Colonial Mentality

This essay was published in the Manila Standard Today on 31 October 2011

Colonial mentality was a major issue during my upbringing in the Philippines. The expression was made popular at the height of the US Army Base boycotts during the early nineties. Primarily, this term referred to the favoring of imported goods, usually popular brands from the United States, over local products. On a cultural level, however, this encapsulates a dangerous belief that our former colonial masters – the entire Western World to be exact – were, are and always will be far more superior to us in every single way.

Arguably, this statement may be considered an exaggeration. Be that as it may, the fact that Filipinos consistently fall victim to colonial mentality is undeniable.

Over the past decade, more than half a million Filipinos have immigrated permanently to the United States. It is quite amazing the lengths people will go to (legal or otherwise) for a greencard – a Mount Everest of requirements and forms, never-ending lines, a labyrinth of red tape, not to mention the ridiculously extravagant application fees – all for a chance at a “better” life, a crack at the American Dream, salvation in the land of milk and honey. As a result, colonial mentality has evolved from a desire for imported goods to coveting foreign nationality. And if my memory serves me correctly, covetousness is a deadly sin. In this case, it is because we Filipinos posses a foolishly romantic perception of the West where there is no poverty or suffering, only prosperity.

We need only to consider the news to render colonial mentality invalid. First and foremost, the United States and the majority of Western Europe no longer make our imported goods. Thanks to increasing globalization and massive outsourcing of production, everything is now made in the developing world, specifically in China and India. In fact, in response to the deepening issues of the global economic crisis, President Obama openly admits that despite being a champion of innovation, the United States needs to go back to making things. At the same time, European Heads of State agree that the EU lags behind tremendously with regard to innovation and manufacturing. Subsequently, in terms of imported goods, colonial mentality can no longer refer to “Made in the US” (or EU) as everything is now made in China.

Another misconception we have is that poverty does not exist in the West due to its economic stability. No one can be blamed for this idea. Since the end of the Second World War, the US has become the largest, most superior economy in the world. As then and now, we know where our loyalties lie. Consequently, the Philippines has patterned everything from its systems of education, government, language, infrastructure and even the Constitution from the United States in the hope that adopting the American system of democracy, free-market economy and public education will bring about equal, if not greater prosperity to the nation.

Whether this is true today is beside the point. Every system has its flaws and the West is no exception.

Given the current circumstances, the situation in the US and Europe can only be summarized by the Foreign Media’s favorite word: Crisis. Beginning in 2007, global headlines have proclaimed the arrival of the Western apocalypse namely, the US housing crisis, the subprime mortgage crisis, the US financial crisis, the global economic recession, the US homeless crisis, the US jobs crisis, the Euro Zone crisis, the Portuguese, Spanish, Irish, Italian and Greek sovereign debt crises, the EU financial crisis and the list goes on.

Naturally, this economic turmoil has had devastating effects on the citizens themselves.

From Greek anti-austerity rallies in Athens to the Occupy Wallstreet movement in New York, people throughout the Western World have gathered in protest against rising unemployment, economic injustice, cutbacks on social welfare and the overall failure of their governments to respond. To say that the economic climates in the US and the EU are unstable and its futures are uncertain is an understatement. For every available job in the US (blue-collar or otherwise), there are at least seven applicants. Almost 46 million Americans rely on foodstamps and other subsidies for their daily meals. That is to say, as of 2010, 46.2 million Americans were classified as poor. Now it seems that milk and honey have run out in the Promised Land and the economic prosperity that once characterized the West is waning.

If the Philippines continues its dependence on the West, it runs the risk of contagion in terms of economic malaise, something our nation obviously cannot afford as a developing country. Fortunately, nothing could be further from the truth. Despite our affinity with all things American, the Philippines maintains closer economic ties (imports and exports) with its Asian brethren – China, Japan and Singapore in particular. Although the US accounts for a significant share of Philippine trade, the majority of our country’s international business is conducted within the Asian region. Once again, this is due in part to China being both the fastest growing economy and the world’s factory.

The fact that colonial mentality is no longer applicable today therefore necessitates a new model for national development. With a highly skilled, exceptionally educated, English-speaking workforce, thriving services and manufacturing industries and an abundance of natural resources, ours is a recipe for success. For far too long, the Philippines has been nursing a stiff neck, twisting toward a westerly direction. It is high time our nation shifts its attention to a more promising ideal – itself. Sadly, what prevents us from doing so is a lack of self-confidence. More specifically, it is our highly exaggerated, overly romanticized, defeatist belief that the West has won. ✌


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