Teresa Enrico—International Liberation Reference Person for Pilipinos/as and Pacific Islanders

Pacific Islander and Pilipino/a-Heritage People

Nearly 110 million people live on islands that stretch from the south of Japan (Okinawa, Amami); to Southeast Asia (the Philippines); to the islands of the Western, Central, and South Pacific (Hawaii, Guam); to Aotearoa (New Zealand). Also, more than five million Islanders live outside of these islands, in countries all over the world.


Indigenous people have occupied islands in the Pacific for tens of thousands of years. Each group has a unique culture, language, and way of surviving. Each island has a rich and complex history.

Our people have lived sustainably and compatibly with the environment—fishing, growing food, traveling on the sea by navigating with the stars. The oceans and the islands are our home.

The beauty of our arts, culture, and languages can be seen throughout the islands.

We prioritize familial and community relationships. We laugh, have fun, and love to be together. We are generous and kind. Interdependently, we rely on each other to thrive. This is our way of life.

We work hard. We pick ourselves up out of our struggles and go on, even when we suffer defeats. We are fierce. We are intelligent. We are powerful.

The peoples on the various islands have always interacted and communicated with each other. We have also interacted with people all over the world—because of trade, war, colonization, and migration.

We have always resisted oppression—from fighting institutionalized oppression to struggling daily to retain, regain, and use our intelligence. We have built community organizations and alliances and waged revolutions to resist oppression.


In recent centuries our peoples have been subjected to U.S. and European colonialism and imperialism as well as the imperialism of other East Asian countries. Our islands are “strategic”—economically, politically, and militarily—and because they are small and mostly geographically isolated, they have been vulnerable to attack and takeover.

We have been overpowered and killed by larger armies and nations. Our resources have been taken and misused. Treaties and other agreements have been broken.

Our islands have been militarized. This has resulted in the wholesale destruction of the land and the terrorizing of our people.

We have been targeted with racism, sexism, attempted genocide (of our peoples, cultures, and languages), colonization, and enforced servitude. The colonizers remain visible in the names of our islands, for example, Micronesia (which means small islands) and the Philippines (named for King Philip of Spain).

We have been forced to assimilate, mostly through Christianization.

Most people don’t know anything about our islands. Our identities are overshadowed when we are lumped together as “Asian Pacific Islanders.”

Our people have been “exoticized.” Our islands have been viewed as a “paradise” to be experienced by tourists.

Tourism and militarization work in tandem, fortifying old colonial agendas and finding new ways to oppress us and take and further destroy our resources.

The taking of our resources has led to mass migrations. We have left or been forced to leave for economic, political, and environmental reasons. People are the largest export from the Philippines—over 2.4 million people have migrated to 192 countries.

Many of us work in other countries around the world. Our families depend on the money we earn to eat and survive. Pilipino/as sent home over twenty-six billion U.S. dollars in 2016. Young people are being raised without parents, leaving them vulnerable to abuse, violence, drugs, and alcohol.

Women and children (and sometimes men) have been exported for the sex trade and for labor. Forced migration and trafficking of people have been “normalized.”

Some of our islands are still under colonial rule and are seeking sovereignty; some are “independent.” All are oppressed and struggling. They continue to be dependent upon and dominated by the United States and other European powers. The people remaining in the islands endure poverty, environmental destruction, weak infrastructures, and corruption.

The oppression continues, and most of us lack information about hurts, distresses, discharge, and healing.

Climate Change

We are facing climate change and other ongoing destruction of the environment that clearly shows the culminating effects of years of colonialism, militarism, racism, and classism. Our “contribution” to climate change is minimal (less than .5 percent), but we are disproportionately impacted by it. We have been set up to take the earliest hits, and they are having devastating effects. We have little infrastructure and few resources to help us withstand, recover from, and respond to them. The following are examples of how climate change is affecting us:

  • The Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands was the site of U.S. nuclear testing in 1946. Radiation from the detonation of an atomic bomb made the area uninhabitable. Local residents had been told they would be able to return home. When that wasn’t possible, their only option was to relocate within the Marshall Islands. Now, because of the rising sea level, they are again dislocated. Many of them have already relocated five times. There is nowhere left for them to go, and no money with which to relocate.
  • The people of Kiribati, Vanuatu, Tuvalu, the Solomon Islands, the Carteret Islands (part of Papua New Guinea), and many other islands have already been displaced (some more than ten years ago) or are planning to relocate as they are in imminent danger from the results of climate change, particularly coastal erosion and rising waters.
  • In the Philippines, the ocean is rising five times faster than in the rest of the world.
  • Weather patterns are becoming more extreme, since a warmer atmosphere holds more water. Five of the ten worst typhoons—called “Super Typhoons”—to hit land in the Philippines have occurred in the last ten years and have killed or displaced thousands of people. Typhoon Haiyan, in 2013, was the largest of these. It killed over 6,300 people and displaced over four million. Four years later, millions of people still live in temporary unstable houses and are unable to recover their jobs and food sources. The threat of additional typhoons increases each year. The Global Climate Risk Index in 2015 listed the Philippines as the number-one country most affected by climate change.
  • Cyclone Winston hit Fiji in February 2016. It was the strongest tropical cyclone to hit the southern hemisphere in recorded history.
  • Ocean acidification (due to more CO2 in the atmosphere) and rising temperatures have already diminished our islands’ fishing resources. The coral reefs are dying, and the rising sea level is contaminating the fresh water.

Climate change is now, not a future prospect, for the peoples of the Pacific.


Centuries of oppression have left their mark on our minds. The following are some ways we experience the internalized oppression:

We have a sense of insignificance and smallness, and our existence often feels in question. Many of us expect to be, or feel we should be, dead—that the world wouldn’t miss us.

If we ever ask for help or get support, we are left with a sense of servitude and indebtedness. We take care of others first, rarely prioritizing our own needs. We don’t know that we matter.

It is hard for us to prioritize our re-emergence. We struggle with addictions. We struggle with assimilating or not assimilating.

We don’t see that we are leaders, that our thinking is important. It is hard for us to keep our fight front and central.

We blame ourselves and each other, thinking that our culture is the cause of the problem. We end up divided and discouraged.

Although we have large families and are often surrounded by people, we tend to feel isolated and alone, as if no one is “in with our mind.” There is little expectation of anyone being on our side or seeing us for who we really are.


In the next period, all RCers of every background need to get closer to each other and build unity. We need to face the heavy hurts from early in our lives and notice how they have hardened on us and show up in the present. As we move against the recordings in our minds and with each other, we will be able to assist unity-building everywhere.

I think of activists as people who work with others to transform the world. All of us must be active in our minds against our own distresses first. Acting powerfully against where we gave up long ago will give us confidence to act powerfully in making other changes.

We are all activists and need to see ourselves as activists. All of us need to be leaders, making things go well for ourselves and for others. In leading others, we must remember that we are moving people to be active against their own distresses.

We can make friends and build relationships wherever we go, especially with Pacific Islanders and Pilipino/as! We can create the conditions for people to connect and use their minds together, even at the very edge of where they can think. We can train everyone to be leaders. We can support and develop the leadership of Indigenous peoples, all people targeted by racism, younger people, and women. We can make room in the RC Communities for Pacific Islanders and Pilipino/as.

As Pacific Islanders and Pilipino/as we can:

  • Face our significance,
  • Face that we matter, that we are the ones who can make things happen, that we are smart (that we don’t need to wait for the Pope, the U.S. president, or anyone else; we can take our own needs and wants into account),
  • Do this work together, thus ending our isolation; our minds work better when we are connected to each other,
  • Face the current situation of our peoples (at home in the Islands and abroad),
  • Challenge any discouragement,
  • Encourage each other to share our thinking and our leadership widely—in our families and throughout our communities,
  • Build RC in the Islands and reach all Islanders, wherever we are in the diaspora,
  • Notice the humanness inherent in our cultures; build on the familial and friend networks that already exist.


In order to end the oppressive society and build one that is good for every human, we must build unity. Building unity will mean taking on [taking responsibility for undoing] the distresses in all of our minds. We can create the conditions for all people to move against their distresses. We must also dismantle the institutions that install the distresses and perpetuate oppression.

Pacific Islanders, Pilipino/as, and our allies can focus on the following:

  • Ending classism and capitalism—which is connected to ending racism, genocide, and all oppression
  • Eliminating the sex industries—which means working to end sexism and men’s oppression
  • Ending war and the effects of war and violence on all people and on the environment

Climate change is rapidly exposing the effects of oppression. As we take it on, we are taking on the oppression. Organizing to end climate change means ending the oppressive institutions. Confronting these institutions means addressing their impact on the climate.

It is possible to face our current situation. Because distress is the key difficulty facing humans, we are working to end its impact. We can create the conditions to regain our intelligent minds, move closer to each other, and build the foundation for transforming society. We can set up a world in which every living being is taken into account. The solutions to our big problems will come from our human connections.

Teresa Enrico

International Liberation Reference Person for Pacific Islander and Pilipino/a-Heritage People

Seattle, Washington, USA

(Present Time 188, July 2017)

Last modified: 2022-12-25 10:17:04+00