Re-membering and Honoring Motherland on Colonized Native Soil in the Time of Trump
Last week I felt triggered hearing the racist declaration of D. Trump referring to sacred land as "shithole countries" and those who live there as unwanted. I have often numbed myself to the ways this man touts himself as a representation of the part of me that is a citizen of this country. As the President of the United States, his duty is to be representative of all communities that reside here and that contribute to this country through their physical, mental, and emotional labor. It is his duty to uphold the histories of this country that acknowledge our ancestors who have built and contributed to this land. He’s supposed to, but he doesn’t. And so, like many others who are traumatized by the ways in which he speaks, moves, and implements actions that are not representative of our needs, I have chosen to continue with my work and not allow his statements to shake me. But the other day - I just COULD NOT.
The truth is that people come to the U.S. to seek "better opportunities" in order to survive in a colonized and capitalistic world. Many immigrate to the U.S. because their own homelands have been ravaged by foreign powers and foreign corporations that occupy their lands and destroy and strip away natural resources - without giving economic support to their communities. Their homes, their lands, and their lives are expendable to the agendas of capitalism and commerce, and then they are forced to come to the U.S. which is touted as a “land of opportunity” - when really, in many cases, it is the U.S.’s investment in the values of capitalism and commerce that is the very reason they had to flee their homelands in the first place. The idea of prosperous living posed to those outside of the U.S. is an illusion created to uphold constructions of power and oppression - and what it teaches us is that our lives aren’t valuable unless we have education, titles, jobs, and material belongings to show for our "success.” From what I have been able to trace, five generations of my family have migrated to the United States, and each generation has contributed their labor, intellect and creativity towards the advancement of this country into a world Super Power. I honor them in writing this article, as I also honor your ancestors who have contributed to this country despite the degradation and suffering they had to endure.
We hear those of white and colonial descent support the words of D. Trump as he degrades the very peoples who have made the Empire of the United States thrive as it has. This country’s power has been established through centuries of exploitation of people, animals, and natural resources. This country was built on the genocide of Native peoples, slavery, forced migration, colonial rule, and violent, militant methods of control. These mentalities persist because of the ignorance that is bred in us about this country’s history. We aren’t taught about the truths of colonization until we go searching for it, and when we do, we discover that those in power came to be by destroying the will of people to maintain their own beliefs, values, and ways of life.
As colonized children, our Motherlands are mirrors to us of the capitalistic, white supremacist, and patriarchal world that raised us. When I look at how in the Philippines people deny their indigenous selves and adhere to the degradation of their appearance, their languages, and their ways of living – it’s clear that this is all a result of colonialism. Teaching this self-hate only benefited the colonists who made our ancestors give up their relationship to their Motherland, as the keepers by birthright of its bounty. It took so much death, torture, and destruction for the Spanish to take over our lands for over 300 years; then the US came and continued the work they had started. On April 11, 1899, the Treaty of Paris documents were exchanged; this was an agreement made by the Spanish Empire to give up parts of their empire to the US, ceding Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines to the United States. Control over the Philippines was ceded to the U.S. for only $20 million dollars; and ever since, the U.S. has been reaping our islands of its people and resources, making deals with corporations to destroy and build upon sacred land.
Every building and factory, every mining site, every emphasis on commerce that has been established on our Ancestral Soil has depleted our resources. Our people’s labor has been exploited through physical violence and unjust economic structures, yet many are still in extreme poverty. This has forced many to seek out jobs that leave behind the traditions of spirit and culture because they simply need to survive. On my trip to the Rice Terraces, my elder and teacher pointed out to me how many have left behind the tending of the Terraces because they can make more money dressing in their traditional attire and waiting at vista points to pose for pictures for tourists. Growing foreign vegetables has also become a means of creating more income, so many of the farmers are introducing these plants to the land and disrupting the balance of nature that allows for all the native plant life, animals, minerals and natural resources to survive.
The model for leadership that the Philippines has adopted also follows their colonizers’ models of “Democracy” that left us with dictatorships, militarization, and violence. In the time of Ferdinand Marcos’s imperial reign, his dealings brought so much more suffering to those living in poverty and dismay amidst the building up of a class system that would leave our people greatly divided by economic structures that made very few wealthy and so many poor and fighting for survival. Throughout history, their greatest ally and greatest weapon against our people on colonized lands that would control and keep us in rule, would be ourselves. Yet, there are still indigenous peoples all over the Philippines, from the Lumads in the south to the Ifugao to the North, who risk their lives every day to keep their ancestral homes from being destroyed for mining and reaping of natural resources.
This is a photo of the pillars of my matriarchal side, who laid roots here in these United States on what is the Sovereign Nation of Hawai’i. What brought them all here was a promise; that with their labor and investment to this country, their lives would be elevated by the standards of a Capitalist, White Supremacist, Patriarchal structure. The state of our Motherland is a reflection of the state of our people here in the U.S. and the many still living on ancestral soil. We suffer mental and spiritual illnesses that make us into broken beings who have to work to re-member. Our relationship with the U.S. has been an abusive one that thrives on our beliefs that we are powerless, that we are dependent on them to survive, as if there is no other way than the way of the colonizer. I have watched my family members continue to be tied to the belief in an American Dream that has failed them and causes heartache and suffering for them generation after generation. I intend to re-member not just for my sake and for our future generations sake, but to honor and uphold the legacy of my lineage and the lineages of the countless immigrant families from colonized ancestral lands all over the world. Like our Motherlands who are storming and shaking in resistance, her children are beginning to re-member.
This country has been built with the wealth made from the people and natural resources from other sacred lands and with the genocide and destruction of this Native Land to begin with. Make the proper acknowledgements as to who has made your life here in these "United" States possible and whose lives, homes, labor, and land have been exploited for this to be a country of "prosperity." My prayer today is around this intentional re-membering - that this is stolen land, built on the exploitation and slavery of peoples here and all over the world. Re-member that if you live here in the U.S., you should be acknowledging and honoring and giving that deep gratitude in every moment.
It is time more than ever that we need to re-member to live in mutual exchange with the land, with the waters, with the sky, and with all living beings. I'm looking to all of my comrades all over this country, especially here on Lenape Territory where I am currently residing, to really begin the intentional re-membering that's necessary to sustain ourselves and this planet that we all live on. If you can or know folks who can teach others to cultivate food, to clean water, to build and construct shelter, to sew clothing, to defend in tactical/martial arts, or any other survival skills - it is time to start sharing this wealth and richness. (And at the end of the day, we got the inter-web fams, so if anything Google ALL of that.) I believe that the only way for us all to be in a place of forward movement is to return to the Indigenous, and to relieve ourselves more and more of our ties to colonization. There are so many in power who have invested in keeping us from being awake and aware of our ability to gain liberation. A statement from this country's leader that calls sacred ancestral lands “shitholes” is actually an invitation in RE-MEMBERING who we are, where we truly come from, and why we need to return to the power in rediscovering these truths. It is a call to action to resist, to create, to unite, to prepare, and to strengthen for an inevitable revolution that no longer believes in the colonized because it does not value or lift our lives up in divinity.
Jana Lynne "JL" Umipig is a multidisciplinary artist, educator, and activist who seeks to elevate the narratives of Pilipina wom*n as a reflection of her own life's journey toward decolonizing, re-indigenizing and humanizing self. She is the creator of the acclaimed Movement Theatre production "The Journey of a Brown Girl," noted as a "transformative human experience through the lens of the Pinay Narrative." She is a core member of The Center for Babaylan Studies, an Inner Dance facilitator, and founder of Butikaryo mga Babae, which creates sacred space for Pinay Womxn Healers seeking to learn and remember healing practice and knowledge connected to our ancestral traditions.