Natividad: The names they gave us cut deep

Inscribed "Negritos, The Original Filipino and American, Olongapo", Philippines, 1910," this photo was taken during the American occupation.

Inscribed “Negritos, The Original Filipino and American, Olongapo, Philippines, 1910,” this photo was taken during the American occupation of the Philippines. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Marine Corps Archive/Flickr)

The map of the world displayed in the hallway of my freshman dormitory had the names of different countries labeled on it to represent the various ethnicities that students identified with.

It was your typical distorted Western-centric map, with Africa being a fraction of its actual scaled size. Scanning through the grids, I remember seeing: Canada, Korea, Spain, the United States, and so forth, all recognized.

One country’s name was missing: The Philippines.

Ivan Natividad and Marilyn Natividad smiling

Ivan Natividad, 18, at his high school graduation with his mother Marilyn Natividad. (Photo courtesy of Lynne Natividad)

As an 18-year-old Filipino American student, it was my first semester taking an Asian American Studies class. I was learning about the historical roots of American racism and oppression, and about the Philippines, the country my parents immigrated from. The land where my ancestors and culture were birthed.

While I eventually got university staff to label the map correctly, I remember experiencing a feeling I couldn’t fully understand at the time — one that I thought was a sense of injustice.

But I was wrong.

It was the same feeling I had in the third grade after a fight with a bully who called me a “chink-spic,” and my best friend a “nigger.”

The same feeling I had as a 25-year-old adult while driving my cousins home from a birthday dinner, and being followed by three CHP officers for several miles before being pulled over and asked to step out of my car, for no apparent reason.

And the same feeling I had, just a few years ago, when my son and his grandparents went to the Yuba River but were threatened by a couple, and their dogs. They ordered my family members to leave, calling them a racial slur.

Now, as a 37-year-old man, that is a feeling I still dread, but I now understand that it was just me feeling alone. Marginalized.

The missing name on the map was more than a country. It was me. I was missing from their interpretation of the world, and so was my family.

My mother — a graduate of University of Santo Tomas, in Manila, with a B.S. in management and accounting, who, with more than  40 years of experience in accounting was mocked by colleagues at a Sacramento law office for supposedly having an inappropriately thick accent — was missing.

Ivan Natividad smiling

Ivan Natividad is a writer at UC Berkeley’s communications office. (Photo by Hulda Nelson)

My father — who, by himself, immigrated from the Philippines and served over 20 years with the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam and Gulf wars, spending months at a time away from us throughout my childhood — was missing.

And my grandfather, a doctor in the Philippines who ran his own discounted clinic out of a basement to treat community members who couldn’t afford to travel to, or pay for, a hospital visit — was missing.

As a writer, I’m not an expert or scholar of history. I know enough to know that unacknowledged history repeats itself in the seeds of its forgotten ancestors — in name, and in deed.

When colonizers came to the Philippines in the 16th century, due to our physical appearance, they called us “negritos” — in Spanish, that means “little Blacks.” During the Philippine-American War, U.S. soldiers called us “gugus,” a racial epithet that preceded the slur “gook.” Those same soldiers killed hundreds of thousands of people in the Philippines, and called us “niggers” for resisting.

In the early 19th century, they called us “savages” after parading us around like zoo animals at world fairs. And after thousands of us helped to fight as U.S. soldiers in World War II, we were discarded and left to be homeless, many of us labeled as ineligible for promised American citizenship and military benefits.

In 1968, a group of predominantly Filipino elders in San Francisco launched a battle to protect their home from eviction. Called the International Hotel, their home ended up in the crossroads of a city prioritizing the “Manhattanization” of its downtown area.

These are the names that history has given the world for Filipinx and Filipinx Americans. Names that were violently yelled at me in the schools, playgrounds and parks of my childhood. And names that, as an adult, made me feel excluded in the universities I have attended, as well as the stigma and ugly definitions attached to those names that caused me to be treated differently in the institutions where I have previously worked.

These hateful slurs matter. They are intertwined within the history of our own lived experiences. A history that is not often told.

As a newer staff writer with UC Berkeley’s Office of Communications and Public Affairs, I have had the pleasure this year to witness an unprecedented time in our university’s history. Calls for racial justice around the world have pushed communities to reflect and reconcile with our country’s problematic past.

And Berkeley seems to be not only changing with the times, but leading in some aspects.

On Wednesday, UC Berkeley work crews removed or covered lettering on LeConte Hall and Barrows Hall following a campus announcement that the academic buildings had been unnamed. (Cover image by Irene Yi/Video by Roxanne Makasdjian and Clare Major)

On Wednesday, watching the video footage of the Barrows and LeConte names being taken down and covered up on buildings around campus was, I’m sure, symbolic for many Berkeley students, staff, faculty and alumni.

Personally, as a Filipinx American member of the campus community, it makes me feel acknowledged and recognized.

Berkeley News will examine race justice in America in a new series of stories.

To be honest, though, I had never heard of David Prescott Barrows and his white supremacist views until I came to Berkeley last year. He’s not necessarily a household name.

For the greater public, taking Barrows’ name down doesn’t do enough to bring more attention to the history of colonialism in the Philippines and its impact on Filipinx and Filipinx American communities today.

A history that can help to tell us why an American soldier was recently freed after killing a transgender woman in the Philippines. Why teen pregnancies are rising at an alarming rate in a country that is 80% Catholic. And how, to this day, skin bleaching products are still a burgeoning industry in a nation full of Brown people?

We can’t cancel history, but we can learn and apply it to contemporary issues. Moreover, Berkeley can celebrate its history by renaming Barrows Hall after people who have been lost in the past pro-colonial narrative.

A Los Angeles street mural at Unidad Park by artist Eliseo Silva is titled "Filipino Americans: A Glorious History, A Golden Legacy." The artwork honors Filipinx leaders like Larry Itliong and Philip Vera Cruz.

A Los Angeles street mural at Unidad Park by artist Eliseo Silva is titled “Filipino Americans: A Glorious History, A Golden Legacy.” The artwork honors Filipinx leaders like Larry Itliong and Philip Vera Cruz. (Photo courtesy of Flickr/Kenny Chang)

People like Salud Algabre, a Filipinx revolutionary woman who joined the armed Philippine uprisings against the American occupation in the 1930s, and fought to give land back to poorer communities in the country.

Or David Fagan, a Black American soldier who, after witnessing the racist treatment of Filipinx people by American soldiers during the Philippine-American War, defected to become a captain in the Philippine Revolutionary Army to fight colonial rule.

The work of the late and great Filipinx American historian Dawn Mabalon also can lead the way in recognizing Filipinx leaders like Larry Itliong, who, along with Cesar Chavez, organized the initial farmworker strikes that led to the formation of the United Farm Workers union.

While David Prescott Barrows is a reminder of the violent history of white supremacy and colonialism, we can reclaim that history by acknowledging the stories and names of those who have gone missing for so long.

Maybe then those of us who have felt alone — marginalized — will collectively feel more like a part of this campus.

And show the world their rightful place on the map.