On the Filipin@ Usage of “Mongoloid”
There’s a comedy skit popular among Filipin@s, particularly Fil-Ams, that features a comedian who was asked to pray on the behalf of the family. Having only sat in the back of a church with a bad sound system, he starts to babble in a way that mimics the sound he hears when the pare prays. In response, his tita reprimands him by saying, “Are you a mongoloid?” in an exaggerated Filipin@ accent.
The crowd erupts with laughter.
It’s something they’ve all heard themselves growing up.
And although the dear caricature of a tita is sure to make any Fil-Am laugh, there is something wrong with this picture. The use of Down Syndrome as an insult is so widespread in the Filipin@ culture, that a crowd of hundreds views that usage as part of a Fil-Am upbringing.
“Mongoloid” (mong, mongol, mongolian) is an antiquated term referring to people with Trisomy 21 (being born with a partial or whole third copy of chromosome 21). The racial thinking behind the term is apparent. The word literally means “resembling Mongols.” The term is also an outdated racial classification used to describe Asians (mostly Eastern, some Central), Native Americans, and First Nation peoples. The association of Down Syndrome and Asians has to do with features such as the epicanthic fold, flat nasal bridges, and “round” faces as well as the normalization of typical White European features. It is an appropriation of the ethnic identification of “Mongol” to serve an opposite of the appropriated term “Caucasian,” which relates to the idea of the perfection of the white race. When you use “mongoloid” you are, in effect, implying the inferiority of Asians, Native Americans, First Nation peoples, and people with Trisomy 21 to the neurotypical white person.
If this is the case, why do Filipin@s have no qualms in using “Mongoloid” as an insult? In part, it is because of our internal denial of our Asian heritage and the confusion on the part of external groups on the classification of Filipin@s. Fernando Armosolo says regarding the ideal Pinay: “The eyes should be exceptionally lively, not the dreamy, sleepy type that characterizes the Mongolian. The nose should be of the blunt form but firm and strongly marked. … So the ideal Filipina beauty should not necessarily be white complexioned, nor of the dark brown color of the typical Malayan, but of the clear skin or fresh colored type which we often witness when we met a blushing girl.” What he claims is the perfect Filipina doesn’t look Asian or too “ethnic.” She must have a high nasal bridge and definitely no flat nose. We may not be white, but we can’t allow ourselves to look like those lower races.
The case of Roldan v. LA county, centering around the legality of Filipinos and other “Malayans” being able to marry Latin@s, ruled that Malayans were a separate race from Mongolians. If the case happened today, maybe the marriage would be allowed because we’d be classified as Latin@ since that’s what many of us are claiming to make ourselves more indigenous to America.
The racial divides are constantly shifting to fit the needs of political agendas. Today we are often in the same category as Mongolians: Asian. So why are we Filipin@s still using outdated racist, ableist words that insult whole groups of people and deny our heritage?
Stop using “mongoloid,” mga kapatid.
That is not Pin@y.
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