Hope you took my suggestion and rebirthed yourself as the New Year’s baby for 2022. You deserve a fresh start!
And that’s why I’m not going to talk about Covid and Omicron to kick off the year. You’re living that story.
Instead, let’s talk ethnic studies. Not “critical race theory,” mind you. Ethnic Studies. Real American history dealing with diverse communities of people.
If you ever said, “There ought to be a law…” Well, there is now in California, specifically two.
One requires that ethnic studies be taught in all community colleges, and be a full requirement by 2024.
Another mandates ethnic studies at the high school level by 2025, with a graduation requirement by the 2029-2030 school year.
This could be a model nationwide.
Too bad it didn’t come sooner for Oakland students like Eleanor Wikstrom. She graduated two years ago and is now at Harvard, where she can’t even get a class in Tagalog. It’s not taught. And Asian American Filipino American history–what’s that?
Recently, Wikstrom wrote an essay about discovering the Harvard connection in the U.S. colonization of the Philippines. It’s an open secret, history that’s pushed aside or buried deep in the stacks. That’s where Wikstrom found the work of Fred W. Atkinson, Harvard Class of 1890, who was asked by President Taft to head up the education of Filipinos in English. He also taught Filipinos their own history from a white perspective. “The History of the Philippines,” by David Prescott Barrows was the text, written by the man who would become president of UC Berkeley.
Read about how UC Berkeley is dealing with his colonial past here.
Wikstrom told me it took an emotional toll on her to understand the irony of colonialism, learning, as she put it, “the instrument used to create this wound lies directly in the University’s hand. But without Harvard, I wouldn’t be able to begin putting some of these pieces together.”
Of course, once you do, one understands these are connections and stories that were never meant to be seen or heard. By anyone. Ask anyone about the Philippine American War of 1898 and see the blank stares. “You mean the Spanish American War?” they might ask. Empire is complicated. And shameful. No one wants to talk about a nasty foray into imperialism. Not by the paragon of democracy. Why else would the artifacts and writings be buried so deep in darkened archives, opened only when someone decides to reopen a wound and feel the generations of colonial pain?
Of course, you don’t need to be a scholar to feel the pain. If you’re Filipino or Filipino American, colonization’s consequences run deep. The wound is never quite healed. There’s just a feeling of unworthiness that never goes away, fueled by a general ignorance of history.
When I read Wikstrom’s piece, it reminded me of my own journey more than 40 years ago into a Harvard library to find out about my father’s experience. He came to the U.S. as a Filipino American national in the 1920s. He was one of the “savages” educated the American way, only to arrive here not quite a full American.
That’s the importance of everyone knowing each other’s ethnic history. If we’re open to learning and understanding, it’s healing knowledge.
In this edition of “Emil Amok’s Takeout,” I talk with Wikstrom and compare notes about how Filipinos are seen and not seen as Asian Americans. And we talk about how there is hope that the $45 million gift Harvard has received for Asian American studies will be used to build an academic approach that is comprehensive in its coverage of Asian American peoples.
Maybe enough to include a class in Tagalog.