It is still being said that the greatest issue facing the Filipino American community is its identity. This could be attributed to the fact that most Americans have slight or no knowledge about Filipinos, and, not surprisingly, it is arguable that Filipinos do not know themselves. This invisibility in U.S. history books is one of many issues surrounding Filipino identity and has been discussed by scholars and Filipino American community members as a substantial factor in the experiences of contemporary Filipino Americans. Even though Filipinos established communities in the continental United States as early as 1763 in the Bayous of Louisiana, little is known about Filipinos in the United States, and even less information is available in libraries, resource centers, or institutions of higher education. Despite their involvement in preserving our nation during the War of 1812 and contributions in the agricultural and fishing industry, Filipinos remain invisible in our society. Invisibility does not only occur in larger societal views of Filipino Americans but also in the curricula of educational institutions. Invisibility in the curriculum makes the formation of a Filipino American youth’s identity difficult, creating identity confusion and inherited colonial mentality.
Although the Filipino American family and community have a major influence in shaping students’ attitude towards self, school plays a significant role in influencing students’ attitudes toward self perception and their role in society. School has become more than just a place where students come to read. Following the progressive model, education had become a place where students learned to think, and schools were designed to socialize all people into Americans. Schools should support students to understand their ethnic, national, and global identifications for an individual can attain a healthy and reflective national identification only when the student has acquired a healthy and reflective ethnic identification. This invisibility in the curriculum influences how Filipino and Filipino American students construct knowledge. Examining the knowledge construction process provides insight into the current Filipino American identity issues.
The issues of identity, particularly colonial mentality, have reflected through the Filipino American student academic achievement gap throughout the nation. In 1993, the San Diego Unified School District completed a survey of 1,788 high schools students about coping with assimilation. Filipino American females had seriously considered attempting suicide within the past 12 months of the survey more than any other group in 1993. Filipino American counselors have indicated that the findings of the survey reinforced their beliefs that Filipino American adolescents are uncertain about how to cope with cultural conflicts and social pressures to assimilate. In 1997, I helped conduct a study that demonstrated the influence of assimilation. In this study, we found that Filipino American students were uncomfortable and resisted curricula that center Filipino American experiences more than their African American and White peers. The findings described how the Filipino American students “inherited colonial attitudes” from their parents. This was attributed to the education they received in the Philippines. A few scholars also said that the immigrant Filipinos fought to change America into the “Promised Land” that they had learned about as students in the Philippines. In interpreting Philippine history, through educational conditioning these parents valued the colonizer’s perspective and degraded the colonized which they viewed Spanish and American as good. Filipino Americans internalized the belief that anything related to their ethnic identity was negative and that the education they received from their colonizers was true and without fault.
In 2006, 73 percent of Filipino students in the Seattle Public School failed the science component and 55 percent failed the math component of the 10th grade WASL test required for graduation. This is directly related to the identity issue because it brings attention to how school, teachers, peer group, and related factor contribute to the Filipino American achievement gap. Teachers know little about Filipino American history and are unable to recognize its value. Filipino American students often experience cultural conflict in the different messages they receive about being Filipino; the personal and cultural knowledge they acquire from home and the academic and formal knowledge from school.
With these low expectations from school and teachers, Filipino American students distanced themselves from schooling.
As an example, high school classes to this day continue to be unsuccessful in deconstructing stereotypes that are attributed to shaping identity. Filipino American students point out that they have internalized these stereotypes and presupposed that Filipino Americans had little or no contributions to our nation. Acquiring this belief led from one stereotype to another, such as being passive and foreign which affected their academic achievement and self-esteem. Furthermore, their peers who were mostly students of color also internalized their cultural stereotypes such as being lazy, troublemakers, and under achievers. Collectively they began to question facts in textbooks, especially in history and American government classes, as demonstration of resistance to the stereotypes internalized.
Much of the class time was spent on “disciplining them” instead of giving them the opportunity to be engaged through discussions. All they wanted was to be heard by the teachers who were in the position of power. Even though the teachers were knowledgeable with their respective subjects, “they could not relate” to them and the teachers “could not relate to them”. Teachers with no cultural responsiveness could interpret this as “acting out”. It was not that they were unwilling to learn, it was more that the teachers were not giving them the opportunity to learn and providing them with appropriate instruction.
According to the NAFAA data on K-12 Filipino students, board members and K-12 administrators highly recommend:
- Hiring more Filipino administrators, teachers and counselors, ensuring staff that can culturally and appropriately deal with the challenges and problems Filipino students encounter in the school system on a daily basis.
- Revising and infusing existing curricula with Filipino culture, history and experiential content, and provide other educators with training that introduces them to Filipino culture, history, practices and skills enabling them to work more effectively with Filipino students.
- Involving Filipino community members and parents in the school’s daily operations and special programs which can be achieved in coalition with other ethnic groups when the opportunities arise and place Filipino educators in leadership and succession positions.
Furthermore, our community possesses enough resources and networks to establish a new organization or existing agency (like FYA and FYEP) to meet the academic, cultural, and social needs of the Filipino American youth. These suggestions will help clarify and understand identity issues, increase reflective citizenry, civic engagement, and bridge our academic achievement gap.