Colonial Mentality in the Filipino-/American Community

An intro to Colonial Mentality and its effects on the Filipino-/American community, in recognition and celebration of Filipino American History Month. We acknowledge that there are many terms to describe the community: Filipinx/a/o, and have chosen to use “Filipino” in this resource.

On her flight back home from visiting my auntie in Canada, my mom looked up from her plane ticket to find that she was sitting next to a man who she had an inkling was also Filipino. She was eager to talk to him. After a bit of small talk, my mom was able to casually sneak in the question: “Pilipino ka ba?” (Are you Filipino?). To her delight, she found out that he was actually from Ilocos, her and my dad’s home province in the Philippines. Naturally, she started speaking to him in Ilokano. What was odd was that even though he clearly understood what she was saying, he continued responding back to her in English. Thinking he would be more comfortable speaking in Filipino (the national language of the Philippines), she changed dialects. He continued to respond in English. Confused, my mom asked him how long he had been in the States. She wondered, “Maybe he’s been away for so long that he’d just forgotten how to speak the language?” To her surprise, he responded “6 years.” My mom, who had moved to the States when she was 16, had been living in the US for nearly 35 years. She admitted that she had lost some of the vocabularies, but that there was no way the man on the plane could have forgotten how to speak both languages. As she was retelling this story to me, I could see the recounted look of annoyance and disappointment on her face. She asked, “Did he think he was better than me because he was speaking in English?” 

I think of this story often whenever I think of colonial mentality and its effects on the Filipino-/American community. First colonized by Spain for nearly 300 years from the 1560s to the 1890s, then Japan during World War II from 1941-1945, and then the US from 1898-1946, (in addition to the fact that the Philippines is an archipelago with each island and peoples having its own culture and identity), it is without saying that the Philippines’ culture and identity is difficult to grasp and define. (Let alone our history, which for the most part wasn’t recorded during the periods of colonization.) The uncertainties of what do and do not define our culture after having been colonized for so long have created colonial mentality, which has generated feelings of otherness and shame toward our identity and ultimately ourselves. 


What is Colonial Mentality?

By definition, it is “a form of internalized oppression that conditions colonized people to believe that their ethnic or cultural identity is inferior to Western culture or whiteness. Therefore, they live their lives striving to be westernized and learning to hate their indigenous roots.”1 Another definition is that it “involves . . . uncritical rejection of anything Filipino and . . . uncritical preference for anything American” (David & Okazaki, 2006b, p.241).

Colonial Mentality in Filipino-/Americans

Filipinos were enticed to move to the States for greater opportunities— a good majority going to Hawai’i to work on the pineapple plantations and in California on the Delano grape farms. There were expectations that when folx moved from the Philippines to the States, that they would be guaranteed enough wealth to support themselves and their families in the Philippines. 

In essence, my parents were raised with the pursuit of the American Dream in mind— that where they were was not enough. When they finally got here, they needed to assimilate to survive— to perfect their English, to give up dreams of school and/or pursuing careers that began in the Philippines, and quickly adapt to American customs. It is no wonder that they had lost a bit of themselves and their culture along the way. They were witnessing firsthand that being American was correct, and being Filipino was wrong.

Examples of Colonial Mentality

As a second-generation Filipino American, I experienced a trickle-down effect  with colonial mentality. My 9 cousins and I were raised by my grandma who learned to speak English, and spoke it well. Aside from eating the Filipino food that she made, making fun of our parents’ accents, and reluctantly helping our families change the TV channel from Nickelodeon to ABS-CBN at exactly 12pm so that they could watch the popular game show “Wowowee”, we didn’t talk about or learn anything about our history or culture. Oftentimes, when one of us acted  “too Filipino” we made fun of each other for it. “Whoa, you sound like your mom.”
“Ew, you said that with an accent.”
(Pointing to any Filipino dish): “You don’t have to eat that. My dad is ordering pizza.” 

The feelings of shame were intensified at school and more feelings of “otherness” arose. In elementary school, we were shamed for bringing Filipino food or anything that wasn’t American. In high school, I remember having two separate “Asian” groups: the one I spent time with, and the other we referred to as “the FOBs” who we made fun of for speaking in Tagalog all the time— as though speaking in our native tongue was wrong and comical. High school was also the first time I heard my friends proudly call themselves “coconuts” and “bananas” where they were brown or yellow on the outside, but white on the inside— proudly proclaiming that they had achieved whiteness.

Other examples that stem from colonial mentality include:

  • Being told not to stay out for too long “or else you’ll get dark”.
  • Using skin-whitening products
  • Pinching babies’ noses to make them appear sharper

Colonial Mentality and Mental Health

In addition to behaviors that perpetuate colonial mentality (ex: neighbor bathing kid in milk to achieve lighter complexion, not staying out in the sun, etc.), it is also important to address the insidious impacts of colonial mentality on our mental health. Surely, hearing constant messages about how being Filipino is bad or not good enough and striving to achieve unattainable whiteness will have an effect on how we may view ourselves in a negative light (e.g. self-doubt, low self-worth, self-esteem and low ethnic identity).  Researchers on Filipino American psychology have also found a relationship between colonial mentality and depression (Nadal, 2011). 

  1. Denigration of oneself (hating one’s own brown skin and/or “Filipino nose”, which could cause low self-esteem) 
  2. Denigration of one’s culture (e.g. believing that Filipino food is not as good as American pizza, not using Filipino language because English is superior, denying Filipino identity or claiming pride in self as “mixed Filipino-Spanish/Chinese/Hawaiian” but not claiming Filipino when asked about ethnicity) 
  3. Discrimination against those who are less acculturated (i.e. making fun of “FOBS” and/or  judging those with thick Filipino accents  as less intelligent) 
  4. Tolerance and acceptance of contemporary oppression of one’s ethnic group: acceptance, forgiveness and appreciation of the colonizer because of feelings of indebtedness; therefore denying any negative impact of colonialism 
  5. Hierarchy between Filipinos and Filipino-Americans/within groups based on how you look (more mestizo is better), education (American-educated vs Philippines-educated), religion (Catholic Christian vs Muslim Filipinos), language spoken, etc.

Decolonization and Healing Action Items (in no particular order)

Decolonization can be defined as “the process of humanizing the dehumanized by promoting positive mental health and identity for persons of colonized backgrounds” (Strobel, 2001).  Here are some action items you can take toward healing in no particular order:

  • Learning about the colonial history of Philippines
  • Reflecting on how colonial mentality is present in your life and those around you, and becoming aware of how it impacts your mental health
  • Having conversations with friends/family members about colonial mentality, collective strength, and resilience
  • Storytelling: share your experience with someone you trust and feel safe with, maybe someone who may have had similar experiences growing up or in their day-to-day lives
  • Cultivating hope, strength, resilience, and resistance (looking to our ancestors, leaning on spirituality, social support) 
  • If you have access, finding a culturally-responsive therapist who is willing to see and understand you as a whole and who you can talk to about your experiences of oppression, ethnic identity, etc.)
  • Engaging in social action/activism towards decolonization  
  • Connecting with community: become involved in a Filipino org/club/community that you feel safe, comfortable, and connect with
  • Practicing self-care in the process of healing. Find what works for you or things you enjoy. 
  • Being gentle with yourself and your healing. This is generations of colonialism/colonial mentality that you are trying to unlearn.

Reflection Questions

There is no wrong or right way to go around decolonization. But recognition and reflection are two of the first few steps we can take toward healing and reclaiming our identities. Here are a few questions to help get you started:

If you identify as Filipino-/American and/or believe you have experienced colonial mentality:

  • What are your parents’ and/or grandparents’ stories? How do they reflect on their views, time, and journeys to the US?
  • Growing up, what were some of the things that you faced that you believed stemmed from colonial mentality?
  • Reflect on moments in which you felt shame about your background. Why did those feelings of shame emerge?
  • What were you taught as good or bad?
  • In your point of view, what does it mean to be Filipino-/American? What are Filipino-/American values, traditions, practices, and characteristics that you’re proud of?

If you believe you have not experienced colonial mentality:

  • How can I support friends who may be healing and going through their journey in decolonization?
  • Have I made the effort to listen to the stories of people of color and/or marginalized voices?
  • Evaluate the quality and poverty of your friendships and your community. How can you offer and provide a space of inclusivity and belonging? (per Gabes Torres, IG: @gabestorres)

Looking Ahead

Decolonizing is reimagining something beyond the current world we live in. It’s challenging ourselves to dismantle what generations of colonial expansion and Western exceptionalism have taught us as  “better, more beautiful, more refined, etc.”  Derek Sivers, an American writer, mentioned in his book that “fish don’t know they’re in water.” We have been surrounded by this mentality. It’s no wonder that we haven’t realized why we think the way we think or act the way we act. 

Remember, decolonizing takes a lot of conscious and constant effort to unlearn.  And often, it’s easier to swim with the current than fight against it. In order to reframe our thinking and change our perspective, we first have to understand what we are decolonizing from. 

When we challenge colonial mentality, we begin to accept and embrace ourselves for who we are. We start to put aside shame and celebrate where we’ve come from. It’s time to jump out of the water.


Resources

  • Find a therapist who understands and celebrates your identity. A good place to start is Inclusive Therapists 
  • FilAm psychology related books:
    • Brown Skin, White Minds by EJR David (talks A LOT about colonial mentality!)
    • Filipino American Psychology Handbook of theory, research and clinical practice by Kevin Nadal
    • Latinos of Asia by Anthony Ocampo
  • General decolonizing related resources:
    • Decolonizing Methodologies by Linda Tuhiwai Smith
    • My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies by Resmaa Menakem
    • Finding Our Way Podcast with Prentis Hemphill
  • Other resources

Special thank you to Paula Ong and Jess Hernandez (IG: @hernandezjess) for their time, support, ideas, and guidance with this project. 


Citation

Seeking Virtual Mental Health Care

45% of adults say that the pandemic has affected their mental health.

The pandemic has created a paradox in our mental health care. At this time when we are in more need of support for anxiety and depression, the resources that provide it are harder to access in person.

Should I consider starting therapy now, especially if I can’t go in person?

You might not have previously felt the need for mental health services, but can now be struggling on how to deal with the increased anxiety, uncertainty, and isolation due to the pandemic. Searching for a health provider, especially a mental health one, can be daunting. Surprisingly, now is actually a good time to find low-threshold access to care.

You can avoid the trek from office to office, find lower copays, and expand your search for licensed clinicians beyond just your state. Therapy is more available than ever, and at potentially better prices.

What about cost – what if I don’t have insurance?

It’s crucial to understand how you will pay for therapy. Consider looking into Federally Qualified Health Centers – community-based centers that offer mental health and substance use services. They are required to prioritize individuals living within their areas of service, so be sure to look into those within your neighborhood.

Many health centers are authorized and encouraged to provide Telehealth services right now.

What about cost – what if I do have insurance?

With private health insurance, many providers are currently waiving copays for Telehealth visits. Some states like California and Arizona are ordering companies to cover Telehealth services.

Be sure to do a deep dive of your insurance benefits and policies. It’s important to understand how much your deductible is (if you have a high deductible plan), how to file claims if a therapist is out of network, and how much your plan covers for mental health services.

Many therapists offer a sliding scale fee for sessions, depending on your level of income. You can bring this up during the initial phone consultation if financials are an issue.

How do I go about finding a therapist I like?

If you have insurance, you can use your insurance member portal to find covered practitioners. If that doesn’t apply to you, you can use other reputable online sources such as Teladoc, Amwell, MDLIve, or Doctor on Demand.

Therapy Brands has a directory searchable by region and speciality, and Psychology Today has a directory for of therapists for price comparisons. Using a mix of multiple sources can help in your research on potential practitioners.

You can also use online therapist matching sources if you prefer receiving recommendations based on your form responses. Some resources are Advekit, My Wellbeing, and Inclusive Therapists.

What should I expect with virtual therapy?

Expect some awkwardness at first
No matter what channel, online therapy will be a different experience from an in-person session. Don’t be agitated if it doesn’t feel like you and your therapist are instantaneously in syync.

Practice speaking your emotions directly
If you’ve been to in-person therapy, you may be used to your practitioner being able to observe your body language and facial expressions to pick up on your emotions. Without bodily cues, it can be more effective for you to start flexing these self-awareness muscles out loud in a safe space.

Anything else I should know in preparation?

Ask about free phone consultations
Most therapists offer a free 15 minute phone call before a session. This is a great time not only for you to express why you’re seeking therapy, but also to understand their qualifications, therapy style, and costs.

Take time to find the right match
It may take sessions with different therapists to see what style of communication is most effective for you. Don’t be discouraged if the first person you meet with isn’t a match – it’s normal to see a few different people before finding a practitioner you connect with.


Sources

7 Tips for Making the Most of online Therapy During the COVID-19 Outbreak
Therapists and Patients Find Common Ground: Virus-Fueled Anxiety
How to find a therapist during the Covid-19 pandemic

Safety Planning for Suicide Prevention

Download Printable Black and White PDF of the Safety Plan Here


September is Suicide Prevention & Awareness Month

Though it is critical and life-saving to create individual safety plans in case you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts and ideation, it’s important to note that suicide prevention also includes more accessible health care, destigmatizing mental health, breaking cycles of trauma, and nurturing community care. 

Below, you’ll find a safety plan template for crisis recovery and suicide prevention. You can also download a PDF version here.

Safety Plan for Crisis Recovery

What are some warning signs and potential triggers (mood, behaviors, images, thoughts)?

What can bring me or the subject of this safety plan comfort without contacting another person (meditation, journaling, exercise, taking a walk)?

People to call and/or text for help, distraction, or comfort:

Name: _____________________ Phone: _________________ Email: ___________________

Name: _____________________ Phone: _________________ Email: ___________________

Name: _____________________ Phone: _________________ Email: ___________________

Places I can go or think of that bring safety and comfort.

Safe Transportation Methods: 

Person/Service Name: ________________________ Contact: _________________________

Person/Service Name: ________________________ Contact: _________________________

Person/Service Name: ________________________ Contact: _________________________

Professional Support to Contact During a Crisis: 

Community Worker: ____________________________________
Phone: __________________________________________________
Email/Online Contact: __________________________________

Therapist: ______________________________________________
Phone: _________________________________________________
Email/Online Contact: __________________________________

Local Police: ____________________________________________
Phone: _________________________________________________
Email/Online Contact: __________________________________

Local Hospital: _________________________________________
Phone: _________________________________________________
Email/Online Contact: __________________________________


24/7 Crisis Hotlines:

U.S. National Suicide Prevention Hotline (English & Spanish): 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
Trans Lifeline: U.S: 877-565-8860 | CA: 877-330-6366
Trevor Lifeline for LGBTQIA+ Youth: 1-866-488-7386

Crisis Textline (if you are uncomfortable or not in an environment to speak on the phone):
US & Canada: Text HOME to 741741
UK: Text 85258
Ireland: Text 50808

Lifeline Crisis Chat: 
http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org (available 24/7)

Center for the Asian Pacific Family, 24-Hour Multilingual Crisis Helpline:
1-800-339-3940
AASRA 24/7 Hotline (Based in Mumbai):
91-9820466726 (Languages :  English, Hindi.)

Warning Signs

There is no one single cause or sets of indicators. However, the following are commonly identified warning signs of suicide:

  • Talking about suicide (includes jokes and indirect remarks)
  • Finding ways to take ones own life, including stockpiling items
  • A change of day-to-day routine
  • Increased risk-behavior such as alcohol and drug use, walking alone at night, driving recklessly
  • Developing personality changes such as irritability, anxiousness, agitation
  • Withdrawing or feeling isolated
  • Talking about being a burden to others

Every safety plan and road to recovery looks different, we encourage you to approach each situation and each person with empathy. If you suspect that someone is contemplating suicide, reach out, listen, maintain communication, and implement a safety plan that fits their needs. Do not be afraid to reach out to a mental health professional for further guidance.


Suicide Statistics

Content warning: The following information goes over data related to suicide and suicide attempts, and may be triggering to some readers. Should you choose to continue reading and find yourself in need of immediate help at any time, please refer to our Find Help page here. Thank you.

  • Based on CDC’s Data & Statistics Fatal Injury Report for 2018:
    • Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the US
    • In 2018, 48,344 Americans died by suicide
    • In 2018, there were an estimated 1.4M suicide attempts
    • The highest U.S. age-adjusted suicide rate was among Whites (16.84 in 100,000) and the second highest rate was among American Indians and Alaska Natives (14.12). Rates for Black or African Americans was 7.03, and for Asians and Pacific Islanders, it was 7.16. 1
  • 90% of those who died by suicide had a diagnosable mental health condition at the time of their death. 2

Statistics in BIPOC Communities:

Indigenous/ Alaska Native Community

  • For American Indian and Alaska Native populations, the age-adjusted suicide death rate increased from 15.4 per 100,000 in 2009 to 22.1 per 100,000 in 2018.​3
  • American-Indian/Alaskan Native women aged 15-24 have the highest suicide rate compared to all racial/ethnic groups.4
  • In 2017, suicide was the second leading cause of death for American Indian/Alaska Natives between the ages of 10 and 34.5

Black, African American Community

  • Among children age 5-11, black children had the highest rate of death by suicide. (Between 1993-1997 and 2008-2012, it increased from 1.36 to 2.54 per 1 million, compared to 1.18 to 1.09 per 1 million among all children). 6
  • In 2017, suicide was the second leading cause of death for African Americans, ages 15 to 24.7
  • The death rate from suicide for African American men was more than four times greater than for African American women, in 2017.
  • African American females, grades 9-12, were 70 percent more likely to attempt suicide in 2017, as compared to non-Hispanic white females of the same age.
  • A report from the U.S. Surgeon General found that from 1980 – 1995, the suicide rate among African Americans ages 10 to 14 increased 233 percent, as compared to 120 percent of non-Hispanic whites.8

Asian American Community

  • Suicide was the leading cause of death for Asian Americans, ages 15 to 24, in 2017.
  • Asian American females, in grades 9-12, were 20 percent more likely to attempt suicide as compared to non-Hispanic white female students, in 2017.
  • Southeast Asian refugees are at risk for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) associated with trauma experienced before and after immigration to the U.S. One study found that 70% of Southeast Asian refugees receiving mental health care were diagnosed with PTSD.
  • The overall suicide rate for Asians Americans is half that of the non-Hispanic white population.9

Hispanic/ Latino American Community

  • The death rate from suicide for Hispanic men was four times the rate for Hispanic women, in 2017.
  • In 2017, suicide was the second leading cause of death for Hispanics, ages 15 to 34.10
  • Suicide attempts for Hispanic girls, grades 9-12, were 40 percent higher than for non-Hispanic white girls in the same age group, in 2017.
  • Non-Hispanic whites received mental health treatment twice as often as Hispanics, in 2018. 11

Native Hawaiians/ Pacific Islander Community

  • In 2018, Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander adults had similar rates of mental illness as compared to non-Hispanic whites.
  • However in 2018, Native Hawaiians/Pacific Islanders were significantly less likely to receive mental health services or to receive prescription medications for mental health treatment.
  • National behavioral health statistics for Native Hawaiians/Pacific Islanders is limited at this time.12