“Educating the Native in His Land:” Exploring Nineteenth and Twentieth–Century Imperialism within the Global American Borderlands, 1850s to 1950s

This analysis will explore colonial interactions within two U.S. foreign involvements through the lens of Borderlands History: the Philippines and Hawaii. Using the lens of interaction as a category of analysis, I will talk about how sexual and racial anxieties experienced by populations outside of North America have been in ongoing tension and unremitting negotiation with the American nation. By intentionally placing the Philippines and Hawaii into the realm of borderlands, scholars can further explore the transnational nature of borders, imperialisms, and societies.

The Philippines

As Julian Go contends, U.S. imperialism in the Philippines was singular for many reasons: the 1898 Treaty of Paris ceded the archipelago to the Americans rather than to Filipinos, and the terms of appropriation involved the “legally codified establishment of direct political domination over a foreign territory and peoples.”[1] Island occupation spoke to the larger phenomenon surrounding the emergence of modern empires, such as the U.S., Japan and the U.K., as well as their shared goal in the acquisition of land. Their distant location and increasing western interests made the islands not only “exceptional,” but also illustrative of efforts to colonize societies located far beyond the continent.

Before the American occupation of the Philippines, there existed a long history of Western colonialism since June 1571 via the Spanish settlement of Manila.[2] Greg Bankoff and Paul Kramer have illustrated in their own studies of Filipino society and culture that the Spanish established a system of religious control within the archipelago, racially compartmentalizing its population between converted and non-converted Filipinos. The Catholic Church – the main vehicle of Spanish rule – played a decisive part in the initial creation of class systems and the subjugation of “Indios” or Filipinos.[3]

While some Filipinos welcomed U.S. intervention, many rejected it because ethnic tensions and racist notions of modernity plagued the island inhabitants through the presence of Westerners. Kramer argues that the American military brought new, intensified forms of racism that stratified the Filipino population. For example, some state agents used words like “gugu” and “nigger” to describe the “native” population.[4] Army soldiers such as Peter Lewis and William Eggenberger conflated the gender and masculinity of Filipino men with African Americans, suggesting that they were inherently belligerent. Lewis described Filipinos as “Niggers [who] keep going to Church,” while Eggenberger stated that he arrested “all niggers caught out after 7pm” by thrusting his rifle’s bayonet through the outside walls of civilian homes.[5] The blatant prejudice practiced by military officials elucidates how forms of American imperialism probed Filipino society.


The legal and cultural relationship between the United States and Hawaii has changed continually throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, beginning with a western overthrow of native Hawaiian power in 1893, followed by American annexation in 1898, and finally statehood by 1959.[6] Scholars, such as Eileen H. Tamura, have explored how Hawaii remained the only state with a long history of a “non-white” majority that was ruled by a small group of Anglo elites.[7] But even before U.S. cultural and political penetration, researchers like Jocelyn Linnekin uncovered that Asiatic communities as well as native peoples occupied the many islands for several generations, further adding to the history of stratified ethnic and race tensions.[8]

Before conceptions of American nationalism fueled by Manifest Destiny and overseas expansionism infiltrated the islands later known as Hawaii, there existed indigenous societies that occupied the Polynesian area for over millennia. At the turn of the century, newly arrived Anglo Americans began to restructure these long-established race and gender relations. Descendants of the Anglo Americans came to be known as the elite group haole. Tamura explains that this new social community of inhabitants began to dismantle Hawaiian land through the takeover of legal institutions set up under the Kamehameha kingdom.[9] Native scholar Kēhaulani Kauanui suggests in her research of Hawaii ethnic relations that “white supremacist racism, colonialism and the continental U.S. racial triangulation of white-Indian-black” allowed the haole to acquire legal and social power, which allowed them to maintain island resources.[10]

The Haole controlled the islands for the first half of the twentieth century, implementing several regulations that systematically segregated, or deterred, natives and Asians from the same rights and privileges as Anglo Americans. The contemporary legal definition of the native Hawaiian as a “descendant with at least one individual inhabiting the Hawaiian islands prior to 1778” was redefined with the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act of 1920. This act allowed the U.S. congress to seize “200,000 acres of land” in small areas across the main islands, and lease it for residential, pastoral, and agricultural purposes by eligible “native Hawaiians.”[11] By 1900, ethnic tensions amplified through the passage of the Organic Act, which created a territorial government that allowed the U.S. to appoint government officers, secretaries and all circuit and Supreme Court judges in Hawaii.[12] This process racialized power relations, as the American-elected officials were almost usually of haole descent who, in turn, appointed more Western elites to local government positions.[13] The Organic Act created segregated schools, and welcomed the presence of American businesses, marginalizing non-European peoples for several decades to come from jobs and education.


Filipino and native Hawaiian interactions with U.S. state agents highlight how the experiences of imperialism place these countries into the field of American Borderlands. But they are not bound to physical landmarks like the Rio Grande-Rio Bravo region. They are by nature transnational, and thus Global Borderland Nations. They are testaments to the global reach of American imperial control.

[1] Julian Go, “Introduction: Global Perspectives on the U.S. Colonial State in the Philippines,” in The American Colonial State in the Philippines: Global Perspectives, 4.

[2] Greg Bankoff, Crime, Society, and the State in the Nineteenth–Century Philippines (Manila: Ateneo de Manila Press, 1996), 34.

[3] Ibid., 7.

[4] Kramer, The Blood of the Government: Race, Empire, the United States & the Philippines, 139.

[5] Ibid., 139.

[6] J. Kēhaulani Kauanui, Hawaiian Blood: Colonialism and the Politics of Sovereignty and Indigeneity (Durham: Duke University Press, 2008), 94.

[7] Eileen H. Tamura, Americanization, Acculturation, and Ethnic Identity: The Nisei Generation in Hawaii (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1994), xi.

[8] For more, see Jocelyn Linnekin, Children of the Land: Exchange and Status in a Hawaiian Community (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1985).

[9] Tamura, Americanization, Acculturation, and Ethnic Identity, 3.

[10] Kēhaulani Kauanui, Hawaiian Blood, 19.

[11] Kēhaulani Kauanui, Hawaiian Blood, 2.

[12] Tamura, Americanization, Acculturation, and Ethnic Identity, 3.

[13] Ibid.

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Post navigation

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Website Built with WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: