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History 247 at UMass Amherst: How It Feels to Finally Learn About Your Own History

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Blogger, facing away from camera, wearing high school graduation cap decorated with the Filipino flag and reads "one dream" in Tagalog

I first learned about the American Revolution in third grade. It was reintroduced to the curriculum in fifth grade, and again in seventh. By the time we covered the same concept in tenth grade U.S. History, I learned that the saying was, quite literally, true: history does indeed repeat itself. During my whole academic career, I hadn't yet had a course, or even one class session that I could relate to my identity as a Filipino American.

Knowing the founding of this nation is important, especially since so many crucial events happened right on Massachusetts soil. However, I always had a special appreciation for teachers who strayed from the textbook to broaden our perspectives. My 11th grade U.S. History teacher, for instance, used the time after the AP exam as an opportunity to tell us about the Rwandan genocide of 1994

Filipino History Course

Then came Professor Richard Chu who taught History 247: Empire, Race, and the Philippines at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. It was an entire class devoted to the history of my people, being offered in the middle of Western Massachusetts, at a university that doesn’t even have its own Filipino Student Association. It was truly an oddity and a gem; I’m so glad I took it last spring! 

Transition to Online Learning

Spring 2020 presented a great challenge for all of us students and teachers: an abrupt transition to remote learning. Somehow though, it was exactly this unprecedented obstacle that made learning Filipino history all the more enjoyable for me! Being at home allowed me to watch the assigned documentaries with my Filipina mom, who couldn’t believe I was spending a full semester going in depth with a topic that was barely touched upon in her own country. My parents have always marveled at how strange it was that they spent more time learning about ancient Western civilizations than Filipino history during their entire educational years in the Philippines. 

This course taught me the reason for that! When Americans occupied the Philippines in the early 1900s, they implemented an education system. While this may seem like a benevolent act of kindness, it actually inhibited the formation of a curriculum that met the unique needs of Filipinos, who were just freed from over 300 years of Spanish rule. Before they could even get the chance to think for themselves, young minds were being instilled with American ideologies. Colonial mentality in the Philippines remains prevalent to this day. 

Another favorite topic of mine from the course was the Philippine diaspora and the rise of overseas Filipino workers. My mom and I sat together and watched the movie Anak (The Child), which was assigned to me for homework. Made in 2000—the year I was born, the film tells the story of a mother’s sacrifices abroad as she works to provide for her kids in the Philippines. It touched us on a personal level, as many of the struggles presented were things my family could relate to. 

Pinays Rising Scholarship

It was empowering to finally identify with the course material, and my newfound sense of identity led to a strong sense of agency! Ultimately, taking History 247 inspired me to apply for the Pinays Rising Scholarship in May. Sponsored by rapper Ruby Ibarra and Professor Allyson Tintiangco-Cubales of San Francisco State University, the scholarship honors Filipinas involved in activism and the arts. I submitted a video about the many artistic ways I’ve shared my culture with my school community—I’m happy to announce that mine was one of the winning videos! Where I didn’t necessarily feel represented as a Filipina prior to taking History 247, after taking this course, I've connected with my history and my identity - and will hold onto what I've learned about Philippine history long after I've graduated from UMass Amherst.

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From Acton to Amherst: My Journey to UMass

Image of student blogger Anne Lizette Sta. Maria and her three friends pose in downtown Amherst while wearing University of Massachusetts sweatshirts and lanyards, with text reading: From Acton to Amherst: My Journey to UMass

I first began thinking about college vaguely during my sophomore year of high school in Acton, and my eyes were drawn to small liberal arts schools located out of state—very different from a large state school like the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Mindsets and circumstances changed throughout the years, and ultimately my college search journey led me here: to a place where I’ve made some amazing memories, and a campus I can’t wait to go back to after remote learning ends.