Saturday, April 27, 2024



50 Years in Hollywood: The USA Conquers the Philippines by Gemma Cruz Araneta 

(Cruz Publishing, 2019)


America’s empire-building and colonial ambitions in the late 19th century brought the former territories of Spain – Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines – under American rule. In the homeland, the history of U.S. occupation of the Philippines has long been contested, contorted, and troubled. Gemma Cruz Araneta offers little-known and forgotten details about the tumultuous period of American occupation.

50 Years in Hollywood compiles essays published in the Manila Bulletin over 13 years (from 2006 through 2013). Its namesake is a term coined by Araneta’s mother, the public historian Carmen Guerrero Nakpil. Araneta shares a fresh and engaging take on characters and events, drawing from primary research, family history, and engagements with contemporary historians. Araneta brings a populist approach to sharing her love of history through short, easy-to-digest journalistic pieces.

Over the last few years, it has been disappointing to observe how Filipinos in the homeland are embracing misshapen truths about certain infamous Philippine leaders. Apparently, this is not a new phenomenon. Although 50 Years in Hollywood was published in 2009, Araneta had already candidly called out the national amnesia that surrounds the Philippine-American War and succeeding U.S. imperial possession of the islands. Throughout the book, Filipino-centric counter-narratives regarding colonialism abound. For example, Araneta discusses the effective local response to the cholera pandemic that followed the war. She relayed the story of how Filipinas reclaimed Philippine cuisine from cultural misrepresentations of well-meaning Americans.

Every major essay starts off with editorial cartoons published in U.S. newspapers during the time of expansionism. It was not surprising that the kind and charitable colonizers held racist views of the Filipinos. In many illustrations, Filipinos were depicted as naked, short, kinky-haired, and dark-skinned. If Filipino characters wore clothing, they wore rags or badly rendered native attire.

From her vantage point as a respected scholar in the homeland, Araneta boldly challenges the myths of American benevolence. Beyond the popularized notion that Americans sought to modernize and democratize the former holdings of Spain, the justification for the imperial project in the Philippines was rooted in America’s economic ambitions to become a world superpower. A well-resourced territory in the Pacific would guarantee the U.S. control of a major East-West trade route and vice versa.

As a columnist for the Manila Bulletin, Araneta primarily wrote for a Philippine-based audience. Here and in the homeland, the Filipino story is marked by the constant struggle against oppression. The revolutionary fervor that ousted Spain from the islands was quashed by the American tenants through violence and disease. Americans who took on the task of educating and Christianizing Filipinos neglected to recognize the richness and wisdom among our ancestral ways of knowing, languages and folk spirituality merged with Catholicism.

Filipinos in the diaspora would benefit from understanding the history and context of American imperialism. Although most of the essays focus on the immediate aftermath of American occupation, Araneta also devotes a handful of essays about the plight of early Filipino laborers in the U.S. Single Filipino men were among the first batches of workers to settle in California and Hawaii. Everywhere they went, they endured racist violence against inhospitable White mobs.

Araneta brings a unique perspective, both from her familial lineage of Filipinos who took part in resistance movements against Spain and the United States. But even the history of wealthy Filipino dynasties can be problematic, and not adequately addressed in the book. For Filipinos in the homeland and abroad, perhaps a remedy for historical amnesia is to simply remember. 50 Years in Hollywood offers a quick and engaging read to understand the ongoing dynamics of Philippine politics and economics, including why many Filipinos choose to leave the country and settle in other lands.




Maileen Hamto: When I visited Manila in 2021, I picked up the book from a Fully Booked bookshop. As a Filipino-American who has lived for more than 30 years in the United States, I am always on the lookout for opportunities to increase my understanding of Philippine history. I grew up in Sampaloc, Manila and finished high school studies at Esteban Abada High School. Because I moved to the United States after graduating from high school, I missed out on immersive collegiate-level discourse about Philippine history and civics.

Here in the U.S., I work as a change management consultant, focusing on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) issues. I have more than 20 years of experience in strategic communications and DEI roles in healthcare, technology, and government entities. I earned my Doctor of Education degree from the University of Colorado Denver. My doctoral dissertation focused on the lived experiences of women of color in leading racial equity initiatives in STEM-focused organizations. My partner and I divide our time between Denver metro and San Luis Valley, and I work with clients across the country.

Along with Soto Zen Buddhism, I consider decolonization a spiritual path. I support the work of the Center for Babaylan Studies by serving as a Core member. I am drawn to the invitation to break free from the confines of colonization and imagine the possibilities of Indigenous renewal, “sa isip, sa salita, at sa gawa”—in thoughts, words, and actions.


No comments:

Post a Comment