The Philippines has always had an ambiguous relationship with the United States of America. While officially, the Philippine government is mostly friendly with the USA, there are notable times (such as the removal of US bases, requested in 1991) that the relationship has been less than cordial. The situation becomes more complicated when you check on the normal person on the street, where the reaction to Americans vary from neutral, to welcoming, to utter rejection of their presence in the country, even as tourists.
So why is it that Pinoys have a love-hate affair with the United State of America?
Some people point to the historical issues that come with the Philippine-American War from 1899 to 1902. Depending on whom you ask, either the war started because Spain handed the Philippines over to the USA rather than give the country independence, or the American government wanted to have a beachhead in Southeast Asia.
In any case, the war triggered a divided view of America for the next few generations, with one side seeing it as beneficial to the development of the country, and the other as an invasion and acquisition of the country to become an American colony.
Even today, some of our laws reflect this – for example, it’s not legal for a foreigner to own land in the Philippines, or to have the majority share in a local business. However, they can use proxies (read: shell companies and the like) or have private agreements with Filipinos, so they can retain control of the business anyway.
Practicality versus idealism
While I was thinking heavily about this, it came to me that the old issue about how Filipinos treat Americans – or their presence in Philippine matters – was similar to an old joke in a Monty Python movie. In the skit, an old, chained-up prisoner kept on praising the prison-keepers, saying that they were the best thing to happen to his life. The joke was that he was doing all this while hanging from wrist manacles.
Overwhelmed by America
One big thing about why Filipino feelings about America can be so ambiguous is that America is just overwhelming. Seriously, the issue here is that the American influence on our culture is utterly overpowering. I myself, as a writer, find it easier to write in English, than I do in my native language. Not only that, I am an excellent English speaker because when I was younger, we had Sesame Street showing on television, and we watched Saturday Morning Cartoons, which were mostly American cartoons.
Is it any surprise that for some people, they feel like America has insinuated itself unfairly into Philippine culture? Indeed, even our own Constitution is said to be modeled, in part on the US version.
However, I feel that it’s not really the USA’s fault, in the sense that they simply have so much culture and media to use for that culture. In fact, it is no stretch of the imagination to say that America uses its own culture as a product to sell to the global community, be it a television show, a fast-food franchise, or a type of government.
It’s not to say that Philippine culture isn’t as diverse, or as powerful. The problem here is that American culture has the command of modern media forms, perfect for mass consumption by any person.
Pouring on the hate
Looking at it from the other side, the big problem is that the USA’s own agents, or people, have made quite a few blunders. Here are a few of them:
The Ugly American
Sad to say, the Philippines has had its share of Ugly Americans – the rude, boorish, imposing tourists who think that the whole country should serve their needs. It’s even worse here in the Philippines, as some Ugly Americans are here for sex tours, which do include pedophiles. And yes, some of them do come here to find themselves a fine Filipina wife who will take care of them as if they were the Great White Salvation.
Again, let’s get this clear: not all of them are like that, but there have been enough of them around that the more financially savvy Filipinos know when to call out “Hey, Joe,” and give them an offer they can’t refuse.
Taking care of the little brown brother
The other kind of negative stereotype for Americans is the American who sees Filipinos as either an inferior race, or one that “needs guidance” (in other words, hello, imperialism!). It’s the conceit of the First-Worlder, stepping into the Third. Yes, it is well-meaning, but it can also be off-putting, like a relative whom you know wants to help, but is just a little bit overbearing – or wants something in return.
In this case, it’s either a lack of empathy, or a lack of understanding that not all things revolve around the USA. And the sad part is, in these situations, Filipinos do know what they are looking at, and what you get is the shallow hospitality, with a combined quid-pro-quo.
The User and the user-friendly
At the end of the day, perhaps what one should think about is that Filipinos have learned too well from the lessons of history. Rather than seeing people from America as equals, they now see them as either people to be cautious about, or dumb foreigners they can take advantage of. Just as much as Filipinos feel, historically, that they have been taken advantage of, this love-hate relationship with America is probably how Filipinos exact their pound of flesh, while at the same time keeping their friendly faces on.
Therefore, the fault for the ambiguity in how Filipinos view Americans lies on both sides. On the American side, it has much to do with a form of cultural hubris, and quite a bit of adverse history. On the Filipino side, it is more of an evolved habit, of embracing American culture and contributions on one hand, but being suspicious or manipulative on the other.
The last question that should be asked, though, is if it can be avoided. That’s a tricky thought right there. As long as there are economic and cultural divisions along global lines, then the issue of loving and hating Americans will always be a sensitive one for Filipinos. In this case, even if the individual Filipino doesn’t know all the roots of the problem, it’s the fact of the habit being handed down through the generations that makes it harder to address – “because it has always been this way.”
And that really just makes things much harder to deal with.