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20 Million Dollars

20 Million Dollars

Every June 12th, I deal with an uneasy feeling about celebrating Philippine Independence Day. Although it's a significant occasion in the Filipinx/o/a community, offering an opportunity for communal gathering and cultural celebration, it carries a bitter reality for me.

On June 12, 1898, what was declared as Philippine independence was, in truth, a mirage. The Treaty of Paris was being negotiated simultaneously, and this treaty marked the end of Spanish colonization. It transferred possession of Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines to the United States, for which the U.S. paid $20 million to Spain. That sum represented the transaction that handed the Philippines over for further exploitation, marking the beginning of a new era of subjugation under American rule.

These days, $20 million doesn't go far. It's the price of a billboard campaign on Highway 101. Yet, back then, it was the price tag on our freedom—an archipelago with diverse culture, spirituality, and ancestral legacy reduced to a monetary exchange. Our nation's worth far exceeds that sum, and this realization deepens the wound of our historical experiences.

This period saw the exploitation of Filipino labor and the start of significant immigration to America. Our manongs and sakadas faced hardships as part of this underrepresented diasporic community. Every June 12th, I reflect on these historical injustices and consider how we might reclaim this day to represent true independence.
How can we honor the resistance of Indigenous communities across the Philippines? How can we reindigenize and embrace real independence? The legacy of over 500 years of colonization and imperialism has left deep wounds, affecting our collective identity and perpetuating racial issues. These generational traumas continue to influence us today.
Yet, June 12th also symbolizes a time for healing. It’s a moment to understand what true independence means within our community. RE-MEMBERING our history to redefine our future, ensuring that this day acknowledges our struggles, resilience, and ongoing journey toward genuine independence. Freedom, with all its depth and complexity, is not something that can ever be adequately valued at $20 million.

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