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Meet Raul Contreras, Filipino with Sharp Views on Prejudice in 1950s Debate

We tracked down his grandson.
by Ara Eugenio
Apr 9, 2021
Photo/s: Youtube/ArchiveMC
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Nearly a decade after his death, Raul Contreras electrified a quarantined nation with his sharp views on racism and the world's ills as an international debater when he was just 15. The nationalist fervor stayed with him throughout his life, according to his grandson.

The black and white video of the 1956 debate has gone viral, thanks largely to Contreras' views. Humanity loses its soul to prejudicied views. European colonizers are wrong to dismiss Asians as lazy. 

"He loved his country more than anything as evident in the video. His patriotism was something that never left him even during his final years," Anton Miguel Contreras, who shares an uncanny resemblance with his grandfather, told reportr. 

ALSO READ: Why Johnny Antillon Inspires Filipinos With 1950s UN Speech

The elder Contreras had a successful career run in public relations. Having worked for some of the country's biggest firms such as J. Walter Thompson and Ace Saatchi & Saatchi, his most prominent role arguably was as former President Cory Aquino's crisis manager.

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But he wasn't particularly proud of his time with Aquino, another source revealed, due to various controversies that weren't in line with his principles—such as the 2004 Hacienda Luisita Massacre—leading him to disassociate. 

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The one campaign he was most proud of was the senate bid of human rights lawyer Rene Saguisag in 1987, which had zero budget when they started.

In 2001, he was named among Outstanding Bedans of the Century by his alma matter San Beda College where he received most of his formal education. "He was San Beda through and through," the grandson said. 

Contreras lived quite a long life, which was taken away from him in 2012 at age 72. He would have been 81 this year on July 4. 

Throughout his years, Raul Contreras was remembered for many things: a prolific debater (in his formative years), a brilliant strategist and communicator (when he was a professional) and a master of tough love (when he became a father and grandfather). 

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Through it all, he was "someone who always stood up for what was right with utmost bravery and conviction," his grandson said.

Viral half a century later

In the four-person debate he had with fellow exchange students from Japan, Indonesia, and the United Kingdom, Contreras spoke with such brilliance and eloquence at a young age, even regarding the topic of racial prejudice which to this day, many in the world are still ignorant about.

The significance of the black and white footage was not lost on Facebook and YouTube users who are exposed to #StopAsianHate and #BlackLivesMatter

Watch the full video here:

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So, what is prejudice, according a 15-year-old Filipino in 1956? 

"When a person loses track of the dignity of the human soul and begins to judge others not on the basis of their being persons but on the basis of race, creed, economic status, that is prejudice," said Contreras.

The two girls, Yoriko Konishi from Japan and Ratnati Iskandar de Nata from Indonesia, may not have been as fluent as Contreras but delivered on point answers nonetheless. 

“If somebody distinguished between two white men, it is not prejudice. But if somebody distinguished between a white man and a colored man, it is prejudice," Konishi said while Ratnaki defined the term as a "feeling of hate for people as a group or as an individual to other people". 

When asked whether they would admit to having any prejudice, Contreras' answer was quick and straightforward. He said he was prejudiced against the Japanesenot to the point of hate, he clarified—because of how the Philippines suffered during World War II. 

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“I was too young to understand what happened during those times but I think what my relatives and friends and the people who are witness to that unfaithful occasion, they just more than justify the fact. I think it’s justified for me to feel the same way because I know my people suffered very much under that rule," he said.

He said his prejudice started to fade but began brewing again when Japan "stubbornly refused" to pay the Philippines reparations.

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'Lazy' Asians, Racial Segregation, Colorism

When U.K. delegate, Judith Reader, spoke of how a lot of Europeans perceive Asians as lazy and suggested to Indonesia's de Nata how the Dutch Occupation may have been some form of help to the country, the latter responded with this: “They were not helping us. See, you mentioned that we are lazy, we are not lazy but they didn’t give us a chance. We didn’t get to experiment and build our country.

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Contreras backed up de Nata, saying: "It’s sort of wrong to say they [Asians] are lazy. Let’s just say that they’ve got a very flat fate that they can’t let them up".

The group also discussed the issue of racism in the U.S., particularly the segregation of white Americans and African-Americans who Contreras politely addressed as "colored ones".

Sharing their own encounters with racial segregation in the U.S., the four teenagers agreed that it's not at all a "democratic" act, which is the opposite of what the country claims to be, they said. 

"In the Pledge of Allegiance to the American flag, it mentions something about 'I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible under God, with liberty and justice for all.' Well, the last phrase just doesn't solve everything. I mean, with this segregation problem here and the discrimination against colored people, how in the world could you have liberty and justice for all?," said Contreras. 

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Towards the end of the debate, the young Filipino closed with this powerful statement: "Well I guess we should carefully examine the individual first before passing any judgment on him. And if we ever pass a judgment, we should be just with it."

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