Filipino American History Month: Combatting Double Erasure as an Educator

Editor's Note: In addition to recaps of our VOICE offerings, we also feature original pieces by our Communication Fellows. Here, we're pleased to share a timely reflection from AIE student Tony DelaRosa. 

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As co-chair of the Pan-Asian Coalition for Education (PACE) at the Harvard Graduate School of
Education (HGSE), I openly feel embarrassed for not knowing that October was attributed to
celebrating Filipino heritage (founded in 1988). I recently discovered this after seeing that a
colleague had posted an article from a 2016 Huffington Post entitled, "Why We Celebrate Filipino History Month” written by Kevin Nadal who is the Professor of Psychology at the City University of New York.

More than it speaks to my ignorance does it speak to the erasure and nature of what it means to be Filipinx in 21st century America. I intentionally choose to use the nomenclature “Filipinx” as an ally and a form of solidarity with the LGBTQIA community. If not in proximity to larger Filipinx-American communities, it's easy to succumb to the negative residue of diaspora and identity crisis. For example, when Filipinx-Americans live in a community where the ecosystem from grocery store to restaurant to neighborhood mirror themselves, a greater sense of solidarity and belonging are available. However, when Filipinx-Americans become isolated and enter communities where they are not reflected in the community, there tends to be a higher chance of assimilation and cultural amnesia, thus resulting in erasure. Even if we are a proud community with a rich culture and history, the sad truth is that many of us don’t know that October is a dedication to our community.

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We are a story of double erasure caused by more than 300 years of Spanish colonization from the 1500's to late 1800's. This transitioned into another form of erasure entrenched by white supremacy and being denied legal naturalization until the mid-1900's. In the eyes of our white US saviors, we were still classified as subhuman, as “half devil and half child,” as a "White Man's Burden" according to famous journalist and racist, Rudyard Kipling. In taking an Ethnic Studies course this year with Professor Christina Villarreal, I begin a slow and hard protest against this narrative. I’ve grown more and more suspicious of the intentional systemic omissions of Filipinx-American identity from institutional memory, especially in the form of history and literacy curriculums across the US.

So what does it mean to be Filipinx-American in an era where the motherland (Philippines) is ruled by a dictator (Duterte) and your new homeland (US) has no formal agenda to empower your community? Even within the Pan-Asian community, we continue to fight for presence despite the fact that we are the 3rd largest Asian American ethnic group in the US (according a 2015 census). Being denied leadership and agency within our own affinities in the past, I'm adamant to lead PACE with Filipinx-American as an intentional identity.

Perhaps, as a literacy teacher this is why I gravitated towards teaching When I Was Puerto Rican by Esmeralda Santiago (Harvard '76) and American Born Chinese by Gene Yang. With Santiago, I saw myself in her unapologetic story. Maybe it's the fact that both of our histories are soaked in colonization and were declared "decolonized" in 1898. Perhaps, identity crisis is partially what drew both of us to Harvard’s message of “veritas” and seeking to deconstruct this elusive concept of “truth.”

In terms of American Born Chinese, for once an asian voice was the focal point. To that one student in every classroom who identifies as Filipinx-American but doesn’t see this reflected in any of the content they learn, I hear you and mabuhay [translates to “long live” in Tagalog]. You are a protest. But one thing rings true, teaching these two stories could never capture the vital nuances of what it truly means to exist in this country as Filipinx-American.

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This month there’s so much to be intentional about, and ironically, Filipino American History Month intersects with Hispanic Heritage Month. Histories are set up to compete with one another, which causes a pendulum. In the Arts in Education program at HGSE, our program director, Steve Seidel, challenged us to reflect on what it means to be a teacher vs. artist. It's difficult to unpack another pendulous layer of identities. It’s a privilege to be able to do this without thinking so heavily about one’s ethnic and racial identity. To people of color like myself, it’s inextricable. But in doing so, I plan on writing, performing, and sharing my own spoken word poetry about my Filipinx-American identity with my students and in the community as a form of protest against double erasure. This is also a form of practicing what I preach. I want my students to understand that I am still going through a journey of recreating my own history as they recreate theirs. Despite not sharing the direct ethnic and racial affinity with all of my students of color, there’s a power in recognizing moments of solidarity and hope. I want them to know that it's ok to find it difficult to peel off the layers that similarly have silenced their communities, recognizing at times it’s both painful and exhausting. I want them to believe that learning history is not just about a fixed past, but about a presence and future of necessary radical reconstruction and healing.


Tony DelaRosa is a 2017-18 Masters student in the Arts in Education program at the Harvard
Graduate School of Education (HGSE). He serves as both the appointed Tri-Chair of the 16th
Annual Alumni of Color Conference and the Co-Chair of the Pan-Asian Coalition for Education.
He runs a youth spoken word organization called
Boston Pulse Poetry, which co-empowers
youth of color to create change for themselves and their communities through the art of public
speaking and spoken word poetry. He is also a Communication Fellow with the VOICE Program.