What If

by Fernando Perfas

(First of two parts)

Trauma, and its psychological aftermath, leaves an indelible scar in the mind. Unless adequate therapy is implemented to heal the damage, the effects of trauma can linger for a lifetime. Yes, a lifetime; and convincing evidence exists to prove the effects of trauma can continue to the next generation. The ability of experience to transform the brain is made possible by one of the amazing properties of the brain called “plasticity.” Experience, such as trauma or any other meaningful ones like falling in love, for example, can rewire the brain for better or worse. While plasticity facilitates the adverse effects of negative life experiences, it also allows for positive experience, such as therapy or medication, to heal or influence brain functions. This fact has important implications when we apply the knowledge of trauma on the effects of war, genocide, institutionalized oppression, grueling poverty, or brutal colonization among a group of people.

I’m particularly interested in colonial trauma because it plays a large part in the psychosocial development of a nation. Nations with adverse colonial experience do not do well in general; and those who suffer the yoke of oppressive colonialism for centuries fare badly. Looking at Africa, Latin America, or Asia and you can easily see the number of failed states which experienced long histories under colonial regimes. We are all too familiar with “colonial mentality” as a psychological aftermath of colonialism. We only have scratched the surface and have not adequately plumbed the true depths of the toxic, pervasive, and lasting effects of colonial trauma. Many do not appreciate its true meaning and impact because they localize the historical experience as only belonging to the past. That is a myopic framework for understanding the long-term and multi-generational effects of colonial trauma.

“I’ll frame my succeeding arguments in hypothetical terms to describe how centuries of colonialism have shaped the Filipinos’ mindset and its effects on Philippine society.”

While there are increasing studies on the same trauma on Holocaust survivors, North American Indians, African American slaves, African countries, and victims of genocidal conflicts, there has been no meaningful study on the colonial traumatic experience of the Filipinos and its consequences. Extrapolating on what is known from studies of other places, I’ll frame my succeeding arguments in hypothetical terms to describe how centuries of colonialism have shaped the Filipinos’ mindset and its effects on Philippine society. Although the Philippines came under the control of the Americans for about 50 years after the defeat of Spain during the Spanish-American war, and another 4 years during the Japanese occupation, both of which had added insult to injury to the already saddled Filipino spirit, the long Spanish colonial era was by far the most traumatic.

What if the duplicity of the Spanish colonial strategies corrupts every idea that the Spanish have promoted on the Filipinos from religious beliefs to public governance? Anything that is devoid of the truth and used as an instrument of oppression and domination is likely to lack substance. We see how some of our most cherished beliefs handed down by the colonizers from the sacred to the mundane are practiced without depth and littered with so many inconsistencies. This is true across the Filipino social strata, from the elites to the common people on the streets.

“… this adaptation strategy was borne out of our ancestors’ traumatic colonial experience defined by rabid racism and economic, social, and political exploitation and oppression by the Spanish colonial masters.”

What if the early deprivations suffered by our ancestors in the hands of the Spanish from the encomienda or appropriations of ancestral lands to forced labor had shaped our ancestors’ survival adaptations from one of safety and freedom to one of “siege mentality?” Moreover, this adaptation strategy was borne out of our ancestors’ traumatic colonial experience defined by rabid racism and economic, social, and political exploitation and oppression by the Spanish colonial masters. Lacking access to economic resources coupled with lack of political power, many of our ancestors lived in humiliating and slavish poverty. The Spanish colonial administration was never interested in universal education and economic progress for the Filipinos. They were content in keeping the Filipinos ignorant and subservient. This explains why the Philippines is the only non-Spanish speaking colony despite more than 350 years of Spanish colonization. Mestizo Filipino priests were no exceptions to racial discrimination with their blood considered not pure enough to attain salvation under a church doctrine called Limpieza de Sangre (pure blooded).

The Spanish lowly view of the Filipinos could not have been expressed more plainly than when they surrendered the Philippines to the Americans during the closing battle of the “staged” Battle of Manila Bay between the Spanish and American naval ships instead of handing victory to the Filipino revolutionaries. Their rationale: The Filipinos are not capable of governing themselves.

(To be continued)

Related article: What if (Second of two parts)

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