, was absolutely amazing, because they essentially represented the possibility for me to have positions similar to theirs. I have no doubt that these Filipinas had the same effect for other young women in the room, and not just in terms of going into work sectors that they had ambitions in, but also in their representation and thus recognition of the hardships Filipinas go through, with racism, sexism (even within Filipino communities), and doubt in their potential. The physical occupation of space that these women took through this event was powerful in this way – they were possibility and representation personified.

(Of course, in saying this, I don’t want to raise these women on a pedestal as if to say no one can reach them. I also don’t want to make them seem only as symbols, because they are people as well, and while their presence is powerful, they also lead everyday lives.)

It was simply amazing being in the same room with all these amazing women. I honestly got chills and fangirled when the current Filipina ambassador to Canada (the first woman in this position and a very smart person) said she wanted to speak with me.

 

#DisruptFilipinaWomen !
May FWN continue to disrupt and transform the image of the Filipina in the years to come for their organization.

– Phebe Manaog

Us, here and in other places.

After yesterday’s post, a friend pointed out to me how I had turned a tangent into the main part of my piece, and I felt really embarrassed welp. I will work towards making my blog posts and wandering thoughts a bit more structured.

I wrote in my piece about my transnational identity that a part of my coping mechanism was to use romantic language in describing how I felt. I would use phrases like ‘a wandering soul,’ because it sounded interesting to me. However, while these may sound dramatic, they would sometimes feel like just the right description.

In any case, my point in mentioning this is to focus on how my transnational identity has affected my everyday life – not just in overly profound ways, but in little things, like how I describe my experience to other people. I’ve so far talked generally about relations and looking at them in a specific temporal and spatial framework – however, I’ve mostly talked about the macro relationships. I want to acknowledge the micro, so to speak, relationships in this dynamic as well. This includes my intimate relationships – by this, I mean to include all types of intimate relationships, from friendships, chosen family, to romantic relationships.

I don’t really know how to talk about this, quite honestly – especially without making it sound dramatic. But just – and bear with me here as my writing structure becomes shaky again — being caught in the diaspora, in a literal way between multiple places and in an abstract way between multiple identities, relationships get messy.

This is not to say that ‘messy’ is bad – these messy experiences can become something that you share and are able to bond over. For myself, the messiness has become a critical aspect of how my worldview has been shaped – being strewn over multiple places and identities is commonplace, and I end up talking a lot about this in my relationships and bonding over it.

However, the distance, both in terms of place, identity, or whatever metric – it may become a trying point in a relationship.

I guess this is the thought driving this piece, and I’ve finally managed to capture it in written words. I carry it around with me always, as I make and sustain the relationships I have, literally strewn around the world.

Welp, I hope this doesn’t sound so dramatic.
– Phebe Manaog