United States of Colonizers

7/11/2016 5pm PST: I walked into the house I rented near campus. All eight of my housemates and four of their significant others were sitting around the TV talking and laughing. The banner running at the bottom of the map on screen of the USA predicted Hillary Clinton’s win. I felt a knot grow in my stomach, red spots were spreading across the country in big blotches as though each state was slowly contracting scarlet fever. I looked over at the people I considered my friends and was suddenly struck with an overwhelming feeling of otherness. They all had creamy skin and silky blonde hair, happily heterosexual, and no work experience. I was their opposite. My Filipino and Native blood have blended to make me a nice shade of caramel with chocolate curls cascading down my back. I identify as LGBTQ, and I have had a job since I was twelve. Pieces of their conversation filtered into my consciousness as I realized these differences.

 

‘I didn’t vote, it was too much work.’

 

‘I voted for Trump. It’s so funny.’

 

‘It’s not like it really matters anyway.’

 

Lying in bed that night I have never felt so alone, so ostracized. I know they did not mean to make me feel like an outsider. I doubt they even recognized the feeling pass in a shadow across my face. For the first time, I felt the differences between our identities open up a chasm between us. Living in Seattle, one of the most liberal cities in the US it had never occurred to me that the person sleeping in the room next to me would unironically vote for a man that would do me harm.

 

Two days later I was leaving the Starbucks by my house when a man began yelling racial slurs at me. He had read my name, Pilar, on my coffee cup and took it to mean that I was Latina. I am not Latina. I am Filipina, the Philippines was colonized by Spain for 300 years. My name, like my identity, is a product of colonization. As this stranger shouted at me others joined in saying that Trump would get rid of filthy people like me. Emboldened by anger and false confidence in my liberal surroundings I turned to them and told them where to shove it. They had been following me for two city blocks so I should have known that they had more on their agenda than just being loud racists. One of the men pulled out a knife and started making his way towards me. The reality of my situation hit me like a freight train. I am a small female; my full height is only around 154cm. I did the math. I was a small, bisexual, multi-ethnic female surrounds by six full-grown men. I was a walking poster child for a hate crime that would be written up by the US mainstream media as ‘a tragic accident’. Luckily nothing happened, the men left me alone after a few more sharp words -  I either wasn't worth the trouble or the fact I was standing in front of church leaned on their twisted moral sensibilities.

 

I got lucky that day. Lucky, they didn’t retaliate against my hostile response. Lucky, they didn't physically harm me. Lucky, I didn’t end up another non-white face on the evening news. From that day on my liberal bubble universe popped. I became acutely aware of just how deeply entrenched harmful and archaic Colonialist ideas were in America. America was built on the backs of imported slaves and the genocide of Native nations. The nation’s capital and hallowed halls were built by slaves. This hard work done by slaves, and the history and relevance of its native peoples is not however taught to our children in school. Instead, the harm done by colonialism has been rewritten by its descendants to form benevolent narratives that place slavery, civil rights, and native nations in the past. The narratives falsely claim that racism is a thing of the 1950s and 1960s, and that Native nations and their enduring traditions exist only in the past tense. These narratives ignore that Native nations are still fighting for their basic rights and the painful truth of Billie Holiday’s famous song ‘Strange fruit’ is still occurring. It is hard to speak of decolonization in America because the descendants of the colonizers are the ones running the country. The colonizers are still among us.

-Pilar