Early in the afternoon of October 18, Dr. Jan Padios and Dr. Angie Reyes stood before rows of filled seats in Harris Hall to speak about their research as the sun illuminated the dark wooden walls of the room. The attendees, many of them students, gathered in a space to hear about some of the ways in which white settler colonialism is still affecting the Philippines today during the important month dedicated to Filipinx heritage.
Dr. Padios is an Associate Professor of American Studies and Affiliate Faculty in the Asian American Studies Program at the University of Maryland, College Park. Dr. Padios’ research centers on her ethnographic fieldwork in outsourced customer service call centers in the Philippines and the ways in which U.S. call centers have parallels with European colonization.
Dr. Reyes is a Professor in the English Department at Hunter College and Doctoral Faculty in the Anthropology Program at The Graduate Center at CUNY. Dr. Reyes’ research focuses on the ways in which European colonialism shows up in the skincare advertisements which are prevalent in the Philippines. They promote skin-lightening, a practice connected to colonial ideals of beauty, class, and wealth.
Throughout the event, the theme of resistance in the post-colonial moment that the Philippines is currently in emerged frequently. Dr. Padios defined colonialism as “the prepping of a nation for capitalism.” However, in these capitalistic avenues of call centers and skincare, there is resistance. Just as there are people who are buying into the settler colonial narrative that lighter skin is better, there are also those who are critiquing what Dr. Reyes describes as the “figure of colonial residue.” In call centers, the colonial narrative is flipped on its head. Dr. Reyes describes how call center workers that she interviewed saw themselves as being radical in their work and resisting the constraints of colonialism. The U.S. is seen as a place of precariousness and is no longer the center of people’s aspirations for moving. Filipinx call center workers know that their work is valuable in the capitalist structure that exists—and that the U.S. depends on it.
Although immense progress has been made by Filipinx people in moving past the oppression of a colonized state, there is still work to be done in grappling with the “after-life of colonialism” that Dr. Padios describes. How do Filipinx people change the structure imposed by a world built on colonialism? This is a struggle that Black people across the diaspora are trying to navigate as well.
Dr. Padios articulates social change as demanding, “a lot of things, and one thing that we often don’t talk about it requiring is imagination. My hope is that we can use, together, our imaginations to create a completely different world in which we’re no longer drawing on a colonial relationship. What would a Philippines look like where the resources were not always distributed unevenly outside of the country?”
Besides imagination, solidarity and allyship are a key component of fighting colonist structures.
“In a contemporary context of the United States… [I am inspired by] the movement for Black Lives Matter because of the built-in solidarity with people of color, specifically, Palestinian people and Asian-Americans. I see Asian-Americans who won’t be indexed participating,” Dr. Padios says. “There’s a history to that solidarity—African-American and Philippine solidarity or African-American and Asian-American solidarity—that often doesn’t get talked about.”
Anisa Codamon, a senior in Weinberg, said that she resonated with the event’s focus on how “the issues discussed impact all communities of color that connect with imperialism and colonial histories.”
As Filipinx American History Month draws to an end, it is important to continue to recognize and acknowledge the ways in which Black and Filipinx people have fought for immense change and progress in a post-colonial state both in America and the Philippines. However, it is also important to not classify these battles as things that are relics of the past. The fight to resist colonial structures is on-going especially in today’s world, defined overwhelmingly by a global capitalist project. It is essential to create and maintain new forms of solidarity between Black and Filipinx people and to continue to challenge the world that colonialism has created for the progress and empowerment of the collective.