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Typical Filipino Colonial Mentality

Updated on February 11, 2015

It was only until I emigrated from the Philippines to the United States in the year 1999 have I clearly seen how colonial mentality looks like from a distance. Even I unconsciously carry those mentalities. But this unawareness is because when you are submerged into that line of thinking from the day you’re born, of course it just comes out naturally to you. It is only when you are pulled out of that environment that you see from a vantage point of view an image of yourself from afar.

As a Filipino, you see a reflection of yourself exhibiting behaviors that are a result of colonial mentality. Whether consciously or unconsciously, these behaviors are carried on as part of daily living and way of life. It is deeply embedded in our characters- not naturally developed but steadily molded over hundreds of years of foreign rule. It is a paradox of what we are but not really who we are. It is an intricate mesh of beliefs, practices and ideologies that eventually exsanguinated us of our true blood.

But what exactly is colonial mentality? It is defined as the concept that the colonizer’s values and beliefs are accepted by the colonized as a norm and truth of their own; that the mores of the colonizer are superior to those of the colonized. (Nadal p. 298)


The Spanish and American Colonizers

For the benefit of those who do not know our history, let me briefly narrate about our colonizers:

In 1380, Muslim Arabs arrived at the Sulu Archipelago and established settlements which became mini-states ruled by a Datu. They introduced Islam in the southern parts of the archipelago including some parts of Luzon and were under the control of the Muslim sultans of Borneo. They had a significant influence over the region for a couple of hundred years. The Malay Muslims remained dominant in these parts until the 16th century. In 1521, Ferdinand Magellan, a Portuguese explorer who was serving the Spanish crown, landed in Samar Island on his voyage to circumnavigate the globe. He explored the islands and named it Archipelago of San Lazaro. Magellan was killed during a rebellion led by a Datu named Lapu-Lapu in Mactan Island (adjacent to Cebu Island). Spain continued to send expeditions to the island for financial gain and on the fourth expedition, Commander Ruy Lopez de Villalobos named the islands: Philippines after Prince Phillip (later King Phillip II), heir to the Spanish throne. Spain ruled the Philippines for 356 years. The oppression of the Filipino people sparked rebellions against Spain, and one of the leading figures in these was Emilio Aguinaldo. A new regime emerged when the Spanish-American war which started in Cuba, changed the history of the Philippines. On May 1, 1898, the Americans led by US Navy Admiral George Dewey in participation of Emilio Aguinaldo, attacked the Spanish Navy in Manila Bay. Faced with defeat, the Philippines was ceded to the United States by Spain in 1898 after a payment of US $20million to Spain in accordance with the “Treaty of Paris”. It was only on July 4, 1946 that the Philippines was given independence in accordance with the Tydings-McDuffie Act of 1934 and the Republic of the Philippines was born. (Philippine History)


The Exploitation

To begin with, there was no Filipino nation to conquer. Our communities were scattered all over the archipelago in little barangays all of which were autonomous with each other. We were in our state of infancy that even before we had the chance to emerge as a society, unfortunately, we were already colonized. “Unlike the Cambodians with their Angkor Vat and the Indonesians with their Borobudur, we had no monuments which could remind our people of an ancient glory. When nations with advanced social structures and a firmly established culture are colonized, their past achievements constitute the source of their separate identity which enable the conquered to confront their colonizers with dignity and sometimes even a feeling of superiority. Having but few cultural defenses against our conquerors, we soon accepted the colonizer's superiority and began to acquire what we now call a colonial mentality.” (Constantino)


Colonial Mentality As Part Of Our Daily Lives

  • When I first arrived in the United States, the first hurdle that I had to undertake was the English language. Although most Filipinos are quite adept at it, it still took a while before I finally got accustomed to the conversational English. I was timid even to speak because I was afraid that I might have grammatical errors. I soon realized that upon residing in a place like New York City where there is a good mix of immigrants from all over, having perfect grammar isn’t really a main concern. As long as you could relay your message across as clearly as possible, then that’s already good enough. It is different, of course, when you are in a professional setting where good English is tantamount to providing your colleagues a good impression about you. Nevertheless, US-born citizens are more forgiving to foreigners for having imperfect English because of the simple reason that…we are foreigners! Tagalog is the national language of the Philippines. But English is the medium of instruction in schools, private and government institutions. I observed that Filipinos tend to be very particular with the English grammar. You will even be the focus of fun and ridicule when you speak broken English. English also, when spoken in a household, or among teenagers and young adults is a status symbol. It shows that you are part of the elite group of society. And depending on how fluent you are with the language, it is viewed by some, as a measurement of your intelligence.

  • If memory could truly be passed down through our genes, then perhaps mine carried my ancestor’s inferiority complex. There were moments, most especially when I was young that I had to break loose of that extreme sense of subservience. The likelihood however that I was brainwashed to the false notion that Americans are always better than Filipinos is high. I finally confronted that misconception when I arrived in the United States and realized that I could also excel in my profession as a nurse regardless of my nationality.

  • One of my relatives visited the Philippines. A few months prior to her visit, she asked me if I wanted to send some pasalubong or gifts to other relatives back home. When I finally bought some stuff, she told me that most of the items that I bought were made in China, the Philippines and Bangladesh. She asked if I have anything made in the USA because those are what the Filipinos expect. I told her that it’s a rarity these days to find anything made in the US. But isn’t the thoughtfulness in gift giving more important than where the products were made? And besides the qualities of the items I bought were impressive. Shouldn’t we be proud of our Philippine products and that we are helping the Philippine economy when we buy our own?

• When I was in my early 20s, my friends and I used to buy bleaching creams (Yes, me included.) to make our skin tones lighter. I thought of how foolish we were to confine the meaning of beauty as having a white complexion. But it is evident in the Philippine entertainment industry and mass media that the light skinned are given more media exposure than the brown-skinned. There are also a wide array of hair dyes- men and women dyeing their hair blonde, golden and auburn brown. The well to do in society most especially the celebrities go under the knife to change their noses from flat to pointed; enlarge the eyes and use brown or blue contact lenses. We want to look more like our Spanish and American colonizers because the so-called “epitome of beauty” is equated with possessing that mestizo look.


• The urban areas in the Philippines are also glaring picturesque of modernization– along with it is a group of teenagers wearing flannel shirts and dorag even on a 90 °F temperature. Some people really take it to the extremes to look, act and talk like an American.

• One time, my husband, was on board Philippine Airlines with his Filipino and non-Filipino friends traveling to Hong Kong. He asked the Filipino stewardess for some playing cards. The stewardess immediately replied that there were no more in stock. My husband had his doubts, so he asked his Caucasian friend instead, to try asking for the cards. The friend asked the same stewardess and she said she’ll check the pantry. When she returned, lo and behold, there were playing cards after all and handed them to my husband’s friend. While in Manila, I also had personal experiences most especially in commercial establishments, where foreigners or the “English-speaking dude” were given preferential treatment over the local Filipinos.

Call For A Change

There are unending stories about colonial mentality because they just keep on happening - some are amusing while others infuriate us. Some are passionate to do something about it while others just shrug their shoulders as a sign of resignation to that sad fact. You might say: "We know that already. Tell us something we don't know." Yes, this is an age old story but an old story that needs to be re-told from generation to generation until we flush it out of our system. My personal accounts are just incidents that hover on the surface and are probably irrelevant from the general interest of Filipinos. On a larger scale however, there is a domino effect that starts from an individual then reaches up to the economic and political level of the nation by that blindly favoring foreign interests more than our own. A dangerous undercurrent continues to drag the Filipinos further down if the detrimental effects of the mentality persist. We need to pause and have an introspective approach to this predicament that lies within each Filipino individuals. And as we develop that self- awareness, collectively we can make a stronger sense of nationalism, patronize our own and eventually abandon colonial mentality.

Work Cited

Nadal, Kevin L. "Glossary." "Filipino American Psychology: A Handbook of Theory, Research and Clinical Practice. 1st ed. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, 2011. 298. Print.

"Synopsis of Philippine History." Philippine History. 12 Feb. 2014. Web. 6 Feb. 2015. <>.

Constantino, Leticia. "Roots Of Our Colonial Mentality." The Filipino Mind. Bert M. Drona, 1 Aug. 2006. Web. 6 Feb. 2015. <>.


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