Confessions of a 21st Century Indio

Oct 27, 2010
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Does being brown mean you’re “inferior” to other races? How do Filipinos deal with being just “brown”?

When I was in grade school, my Sibika (Philippine history) teachers taught me that very familiar lesson on the “Filipino race” on United Nations Week. I was the palest kid in class, so I wore the suit and tie and represented the United States. The darkest kid in class represented some African country, and there was always someone dressed in Filipiñana. We were all called to the front, and the teacher started the lesson:

When you mix white blood (pointing to me) and black blood (pointing to my classmate) together, you will get… (the class recites, “Filipino!”).


Taking up Anthropology in college was a scholarly adaptation of United Nations Week, without global cosplay and potluck buffet but with the addition of thick readings, but it still reinforced the notion of “mixtures”.

H. Otley Beyer, for example, defined two weeks of migratory patterns in a class one semester. Waves of migration, as well as colonization, affirmed the mathematics of bloodline: black + white = brown. Drawing pedigree charts would trace your lineage to anything but a “Filipino race”. This affirms the family story of coming from China and Spain, unearthing some possibility of a “dark” ancestor being married – or raped – by a “white” colonizer.

The cosmetics aisles of the supermarket are filled with shelves of whitening soaps, whitening lotions, and everything else to make you “white”. There is a methodical detaching from “brown” that goes beyond skin care: the voluminous rants and raves of “Only in the Philippines,” and “Kasi naman ang Pinoy”. It’s a kind of bleaching that goes beyond papaya soap, like adapting a conventional name and place when you work in a call center, for example. Or to leave the Philippines is to “seek greener pastures,” no longer pakikipagsapalaran (displacement in search of fortune). A word that, in itself, connotes poverty, promdi (from the province), and degradation.

Every undertone and overtone of it is racist: from the Sibika classes to the Anthro lectures, from glutathione creams to kutis-mayaman (the fair skin of the rich) billboards in EDSA. Or adjusting color and hue in Photoshop pictures to make one less brown than he or she should be. It is the 21st century rebuilding – and reaffirming – of indio.

Hundreds of years of colonization,  and living in the shadow of Colony,  strip people of pride and identity.

There’s a method to the whitewash. Hundreds of years of colonization, and living in the shadow of Colony, strip people of pride and identity. The white gleam of Agapito Flores’ light bulb is always juxtaposed against the color of his skin, so he never could have invented it.

Manny Pacquiao, fighting in a white canvas, is brown, and therefore he’s not fighting for Filipino pride but is fighting for money, just like how Charice would sing among a white ensemble. The success of colonization – and its vestiges in education – makes brown “inferior” because it is a mixture. A bastard. If races were dogs – Caucasoid, Negroid, and Mongoloid – then there’s no place for brown, and therefore it would be a mutt.

Reinforcing indio is “mixture:” brown skin is Negrito subjugated by Espanyol, giving rise to “medium” height and pango (flat) noses.


144 Photograph of a Philippine "Indio" dressed in "Baro ng Tagalog" Date c. 1870. (Photo credit: The Colonial Imaginary. Photography in the Philippines during the Spanish Period 1860-1898 Exhibition Catalog by Sociedad Española de Acción Cultural en el Exteri


There are many things wrong with Filipino culture, yet they are founded on the basic premise of “mixtures,” and the method of oppression that goes with it. If you were treated as a slave for 300 years, then you identify with the habits of the slave. If you were treated as an inferior when you stood alongside white people because of the color of your skin, the flatness of your nose, and that you’re the shortest person in the crowd. ”Mixture” is to treat yourself as “impure,” and therefore you should be enslaved, and any effort you do to stand out from the crowd to give your people some measure of pride is questionable, because you’re brown.

I write this essay to emphasize that the reclamation of Filipino pride means to challenge race, and the structures of power created by race, that keep us away from pride. Our struggle is no different from the black in America, the Korean in Japan: that we are continually subjugated by race. Whether it’s the overt degradation of Filipinos in blog posts, or the subliminal humiliation of brown skin colors in glutathione therapy, “brown” is to stigmatize, to lump us in the Other of colors that aren’t “black” or “white.” Yet the faults of Filipino culture are layers of colonial subjugation: faults impressed and emphasized to validate and justify things like polo y servicios, Manifest Destiny, the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, and “protecting” and “developing” the Filipino. Post-colonization and neo-colonization that continue to drive Filipinos into a continued state of helplessness.

We cannot reclaim Pinoy pride solely through boxing matches or a catalogue of personalities, but to distance ourselves from slavery.

We cannot reclaim Pinoy pride solely through boxing matches or a catalogue of personalities, but to distance ourselves from slavery. African-Americans rejoiced with Joe Louis, but continued to be defined by the Aunt Jemima’s and Uncle Ben’s of their stereotype. Heck, it cannot be reclaimed by a blog post. It takes a movement to correct the errors of education: to emphasize that we had sophisticated culture and governance before our colonizers subjugated and destroyed it with method. It takes a movement to render race illegitimate, that it is the shallowest and most inane facet of human difference. It takes a movement to reclaim our pride: that we are Filipino, that we are recovering from our addiction to Colony and driven out of place of our own country.