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The Racist Portrayal of the Philippines in Historical Cartoons as US Troops Invaded

Illustration shows Uncle Sam offering on one hand a soldier and on the other a "School Teacher" to a group of reluctant Filipinos, telling them that the choice is theirs. 1901. Keppler, Udo J. Image and caption from the United States Library of Congress

Illustration shows Uncle Sam offering on one hand a soldier and on the other a “school teacher” to a group of reluctant Filipinos, telling them that the choice is theirs. 1901. Keppler, Udo J. Image and caption from the United States Library of Congress

When the United States invaded the Philippines in 1899, it claimed that it was a mission to introduce modern civilization and democracy in the former colony of Spain. Perhaps to convince the American public that the war effort should be supported, Filipinos were represented in the press as savages who need to be educated about self-rule. This racist representation of Filipinos was reflected in several newspaper and magazine cartoons published during the late 1890s and early 1900s.

In the past decade, Filipino-American scholars reviewed these cartoons and other propaganda materials that expose how the United States government tried to hide its colonial agenda by describing the occupation as an act of benevolence.

What the cartoons failed to illustrate is that a Philippine Republic was already existing when American soldiers arrived in 1898. Furthermore, Filipino revolutionaries had already defeated the Spanish colonial forces, which ruled the Philippines for more than 300 years. The cartoons also didn’t show that the subsequent war between Filipino and American troops killed more than a million people in the country. The war ended in 1901, but it was only in 1946 when the Philippines gained its independence.

Updated Feb. 20, 2016: Puck and Judge, two satirical magazines, turned this characterization of the Philippines and other countries into illustrations. Let’s take a look at some of these cartoons, which are archived in the U.S. Library of Congress.

Print shows Uncle Sam as a teacher, standing behind a desk in front of his new students who are labeled "Cuba, Porto Rico, Hawaii, [and] Philippines"; they do not look happy to be there. At the rear of the classroom are students holding books labeled "California, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, [and] Alaska". At the far left, an African American boy cleans the windows, and in the background, a Native boy sits by himself, reading an upside-down book labeled "ABC", an a Chinese boy stands just outside the door. A book on Uncle Sam's desk is titled "U.S. First Lessons in Self-Government". 1899. Dalrymple, Louis. Image and caption from the United States Library of Congress

Print shows Uncle Sam as a teacher, standing behind a desk in front of his new students who are labeled “Cuba, Porto Rico, Hawaii, [and] Philippines”; they do not look happy to be there. At the rear of the classroom are students holding books labeled “California, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, [and] Alaska”. At the far left, an African-American boy cleans the windows, and in the background, a Native boy sits by himself, reading an upside-down book labeled “ABC”, an a Chinese boy stands just outside the door. A book on Uncle Sam's desk is titled “U.S. First Lessons in Self-Government”. 1899. Dalrymple, Louis. Image and caption from the United States Library of Congress

The text at the bottom of the image reads:

Uncle Sam (to his new class in Civilization): Now, children, you've got to learn these lessons whether you want to or not! But just take a look at the class ahead of you, and remember that, in a little while, you will feel as glad to be here as they are!

Print shows Uncle Sam and Columbia standing at the entrance to the "U.S. Foundling Asylum" as a basket of crying children labeled "Puerto Rico, Cuba, Hawaii, [and] Philippine" is presented to them by arms labeled "Manifest Destiny". Within the walls of the asylum are four children labeled "Texas, New Mexico, Cal. [and] Alaska" playing together. 1898. Keppler, Udo J. Image and caption from the United States Library of Congress

Print shows Uncle Sam and Columbia standing at the entrance to the “U.S. Foundling Asylum” as a basket of crying children labeled “Puerto Rico, Cuba, Hawaii, [and] Philippine” is presented to them by arms labeled “Manifest Destiny”. Within the walls of the asylum are four children labeled “Texas, New Mexico, Cal. [and] Alaska” playing together. 1898. Keppler, Udo J. Image and caption from the United States Library of Congress

The text at the bottom of the image reads:

Uncle Sam — Gosh! I wish they wouldn't come quite so many in a bunch; but, if I've got to take them, I guess I can do as well by them as I've done by the others!

The leader of the newly established Philippine Republic was described as a dictator:

Print shows a large gloved fist with an American flag on it crashing down on Emilio Aguinaldo riding on a rocking horse labeled "Dictatorship" next to a large sword labeled "Aguinaldo" on the "Philippines". 1899. Dalrymple, Louis. Image and caption from the United States Library of Congress

Print shows a large gloved fist with an American flag on it crashing down on Emilio Aguinaldo, who is riding on a rocking horse labeled “Dictatorship” next to a large sword labeled “Aguinaldo” on the “Philippines”. 1899. Dalrymple, Louis. Image and caption from the United States Library of Congress

The U.S. government insisted that its aim was to educate Filipinos:

Illustration shows Uncle Sam standing at center, gesturing to the left toward American soldiers boarding ships to return to America after defeating the Spanish in the Philippines, and gesturing to the right toward a group of matronly women, one labeled "Daughters of the Revolution", who have just arrived to educate the peoples of the Philippines. 1900. Ehrhart, S. D. (Samuel D.). Image and caption from the United States Library of Congress

Illustration shows Uncle Sam standing at center, gesturing to the left toward American soldiers boarding ships to return to America after defeating the Spanish in the Philippines, and gesturing to the right toward a group of matronly women, one labeled “Daughters of the Revolution”, who have just arrived to educate the peoples of the Philippines. 1900. Ehrhart, S. D. (Samuel D.). Image and caption from the United States Library of Congress

The text at the bottom of the image reads:

Uncle Sam: You have seen what my sons can do in war — now see what my daughters can do in peace.

The next two cartoons depict Filipinos as barbarians who needed to be rescued by American civilization:

Print shows an elderly woman labeled "Spain", possibly María Cristina, Queen Regent, struggling to maintain control of two diminutive figures, one labeled "Cuba", armed with a gun and sword, and the other labeled "Philippine Islands", armed with a crude hatchet and knife. 1896. Pughe, J. S. (John S.). Image and caption from the United States Library of Congress

Print shows an elderly woman labeled “Spain”, possibly María Cristina, Queen Regent, struggling to maintain control of two diminutive figures, one labeled “Cuba”, armed with a gun and sword, and the other labeled “Philippine Islands”, armed with a crude hatchet and knife. 1896. Pughe, J. S. (John S.). Image and caption from the United States Library of Congress

Print shows Filipinos receiving the "bath" of civilization as provided by the U.S. government. Image from the Facebook page of Berna Ellorin

Print shows Filipinos receiving the “bath” of civilization as provided by the U.S. government. Image from the Facebook page of Berna Ellorin

  • Puck and Judge were satrical magazines and these cartoons are, in fact, satirizing U.S. imperialism, not propagandistically supporting it. To “expose how the United States government tried to hide its colonial agenda by describing the occupation as an act of benevolence” was their objective, by an exaggerated depiction of the flawed ideas of those who supported imperialism. 115 years later, you have been trolled, Mr. Palatino.

    • Jadakiss

      I think this is still relevant, because the satire was obviously satire of something, an attitude that really existed. And of course that’s practically a truism, colonialism has always been tied to this civilizing the savage concept. I think these are similar to Heart of Darkness. Though they are a critique of colonialism, they still depict its victims as childlike, barbaric, and savage, so in a sense they too are caught up in the ideology of colonialism.

    • Great Khan

      Wasn’t this the whole notion of “White Man’s Burden”, a poem that was composed for illustrating the turn of the century American imperialistic attitude towards her Asian/Oceanic territorial subjects, particularly those of the Philippines.

  • aL

    Mr. Palatino, Your story headline is simply not true. As Mr. DeVries pointed out in an earlier comment both Puck and Judge were satirical publications. They used illustrations and cartoons such as the ones you have posted to criticize then current social and political affairs. By presenting them here as propaganda used to support the U.S. “invasion” of The Philippines you are yourself (to put it kindly) distorting truth, aka propagandizing. In fact, even your article contradicts your headline. How can one reconcile “In the past decade, Filipino-American scholars reviewed these cartoons and other propaganda materials that expose how the United States government tried to hide its colonial agenda by describing the occupation as an act of benevolence.” with “The Racist Portrayal of the Philippines in Historical Cartoons Supporting US Invasion”? I suggest that you review the Globalvoices “about us” webpage. Here’s a link https://globalvoices.org/about/

    • Lewis Armstrong

      To Obama on his human rights lecture:
      “America has too many to answer for the misdeed of this country. Whose Obama to ask me such question. I dont bow down to anybody other than the people of the Philippines. America invaded this country and made us their subjugated people.” -Duterte
      Pretty strong words there from the President of my country. You tell em boss.
      For those who lack the missing perception of political mechanics.. Rodrigo Duterte might in FACT have the balls to go in and bring the light. And spark some major fireworks. But before we go any further with this.. Lets rewind some years back. Years before our dad inject our good looking selves into our mothers vagina.. Sorry if that image was too much to handle.. Jk im not sorry. Anyways.. Shall we? Cool. :-)
      Im not an expert here. Just a messenger. A person who is on the top shared with me some of his profound wisdom that he often ran into during his time of expertise. Scary shit. Im gona quote one of historys best philosophers here.. “Experience is the best teacher.” I dont need to say names for credibility purposes. Your beliefs and opinions are in your jurisdiction. No pressure. However.. If you wish to undertand the world and why it is moving in the direction the way news are wanting us to believe.. then you my friend is in for a cruel dirty surprise. ..otherwise get the Fvck out of here and turn on CNN.
      Oh.. Youre still here.
      Totally hated you for a second there. Jk. :-)
      Go on. Read.
      There are mechanics that must be understood first and foremost. Just like how a man operates on values and beliefs. This is not to be discovered with our two own eyes. But with our 3rd. And i mean our minds. Hope you still have one of those.. If not. Then i highly recommend that you stop reading.
      Oh. My. God.. Youre still here. Im getting excited :-)
      Now, where were we.. Oh yea. Before a takeover can take place.. One with the gold(bank boys/corporations) must employ clever nasty tactics that is unnoticeable to the human eye. And cannot be traced back. Who would want to get caught in a game of hide and seek.. Fvck that. Not me. So what i mean by this.. This operation of theirs will involve money. Lots and lots of money. Gotta invest on a good plot if you wanna double the return of investment. I would.. This will also involve special trained top of the line soldiers. One with balls of steel. One who is employed from a secret service agency and can negotiate like Donald Trump. Lets not jump into conclusion here. You still with me? Cool. This special kind of soldier gets sent like an obedient dog with one important objective in mind. Can you guess what that is? If youve done your homework and you didnt cheat then by all means, do let me know. Ill be more than happy to give you a hug and a cookie. Sorry. Getting off topic here.. The main objective of that soldier going into that 3rd world country isnt what you think it is. He is not to be going around with his james bond pistol and bustin the cap outa fools like an idiot. No. He is a charmer. He is great with words. He is smooth as the skin on my pretty face. Charisma is written all over him. He is there to make a trade. A trade that will piss you the fuck off if you happen to be from that very beautiful country. Let the drums roll for a second. Gotta head upstairs and brush my teeth..
      Im back.
      You still there?
      Awesome.
      Think of iraq. Think of libya. What happened to those 2? Weapond of mass destruction? Or the mass killing of its own people? How about the Iran issue? Where are all these bullshit story coming from? Lol FOX? CNN? Really? Im soooo sorry if you havent yet escaped that manufactured reality.. For some of us.. It takes a while. It takes time to process pieces of the puzzle. Dont blame yourselves. Aint your fault. Ive been there. Not the prettiest of places. Just like being stranded inside a prison cell. Not that ive been in one. Some people’s vision are blurry than others. Some choose to ignore the pain. Its okay. Not everyone are owners of their own thoughts. I get it. I understand. You in the other hand dont need glasses to see. Good for you :-)
      Anywho..
      Lets cut to the point. Sorry for my honesty. Not really.
      Think of a very good resource that a country has that might carry tremendous amount of value? If youre familiar with the term Ravenous Market then damn.. Youre on the right path. Proud of ya :-)
      Think of oil. Think of gold. Think of the resources that people NEED in order to get on with their lives. 2+2 shouldnt have been that hard.. I hope not..
      You do the math.
      This is called step 1 to invasion/take over. Operation Economic Hitman. The charismatic soldier goes in that country and negotiates the trade. To take. To steal. The resources. The land. To place the infrastructure for cheap labor. In return for more of money. more wealth for the top dogs. History repeats itself. Again. and again. But in a more subtle way. Not kill the indians type of way. But itll eventually get there. Think of the iraq and libya massacre. Took years to finish. Not a pretty site it became. Did it. Not when the leader of the country says “Fuck off you dirty scumbags. We dont need your money or protection. Leave us the fuck alone.” are you starting to get all this? You better. (Listen to Donald Trump Speech for more information on this)
      Cnn. Fox. Big news corporations are all somewhat at fault for not allowing this to air through. Breaks my heart. :'(
      There are 3 steps altogether. Its treacherous. Manipulative. Evil. And I wont disclose any further. � hope that paints the picture.
      #StayReadyPhilippines
      #FilipinoPresidentExposingAmerica #ObamaBackFires
      #MarketingPractice
      #EconomicHitman #ShitsAboutToGetReal

  • concernedfilam

    Mr. Devries and Mr. aL, you’ve completely missed Mr. Palatino’s point. It doesn’t matter that Puck and Judge were satirical magazines, it’s the depiction of the characters in the cartoons that’s offensive. One may argue that the depiction of black Americans in sambo figurines et al as art and that Al Jonson et al painting his face black as entertainment, but when time has completely erased the context of what you call satirical journalism, the visuals that one sees are inarguably racist.

    Mr. Palatino doesn’t need to “review the Globalvoices About Us page.” Historically, racism/racists have hidden behind words that have been called works of art, entertainment … and even journalism.

    • aL

      ” what you call satirical journalism” Uhmm, have you read Puck or Judge? The artist’s intent was to illustrate the ugliness of the policies he was satirizing. Do you dismiss people such as Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert because they are racist misogynists? Should Vice Ganda be silenced because she lampoons homosexuals? Neither I nor Mr. DeVries argues “that the depiction of black Americans in sambo figurines et al as art and that Al Jonson et al painting his face black as entertainment”. By the way, I suspect the actor you referenced was Al Jolson not Al Jonson. Please take note, he was an actor, not a satirist, therefore not germane to this conversation. Regardless of passing time, context will always be necessary to gain accurate understanding.

      Since the author hasn’t addressed my question, would you like to give it a try?

      How can one reconcile “In the past decade, Filipino-American scholars reviewed these cartoons and other propaganda materials that expose how the United States government tried to hide its colonial agenda by describing the occupation as an act of benevolence.” with “The Racist Portrayal of the Philippines in Historical Cartoons Supporting US Invasion”?

  • mong palatino

    thanks for pointing out that puck and judge were satirical magazines. the article was edited to incorporate this information. – mong

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  • Eastwind Books of Berkeley

    More background can be found in The Forbidden Book: the Philippine-American War in Political Cartoons. Includes over 200 political cartoons representing both sides of the debate. Please see:

    http://www.asiabookcenter.com/store/p225/The_Forbidden_Book%3A_The_Philippine-American_War_in_Political_Cartoons.html

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