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The U.S. and the Philippines: a History Lesson at the Mall

Neda goes searching for history at the mall

I was wandering around the mall the other day -- on assignment, of course. As I snapped a few pictures, I chuckled at myself. Even I had a hard time making connections between the mall and history! But history is everywhere, even in the food court of a suburban shopping mall . And I wasn't in just any town: I was in Daly City, California! That might not mean much to you -- but did you know that Daly City is home to one of the largest Filipino communities outside the Philippines?

Until recently, I had no idea either. To me, Daly City was just the name of a freeway exit on the way to San Francisco. Little did I know that over the past few decades, Filipino immigrants flocked to this mini-metropolis; they now compose over a quarter of the city's population. Has this immigration created a distinct cultural flavor in the Daly City community? That's what I went to the mall to find out. Sure enough, aspects of Filipino culture, such as music and food, could be found scattered throughout the shops.


What does this all have to do with history? Why, that's an excellent question -- thanks for asking ! See, I have been researching the United States' involvement in the Philippines, but since Asia is more than a hop, skip and a jump away and not really accessible by car, I decided to take a look at a taste of the Philippines in the United States. In the end, it is all related.

Let's take a look at how this all fits together.

The Philippines, a nation of islands in the Pacific, have a long history of being colonized. They were under Spanish rule for 333 years -- yikes! In the late 1800s, the United States waged war against Spain in the Spanish-American War. During that war, Filipinos struggling for independence from Spain welcomed American forces in the Philippines as liberators. But they were sorely disappointed.

When the Spanish-American war ended in December 1898, the U.S. purchased the Philippines from Spain for $20 million under the Treaty of Paris. After this little exchange, do you think the American government granted the Philippines independence? No sir-ee, Bob , it sure didn't.

President William McKinley decided that Filipinos were "unfit" to govern themselves, and that they should be placed under U.S. military control "for their own good." Hmm --the Filipinos didn't seem to agree! Those who craved independence from Spain were not eager to bow to American rule. Imagine thinking that you were going to gain freedom, only to have your knight in shining armor turn around and laugh in your face .

Daly CIty- not just any old freeway exit

The Filipinos revolted. So a few months after the Spanish-American War ended, a new conflict began: the Philippine-American War. Emilio Aguinaldo, a Filipino who had helped the Americans fight the Spanish, now led the independence movement against the United States. Emilio felt more than a little betrayed by the U.S. For three years, the brutal warfare raged, and thousands of people died before the American forces overpowered the revolt. At that point, the U.S. promised to "prepare" the Philippines for self-government and democracy. But it would be a long time before the Philippines would gain independence.

As one U.S. senator said in 1900, "The Philippines is ours forever. . . . The Pacific is our ocean ." Wow -- that is quite a statement. This guy believed it was the U.S.'s mission to take control of the island nation. As usual, these ideas about American rights to expand were a cover for economic gain. The U.S. would benefit from the resources in the Philippines, and the Philippines would provide a gateway to other Asian markets.

Fortunately, not everyone during this period thought the same way. A growing number of Americans questioned what their country was doing overseas. An organization called the Anti-Imperialist League sprang up, and helped many distinguished people, such as novelist Mark Twain, speak out against colonization.

As is often the case in colonial rule, the U.S. occupation of the Philippines had other cultural effects, which one Filipino summed up in this way: "This is what the American soldier did: While he was shooting the Filipinos with his right hand , he was teaching the boys with his left hand the English language."

Manila Bay Cuisine -- definitely got some funny looks taking pictures of Filipino food at the mall

After killing thousands of people to gain control of the islands, the American government set itself apart from Spanish rule by spending millions of dollars to improve roads, sanitation and public health. American teachers set up a school system, which in turn led to English becoming a second language. By 1939, 27 percent of the population could speak English, a larger percentage than for any of the native dialects. English is now an official language in the Philippines.

Despite these attempts at "improvement," the Filipinos were rightfully resentful. They would rather have less sanitation and English and more freedom. The U.S. finally granted Philippine independence in 1946, after the end of World War II -- and 45 years after the U.S. first occupied the Philippines. Talk about taking one's own sweet time .

One of the effects of U.S. occupation of the Philippines was the immigration of a substantial Filipino population to the United States. At first, the American government, as part of its "improvement" measures, sponsored a small group of students to come to the United States to study. But most of the Filipino immigrants in the beginning of the century came not for an education but for employment. The majority went to Hawaii and worked in the sugar plantations or pineapple fields . Then came a wave to California, also for agricultural work. By the second half of the twentieth century, immigration had expanded to include not just laborers, but also professionals, and not just males, but also entire families.

Filipinos settled throughout the United States -- not just in ethnic pockets like the Chinese in many cities' Chinatown, or Italians in Little Italy. Yet there are places like Daly City where the Filipino population has expanded dramatically in recent years, creating distinct communities.

So -- all this means that when I go to the mall in Daly City, I remember the battles fought and the lives lost , the imperialism, and the immigration that led to the creation of Manila Bay Cuisine at the food court.


Please email me at: neda@ustrek.org


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