“Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place. It is not to bring men and women over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines.”
–Henri Nouwen

This month on the Intersections blog, we are exploring the art of nurturing our identity and formation in a way that allows us to continue growing in wisdom, empathy, and clarity of calling. It is a challenge to open ourselves to the care and sustenance needed to sustain deep, meaningful service in the places of deep need all around us. And in order to open ourselves to care, we must also be able to identify the places of our identities that are still impacted and influenced by our histories of harm and internalized messages of shame.

In that vital, difficult work, we were deeply inspired by the research and insights offered by Gabes Torres, MA in Counseling Psychology student, MA in Theology & Culture alumna, and Program Assistant for The Allender Center, as she presented her Integrative Project in 2018. Gabes’s project, “Ang Mga Sugatang Kamay na Naghain sa Lamesa (The Scarred Hands that Set the Table)—The Violation of Hospitality: Consequences from Centuries of Colonization in the Philippines,” wrestles with the painful scars that grow out of colonialism.

For this project, Gabes interviewed a Filipino woman who works in hospitality industries in the United States. Gabes describes the woman’s impulse toward subservience—a fear of saying no, challenging authority, or naming experiences of harm—that is common among Filipino workers. Gabes argues that that subservience is a reflection of the manipulation and corrupt power dynamics at the heart of colonialism and imperialism.

“The irony here is in the fact that these events are taking place within the context of hospitality industries, and these reports violate the very meaning of hospitality,” says Gabes. “Because the true practice of hospitality exists in the mutuality of responsibility and roles between host and guest, where there is a shared power, there is an equal value, acceptance, protection, service, and respect towards one another.”

“The true practice of hospitality exists in the mutuality of responsibility and roles between host and guest.”

To unpack the ongoing effects of colonization in Filipino culture, tradition, and even sense of self, Gabes says it is important to take a look at history and follow the narrative threads that are still very much at play today. But Gabes advises caution in doing so, since most of the dominant historical narratives propagate the belief that explorers and colonizers helped advance a “primitive” culture, rather than exposing the violence and irreversible harm brought by colonization. To meaningfully reflect on where we are today, we must be willing to tell the full, honest stories of where we have been.

“Not only do the artifacts of Spanish colonization and American imperialism spread out in language, in architecture, in our very names, but also in the ideas of the Filipinos, their ideas about themselves, and others, and their relationship to others,” says Gabes. “It is also very disturbing to realize that we do not need to be in North America to see the impact and pervasiveness of American exceptionalism and white supremacy.”

Gabes argues that the end result of colonialism is an erasure of the self. Colonized people are taught to welcome and accommodate others at the expense of welcoming themselves as they are, and in the process the self is compromised and rejected. In response to this reality, Gabes ends her presentation with a letter that she wrote to her ancestors—a stunning, insightful work of art, and a profound assertion and celebration of self in the face of systemic harm.