Celebrating Pilipinx History Month

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by Alyssa Michaels

October usually evokes a particular feeling, – falling leaves, crisp air, beautiful colors. It’s the feeling of Fall. And while most people are planning their trips to the pumpkin patches and deciding on their (non-appropriative) costumes, there is a tradition of recognition in October that doesn’t often get mainstream attention. Sharing the month with mental health awareness, Halloween festivities, and all of the noise before the holiday season, is one of my favorite October Celebrations – Pilipinx History Month!

First of all, you may be thinking to yourself –

“Pilipinx?”

“Why doesn’t it begin with an “F” or “PH?”

“What does the “X” mean?”

“Why does it matter?”

With Pilipinx individuals making up the second largest group of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) in the United States, chances are you’ve met one of us (PEW 2017). Yet you probably don’t know much about us or our history. You probably don’t know what we are celebrating, or how the Philippines has been heavily intertwined with US history. Unlike the white-washed history lessons you undoubtedly received focusing on Europeans and their descendants, you were probably never given an option to learn about Pilipinx unless you specifically sought it out.

Given that the educational system in the United States is one of the most efficient tools of enforcing white supremacy, little is taught to students about the accurate history and treatment of nonwhite individuals in this country (if you haven’t already, please enlighten yourselves with the Asian American Exclusion Acts, which used laws and legislature to force out Chinese, Japanese, Pilipino, Koreans as well as others, off of land and out of homes that were rightfully theirs). In order to fully understand the terminology I’ve used here, (as well as to recognize our Pilipinx family) a(n) abridged history lesson is in order.

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Colonization brought devastation to Pilipinx culture. During Spanish colonization, the Philippines was (re)named after King Philip II, using the phonetic “F” sound not normally found in the Tagalog lexicon. Please imagine the disdain on my face as I write this - not only did colonization replace the original Tagalog alphabet (Baybayin), they renamed the country using a letter the Pilipinx could hardly pronounce (Apostol 2010). For three hundred years, the Spanish exerted brutal control over the Philippine Islands, forcibly converting indigenous Pilipinx to Christianity (Lambert 2018). This is now deeply rooted in Pilipinx culture, with many identifying as Christians or Catholics. Yet despite their desire to obliterate pre-colonial culture, forms of animism in Pilipinx religion still find their ways into Pilipinx Christianity (Apostol 2010).


In 1898, Spain and the United States entered into conflict, and after the Spanish were defeated, they ceded the Philippine islands to the United States. This led to the Filipino – American war, which ended in 1902 with the American colonization of the islands (Lambert 2018). The United States sought to assimilate Pilipinx and “benevolently” Americanize them. Although the Philippines did finally reach independence in 1946, the effects of exploitative trade and colonization had detrimental generational impacts on its people.

One of these lasting impacts, stemming from the often forgotten Filipino – American war, is erasure of Pilipinx individuals and their culture. Often referred to as the “invisible minority,” Pilipinx lack representation in everything from music and the arts, to scientific research (E.J.R. David 2016). Even in studies which aim to understand social and cultural contexts of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, Pilipinx are underrepresented and frequently left out of population samples despite their relative population density to other ethnicities (E.J.R David 2016).

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This pattern holds true for Pilipinx in the athletic realm as well, which is why seeing Hidilyn Diaz take the first female Pilipina Olympic medal so joyous. Competing in the 53kg weight class for Olympic Weightlifting, Diaz was able to take home the silver medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics (Harvard 2016). She later went on to compete at the Asian Games in 2018 and took home the first gold medal for the Philippines (Basco 2018). Coming from humble beginnings in Mampang, Diaz has brought pride to Pinays both in the Philippines and the United States.

As a #powerliftingpinay myself, I am overjoyed to see many Pilipinx competing in my favorite sport. As we fight for inclusivity in the strength space, we will also fight for better representation of marginalized groups, both in and out of the gym. But we need to take that inclusivity and representation into the other facets of our lives. Nothing in the fitness realm exists in a vacuum, and as we see problematic issues arise, we need to face them with an intersectional perspective. This is how we honor those from other ethnicities. This is how we respect groups who have been haphazardly given a month of recognition instead of a lifetime of representation. This is how I choose to celebrate Pilipinx History I month, and I welcome you to do the same.


References

Apostol, Virgil Mayor. Way of the Ancient Healer: Sacred Teachings from the Philippine Ancestral Traditions. Readhowyouwant Com Ltd, 2012. 

Basco, Karl Cedrick G., et al. “How Mampang Carried Hidilyn Diaz to Olympic Glory.” ABS-CBN News, news.abs-cbn.com/hidilyn-diaz. 

David, E.J.R. “Why Are Filipino Americans Still Forgotten and Invisible?” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 2016, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/unseen-and-unheard/201604/why-are-filipino-americans-still-forgotten-and-invisible.

Harvard, Amy. “Weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz Made History as First Filipino Woman to Win Olympic Medal.” Mic, Mic Network Inc., 8 Aug. 2016, mic.com/articles/150900/weightlifter-hidilyn-diaz-made-history-as-first-filipino-woman-to-win-olympic-medal#.XvggRAgHl.  

Lambert, Tim. “A Brief History of The Philippines.” A Brief History of The Philippines, 2018, www.localhistories.org/philippines.html

Rodriguez-Gitler, Ariana. “Filipino American Population.” Pew Research Center's Social & Demographic Trends Project, Pew Research Center's Social & Demographic Trends Project, 8 Sept. 2017, www.pewsocialtrends.org/chart/filipino-population-in-the-u-s/.

Maria Rodriguez