Yankee Go Home — and Take Me with You!

More than 50 years after independence, Filipinos still chafe—and cheer—at the lingering legacies of U.S. colonialism

A century ago, the United States brought a new version of empire to the Philippines, and only reluctantly lowered the flag at its last military outposts there in 1992. Between times, an extraordinary relationship grew up between Americans and Filipinos, constantly veering between affection and outrage, and perhaps best summed up by demonstrators' signs during a recent dispute: "Yankee Go Home — And Take Me With You!"

America came to the Philippines in 1898 when Commodore George Dewey, whose famous command at Manila Bay, "You may fire when you are ready, Gridley," demolished the antiquated Spanish fleet in a sideshow to the war between the United States and Spain over Cuba. But the United States soon took over the whole archipelago. Filipinos were outraged; a bloody guerrilla war followed between U.S. forces and Filipino patriots with many barbarities committed by both sides.

By 1935 the Philippines had received quasi-independent commonwealth status with full independence promised within ten years, but World War II intervened. Under Gen. Douglas MacArthur, American and Filipino soldiers fought the Japanese invaders together. Full independence came to the shattered country on July 4, 1946.

Or did it? Many Filipinos argue that Uncle Sam went right on exploiting the country. United States' use of Philippine ports and military bases during the Vietnam War renewed local outrage. President Ferdinand Marcos and his wife Imelda ruled the country for 21 years with what seemed to Filipinos the tacit approval of the United States.

But there is another side to the story. America's greatest and most lasting contribution was the Philippines' system of free, universal education. A free press, public works, public health and American-style justice were also important colonial gifts. Ed and Sally Kiester travel to the Philippines to discover America's continuing and conflicting legacies.

Get the latest Travel & Culture stories in your inbox.