Many Filipinos claim to have Spanish ancestry. These TikTokers say it makes their culture seem 'less worthy.'

Thumbnail credit: @big.lumpia via TikTok, @kaygandausa via TikTok, @trish_bautista via TikTok, @the.brown.psych via Instagram

Filipino creators on TikTok are addressing the inclination of many Filipinos on social media and beyond to declare that they have “Spanish ancestry,” seemingly prioritizing possible European roots over their Asian heritage. Now these creators are voicing their thoughts about this claim — one they admit they’ve at one point made themselves. They’re also challenging its accuracy and opening up a conversation about cultural acceptance and appreciation.

Trish Bautista (@trish_bautista), a Filipino American TikTok creator in Los Angeles, has taken to the video-sharing platform to ask her fellow Filipinos to proudly claim their Asian heritage.

“When fellow Filipinos around me growing up claimed to be part Spanish, it always struck me as another way of saying ‘I'm better,’ ‘I'm special,’ or ‘I am more beautiful.’ It is to distance themselves from their Filipinoness, and move closer to whiteness, which culturally is often seen as superior,” Bautista told Yahoo News. “This is not to completely fault individual people — I think this is a result of a long history of colonization and being treated as 'lesser-than' by our colonizers.”

By extension, Bautista added, Filipinos declaring they are part Spanish, especially erroneously, can have a negative effect on the community as a whole.

“This belief shows up in insidious ways that are deeply harmful to our community, from the way some Filipinos see fluent English-speaking as a status symbol (and if you have an accent, you're embarrassing and will not be respected equally in a professional setting), and growing up feeling ugly simply because you ‘look Filipino,’” she said.

A history of colonization

Some Filipinos believe that they are mixed Filipino-Spanish because of the country’s 300-plus-year colonial history with Spain that ended in the late 19th century. According to Dr. Marinette Asuncion-Uy (@the.brown.psych), a Filipino American psychologist and social media creator in Florida, this perspective is, in part, a result of the colonial mentality, which is defined as the “perception of ethnic and cultural inferiority” and a type of “internalized racial oppression.”

A 2021 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) journal found that Spanish ancestry is present in only 2% of the entire Filipino population. Ultimately, the Filipino demographic “remained largely unaffected by admixture with Europeans,” the journal reports.

Not a singular experience

Other Filipino social media creators have echoed Bautista’s sentiments, offering reasons why the sometimes erroneous claim is doing harm to the community. The issue then, given the population makeup, isn’t that some Filipinos are actually part Spanish – it’s that there’s a disproportionate number of Filipinos who are not part Spanish but claim to be and are rejecting the idea of being full Filipino.

Katrina Martín (@big.lumpia), a Filipino American in California, claims that Spanish colonization has deeply affected the perceptions of beauty and privilege within Filipino culture.

“The filipino beauty standard is to not look filipino,” Martín wrote in her caption.

“It trickled down and racial hierarchies became embedded into our media and ultimately the way we think. When we consistently see mixed Pinays representing us,” she told Yahoo News, referring to mixed Filipinos, “as seen in beauty pageants too, it's not surprising we perceive the ‘full Filipino’ identity as somehow inferior.”

Jon Caña (@jon.luigi), a Filipino American creator who grew up in Cebu, Philippines, told Yahoo News that there’s “a lot of work to be done” to rid fellow Filipinos of the mentality that being full Filipino is less desirable. He notes that there’s “a level of clout” that seems to be associated with being of mixed ancestry.

“There's nothing wrong with being mixed, but I can see how it leads to self-hatred for those that are full Filipino,” he said.

‘Growing up, that played a big part in my own mental health’

Asuncion-Uy, like Bautista, is encouraging other Filipinos to move away from the "Spanish ancestry" claim. She admits, however, that she used to say it as well. She has even incorporated this Filipino-positive messaging into her own practice, which includes what she calls "decolonizing the mind.”

“It's really painful. And it's kind of like you're looking [in] the mirror [at] your fragmented self…when you're decolonizing. And you're like, trying to put those pieces together,” she told Yahoo News.

Asuncion-Uy hopes that her experience treating anxiety disorders and passion for addressing intergenerational trauma as a Filipina woman herself can help others in her kapwa, or community, grow to appreciate who they are, as they are.

“We're really trying to have a platform to have these conversations because it's so ingrained in us.,” she said. “And I think that that's a big part of what also contributed to my own anxiety growing up because I hated a part of myself, but at the same time…I'm so proud that we have like this collectivism. Like we are so rooted in our family.”

A result of misinformation

Dr. Sharon Quinsaat, an assistant professor of sociology at Grinnell College in Iowa, told Yahoo News she believes that those who claim to be “descendants of Spaniards” do so because they are misinformed about Spain’s colonization of the Philippines. The Spaniards did not colonize the Philippines in order to emigrate there, she said — they came to the Philippines to establish it as a hub for trade and spread Catholicism. Because of this, she explained, racial intermixing in the Philippines was minimal.

Internalized racism among Filipinos, she continued, is “very strong” and also factors into Filipinos being both misinformed and perhaps wanting to believe they’re part Hispanic.

“For a lot of Filipinos in terms of colonial standards of beauty, the representatives from Miss Philippines in the Miss Universe [pageant] ... they're all mixed.,” she explained. “So there’s also discourses about the purity of who would represent the Philippines.”

‘My identity will always be 100 percent Pinay’

On TikTok, Athalia Yapan (@kaygandausa) revealed that her father, who always claimed to have “Spanish blood,” was telling the truth to some degree. A recent DNA test showed that he is, in fact, 22.6% Spanish. Yapan told Yahoo News that had she found this out when she was a child, she probably would’ve “showed it off” more.

“When I moved to America I started to love myself more,” she said. “The kid version of me [would] probably show off that I am indeed part Spanish…but as a fully grown adult, it was something I found interesting but would not change my identity…My identity will always be 100 percent Pinay.”