E. J. R. David, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of Alaska Anchorage. He has been an invited workshop facilitator, speaker, and presenter on colonial mentality and other Ethnic Minority, Asian American, and Filipino American psychological issues, and has published in scientific journals on such topics. His work on colonial mentality led to him being awarded the Distinguished Student Research Award by the American Psychological Association Division 45 (Society for the Psychological Study of Ethnic Minority Issues) for “his significant contribution in psychological research related to ethnic minority populations.”
In 2009, Dr. David wrote the afterword to “Filipino American Psychology: A Handbook of Theory, Research, and Clinical Practice”. He also wrote the afterword to the follow-up book, Filipino American Psychology: A Collection of Personal Narratives. The Philippine-born Alaskan earned his Doctoral Degree in Clinical Commuity Psychology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. I became familiar with Dr. David’s work after offerring my personal narrative in the last Filipino American Psychology book. For these reasons, I feel really honored to have come in contact with another Filipino working hard to give back to the community, as well as addressing important issues that we all face. Filipino-/American Postcolonial Psychology: Oppression, Colonial Mentality, and Decolonization could not have been released at better time than now as I also have faced some of these issues in the past few years. Dr. David was kind enough to share his words of wisdom in this interview segment.
Please tell us who you are.
What’s up everybody, this is E.J. David, author of Filipino-/American Postcolonial Psychology. I grew up in Pasay to Kapangpangan parents. I also grew up in Paranaque and Las Piñas, while going to school in Don Bosco Makati. When I was fourteen, I moved to Barrow, Alaska, which is the northern most point in the United States. I played competitive high school basketball and was an all state basketball player for two years. After that, I attended the University of Alaska Anchorage to obtain my bachelors degree in psychology, while working at a local mental health agency and also a roughneck in the oil fields around Pluto Bay. Then I attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where I received my Masters and Ph.D. in Clinical Community Psychology. Now, I am a faculty member in the psychology department at the University of Alaska Anchorage with my primary duties being with the doctoral program and the students in the clinical community Ph.D. program.
What inspired you to pursue a career in psychology?
None of these were really planned. I was never really the type of student, who was really into school when I was young. All I really cared about was basketball. I had no intention of going to college and becoming a doctor or professor. All I wanted was to eventually play in the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA), which is like the NBA of the Philippines. I wanted to be a professional basketball player. If I was going to college, it was so that I could play college basketball. I didn’t care about school at all. When I was a sophomore in high school I became really curious why people made fun of my Filipino accent, the way I dressed, and my Filipino values and mannerisms. I also began to ask myself, why I made fun of FOBs (Fresh Off the Boat). I questioned why I regarded lighter skin as more attractive and many products in the U.S.A. as better than anything from the Philippines. I also began to see that many Filipinos and Filipino-Americans thought the same thing. Given that psychology is the scientific study of human thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors, it gave me hope that somehow I would find answers to these questions that I have about myself. Also, it would give answers for my friends, family, my loved ones, and the rest of the Filipino-/American community. So what really inspired me to pursue a career in psychology was a selfish reason, which was to understand myself and those around me better. But I learned quickly enough that the questions I was asking about myself and the people I love are also questions that many Filipinos are asking and struggling with. This further drove me to go into psychology to not only serve myself, but also a community.
What is Filipino-/American Postcolonial Psychology and why did you decide to work on this specific type research?
Filipino-/American Postcolonial Psychology is a book about the injustices and maltreatments that Filipinos/Filipino-Americans experience historically, such as colonialism and contemporarily in terms of modern day racism and discrimination. The book discusses such historical and contemporary realities as the catalyst for why many Filipinos/Filipino-Americans have colonial mentality. Also, the book talks about the psychological and mental health consequences of colonial mentality relating to how it may negatively affect our sense of kapwa, identity, self-esteem, and mental health. The main reason why I decided to explore colonial mentality was to wake up the Filipino and Filipino-American community. I think it’s time for us to be aware, if not accept that colonial mentality has been negatively affecting us and our loved ones for many generations. It is time for us to become aware of how colonial mentality may exist and operate within us so that we can at least keep it under control. By keeping it under control, then we can at least begin the process of stopping its effects and stopping the possibility that we pass it on to future generations. Colonial mentality has been negatively affecting us and our loved ones for many generations. It’s time that we stop it.
What does being Filipino-American mean to you?
As the term suggest, being Filipino-American to me means that a person is both. A person who is biculturally competent, meaning that a person who can function in; knowledgeable about; be comfortable in; and is proud of the Filipino and American context. There is plenty of research now suggesting that we as humans are complex and advanced enough to have multiple identities successfully. There is also plenty of research now suggesting that our brains are complex and advance enough for it to successfully navigate between two cultures, languages, etc. So, it is very possible for us to be truly biculturally competent. To be truly Filipino-American.
What were your experiences growing up as a Filipino in the states?
Like I mentioned above, there are many rough times. People made fun of me because I was too Filipino for their taste. I got the message that for me to become accepted; I needed to become as American as possible and less Filipino as possible. I tried to get rid of my accent. I tried to act and dress like everyone else and tried to separate or distance myself from other Filipinos. I began to see these Filipinos as too Filipino. However, there were a lot of good experiences. Many people from different cultures were very nice to me and helped me out, supported me. I think this is important to point out that just because many of us are standing up against the injustices that we have experienced, it does not mean we are accusing of everyone of such wrongdoings. It’s not about blaming others or looking for someone to blame. It’s about working together so that we can all try to eliminate the injustices that a lot of cultures around the world have experienced and are still currently experiencing.
What advice can you offer to recent Filipino immigrants, who have a hard time adjusting to life in the U.S.?
One advice I can give is to be strong. Try not to let the inferiorizing and oppressive message from other people or Filipinos about the Filipino ethnicity or culture to lead you toward being ashamed and embarrassed of your heritage. Don’t believe the message that in order for you to become accepted and successful in America, you need to forget about being Filipino. This message is false. Like I mentioned earlier, we are capable of being competent in both the Filipino and American culture simultaneously. We don’t need to choose one over the other. We do not need to abandon, forget about, ignore or belittle our heritage in order to be good Americans.
What do you feel needs to change with Filipinos and how we present ourselves as people?
I think we need to have more genuine pride in our culture and heritage. What I mean by genuine pride is to always be consistent with it. Let’s not claim that we are “proud to be Filipino” by wearing Filipino pride t-shirts or other Filipino gear, but at the same time make fun of FOBs or mock others for their Filipino accent. We should also acknowledge that our community is not perfect or that not everything is all good. We need to stop pretending that we are a model minority with no problems with pretty cool cultural dances, nice cars, nice cloths, good food with fancy community banquets that sell a hundred dollar plates. The fact of the matter is, we have plenty of concerns in our community. The reality is that we have plenty of community members, who are struggling. They’re working two or more jobs just to make ends meet and therefore cannot attend fancy banquets or participate in cultural dances. We need to stop ignoring these issues and address them instead. It hurts to admit that our community is not perfect, but that’s reality and we shouldn’t ignore it.
What are your views on the emergence of “Filipino Pride” in the states, where more Filipino-Americans are wearing clothing with the Philippine islands and flag? Does this result in more awareness of the Philippine culture or does this ostracize other ethnic groups to the community?
I think it’s great. Anything we can do to express pride in our heritage and also deliver it with some swagger & cool is very welcome. Does it ostracize other groups? I hope not and it shouldn’t. Like I said earlier, being proud of our heritage does not mean we are less American. Also, being proud of being Filipino does not mean that we think other ethnic groups are less than we are.
As a professor, what do you feel needs to be done to motivate Filipino youths in pursuing higher education?
I agree that it is problematic that very few Filipino youths pursue higher education. But I guess another related question we need to ask is what are they doing instead of pursuing higher education? If they decided to work instead in order to support their families then can we really hate on them? If they are not pursuing higher education because they are getting involved with gangs, crimes, or other problematic behaviors then sure that is a concern. We need to check that out. I know that as a professor, there is an expectation that I should be encouraging everybody to pursue higher education. But I guess I’m more realistic and I also acknowledge the realities that many in the Filipino community have. Perhaps they have no money to go to college or they have a family they need to support or they are already happy with their current jobs. Not pursuing higher education does not necessarily mean that they are up to no good.
Who are your role models and people in your life that shaped you into the man you are today?
There are plenty of influential people in my life. Just so that I don’t leave out anyone, I’ll just say my mom. Even though she didn’t finish elementary school, she’s probably the wisest person I know. She is very giving and never ceases to love me, even though I made so many mistakes in my life.
What are your favorite Filipino dishes?
I love all Filipino dishes. I can’t even choose just one, so I’ll cheat and say two. Dinuguan and kare-kare with lots of bagoong.
Any additional information you would like to share?
I just want to say thank you to FILAMAKO.COM for this opportunity to reach many members of our community. Also, I wanted to say that Filipino-/American Postcolonial Psychology is a book that is driven by my desire to give psychology away to the community; by my desire to spark awareness; and change in the community. I really hope that the community will support this work as its success is really dependent on the community. Please check out Filipino-/American Postcolonial Psychology: Oppression, Colonial Mentality, and Decolonization.
If you, or someone you know, had ever wondered why many Filipinos desire to have lighter skin, make fun of FOBs, deny that they are Filipino, feel embarrassed of the Filipino ethnicity and culture, or feel inferior for being Filipino, this book will shed some light to such questions. Filipino-/American Postcolonial Psychology: Oppression, Colonial Mentality, and Decolonization is NOW available through authorhouse, amazon, barnesandnoble, borders, as well as through local bookstores. For more information about these topics and issues that are very common in the Filipino-/American community, please visit colonialmentality.com or you can contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Maraming Maraming Salamat Po and I hope to get your support for the book!