I grew up to a Philippines which was Filipino on the outside but American on the inside. How Filipinos then thought of themselves can best be described by paraphrasing a line from Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket, that inside every Filipino, there’s an American trying to get out. Yes, the country was like that.
Back then, if one opened the television set, majority of the programs would be syndicated shows from the US which were presented in English, the advertisements were in English and even the newscasts by Filipino anchors of Philippine news was in English. Everything which came from the states was considered top of the line, the best, sought for, a must have.
Of course, it was not difficult to see why. It was the middle of the Cold War and the country, being a former US colony, was locked in step with the US in both its cultural and military offensive against communism and its agents. The country also had two of the biggest US military bases outside the United States with several smaller facilities maintained in other parts of the country. The war against student activists, farmers, teachers, community organizers and labor leaders was in full swing, being that Marcos’ Bagong Lipunan was an ally in the global war against communism.
Prior to all that, the country had been under US tutelage from the turn of the century up to the end of the Second World War. And although the US flag over the islands was lowered on July 4, 1946, the influence of the US government on the islands was so strong that it still felt like the Philippines would eventually fall back into the American fold. US influence on politics, business, defense, education and even media was ever present that Filipinos kept themselves updated on what was happening in the US Congress, the US economy, the US military and we were even taught bits and pieces of American history in our elementary classes.
And that’s how I came upon people like Thomas Paine, Patrick Henry, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. With ideas coming from Common Sense; the passion to demand for Liberty or Death; the character to Join or Die; and the belief that All Men are Created Equal, I started to view the US government differently from the American people. I began to see that the US, like the Philippines, is a country which was founded on lofty ideals but owing the frailty of its leaders, has found itself far removed from the democratic republic it was envisioned to be.
I would eventually find that the differing ideas expressed by the Founding Fathers would clash. And what the United States has become, is the result of an evolution with which some of the principles, which had been the reason for its existence, had to be sacrificed to accommodate the ambitions of its political leaders and interest groups.
Instead of being a democratic republic composed of many autonomous states, the US would become a country with a strong central government. Instead of being a country where all human beings are endowed with freedom and rights, it would deny the same to certain races, religions or groups of people. Instead of being the vanguard of democracy, it would go on to install and support dictatorships in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and Asia.
From where I am, I would hazard to say that what consumes America’s good reputation abroad is the actions of its politicians and its businessmen. It is the flip-flopping and pragmatic attitude of American political leaders and exploitative nature of American businessmen, which have caused the loss of faith of not only political and business leaders in other countries, but also ordinary citizens like me. And while in most cases, this loss of faith has amounted to nothing, there are instances where it has resulted to professed hatred towards the US. And sometimes the rage is acted out.
But coming from a country which has a long history of oppression, I would also take comfort in the words of Americans who worked for change and inspired the world. When I think of public service, I recall how George Washington refused to be called titles; when I think of humility, I remember how Abraham Lincoln never felt ashamed of growing up poor; when I think of civil rights, Medgar Evers’ selfless devotion comes into mind; when I need inspiration, I go through words from Robert F. Kennedy to find some.
Imperfect as it may be, the United States of America will always be the country where the greatest experiment in mass-based governance first took root and has stayed on. And while it has not been always faithful to the ideals on which it was founded, the will of the American people to continuously pursue their Life, their Liberty and their Pursuit of Happiness has made that great experiment continuously evolving.
You have bad politicians and a sick government America. But you have a lot of good people. And until your people continue to believe in the same principles enshrined in your Declaration of Independence and your Constitution, you will always be retracing your steps every time you lose your way. That I would like to continue to believe in.
I shall end this with lines from one of my favorite Americans. An American who stood up against the ambitions of imperialism at a time when many in the US had flirted with dreams of becoming a world power.
In a monarchy, the king and his family are the country; in a republic it is the common voice of the people. Each of you, for himself, by himself and on his own responsibility, must speak. And it is a solemn and weighty responsibility, and not lightly to be flung aside at the bullying of pulpit, press, government, or the empty catch-phrases of politicians. Each must for himself alone decide what is right and what is wrong, and which course is patriotic and which isn’t. You cannot shirk this and be a man. To decide it against your convictions is to be an unqualified and inexcusable traitor, both to yourself and to your country, let men label you as they may. If you alone of all the nation shall decide one way, and that way be the right way according to your convictions of the right, you have done your duty by yourself and by your country — hold up your head! You have nothing to be ashamed of.
-Mark Twain, Letters from the Earth-Papers of the Adams Family
I hope there would still be Americans like Mark Twain. Americans willing to stand up for what is right, what is just and what is good. Americans who can really say that they come from the land of the free and the home of the brave.