After becoming interested in Native American issues and beginning to grapple with the history of injustice that came with colonialism, I was left asking yet another simple question: “How responsible am I for colonialism?”
This is an interesting question that I am still wrestling with. The first logical step for me to take is to look at my cultural and familiar heritage and ask if any of my ancestors experienced colonialism, participated in colonialism, or benefited from colonialism in some way.
My father is full-blooded Filipino. The Filipinos suffered colonialism under the Spanish in much the same way that Native Americans in California did. The prevalence of the Catholic religion in the Philippines, the fact that my dad’s childhood textbooks were all in Spanish, and the existence of the barong, traditional Filipino attire for males, are all examples of this colonial legacy. So I guess on one hand I could identify with those that have suffered colonialism, in the Americas or elsewhere.
However, my specific heritage is a little bit more nuanced than that. My last name is Gonzaga, and unlike many Filipinos who have a Spanish surname, this is an Italian one. On top of that, the Gonzagas in the Philippines were very wealthy and we owned a lot of land until my grandfather chose to sell or abandon these lands during the Muslim uprising in Mindanao out of fear for his young family.
This is a picture of my family and some of “the help” we had on one of our plantations. Clearly, we were by no means a poor family.
This is a picture of my paternal grandfather and grandmother in front of their house.
While my Filipino ancestors might have just adopted the Gonzaga surname, or been given it, perhaps in reference to the Catholic Saint St. Aloysius Gonzaga, this would not explain our landholdings. Because priests and military officers were the only people who were allowed to own land in the Philippines at the time, it is assumed that an actual member of the House Gonzaga (a noble Italian family that ruled in Mantua and had royal ties that went back as far as the Palaiologos, the last Byzantine rulers of Constantinople) came over with the Spanish as either a priest or military officer and eventually married into the local population. So as a Filipino I might identify as a victim of colonialism, but I have really no connection with this directly. Additionally my family actually comes from colonialists and we actually made out fairly well, all things considered.
If that were not complicated enough I also have to consider that the other surnames I come from are Tapp, Gort, Van Berkum, and Wissink, just to name a few. As one might have guessed, my mother is full-blooded Dutch.
A number of my ancestors made wooden shoes for a living. I am not kidding you.
From the records my father has gathered my maternal line immigrated over in the 1868 from Vorst, Gelderland in the Netherlands. They originally settled in Greenleafton, Minnesota, but moved more west “when land became available” for homesteaders in Sioux County Iowa. This land was named after the Dakota Sioux, from whom it was taken. My Dutch roots in the Midwest are all roots that grow down into Native American land that “became” available through theft, broken treaties, genocide and the ecological destruction of the way of life of Native Americans. While I do not know if my Dutch ancestors participated in some of these injustices more directly, they certainly benefited from them happening.
Just so you all know I am not pulling your leg (or your wooden shoes) before I move on, here are some photos of Dutch ancestors. Keep in mind I am blood related to all of these people.
(Sidenote: I promise my Dutch side eventually learned how to smile. Trust me, my aunts are a hoot.)
[All of this really does not answer my question so on the next page I continue asking this same question from another angle. ]