Celebrating Filipino American History Month


Let’s celebrate Filipino American History Month, which happens the month of October. This was originally written in 2008 and entitled: „1973:  ’Cause we all come from someplace and all go someplace, too.” Filipinos arrived in Hawaii with false promises of work in 1906. Today, Filipinos are the largest ethnicity in Hawaii.

When I was a child, in a less politically correct time, I was often asked, “What are you?”  I tried to prove this inquiry with, “I was born in Los Angeles”, yet this answer was never enough.  I needed to read Seven Card Stud with Seven Manangs Wild, an anthology of Filipino-American writings, edited by Helen C. Toribio, to understand where I came from.  The writings in Seven Card Stud covered several themes:  Social, economic, and legal issues.  What would an ethnic-specific book be without identity?

7manangs

Seven Card Stud with Seven Manangs Wild, an anthology of Filipino-American writings, edited by Helen C. Toribio

Identity occurs on many levels from the person to the hierarchy found in socio-economics.  In Roots, „…there is little national interest in supporting the indigenous arts” (4).  Filipinos often struggle with “That whole Filipino stigma of shame!” (13) from The Mailbox.  This became an internal battle of fighting rejection as in Not Wanted.  Filipinos not only deal with this stigma, they deal with this issue in reality, as in A Hot Sunday in Mt. Eden where one was trying to complete homework through the chaos of dinner preparations of serving fresh chicken or the killing of a live chicken.

Another part to identity is the early loss of those who surpass their ancestor’s high hopes, as in Uncle Toto, where it is important to “Know where you came from[, this] will help you remember what you need to do and where you need to go” (74).  Toto’s death was tragic to a minority where few succeed.  Because it is through one’s accomplishments, many of which are immeasurable, that one realizes his or her identity.  In The Mighty Manhattan Born Filipina, the writer stated, “I was searching desperately for my ‘Filipino community’, even though I never really found it in the 15 years I lived in New York.”  Because Jewish and Puerto Rican populations were far greater than that of Filipinos, she fails to recognize New York as a microcosm of the country, which enables the dominant cultures to stay most visible.  She does not realize her Filipino community is within her family and herself.  It is difficult to consider this perspective as the “…niggahs of the orient”, as from The Old Man.

Being misidentified worsens this effect as in Adobo, Tamales, Blues, & Jazz on Magnolia Street, where during World War II (WWII) “…I remember having to wear a large button that said, ‘I am a loyal American Filipino,’ in bright red, white, and blue.”  However, because the button was missing one day, the writer was a “Jap” and sold inferior rice—a humiliating experience.  Because of the lack of support on an individual-, family-, community-, county-, state-, regional-, national-level, minority populations need to survive discrimination as in Being Pilipino, where one is “Always trying to float to the top…” (10).  Try as one may, there is only the best one can manage that matters.  One’s economic standing in society trickles down from the lack of this support.  In Uncle’s Top, the homemade top reminds me of the canvas backpacks my father got for my brothers and me.  Bringing it to school embarrassed me, but now such objects are in common demand for their environmental friendliness.  What matters most is having the basics.  Education is an essential entitlement for all.  In Two Brothers:  Two Filipino American perspectives, the “model minority” can apply to those who succeed via education and those effected by Reaganomics.  This was a period when funding for education for minorities in college was severely reduced.

Building an economic foundation can come from many places—it is not necessary to start it from scratch.  In Maeda’s Place, a Filipino family comes up as a discriminated minority in 1936 to an improved economic situation during WWII because they were able to buy Maeda’s place at a price they could manage.  Another instance of this fallout from WWII was found in Mama’s Cleaners.  The ironing shop was a Japanese owned business but had to be sold.  One more way to get ahead was found in The Gift.  Asians could own property if purchased by a white person and placed under their name.  Later, the title transferred  to the Filipino recipient’s name—a fortunate few.

With Davy and Mom in Los Angeles, CA home. Photo by my Dad.

With Davy and Mom in Los Angeles.

One common theme not often mentioned is the hardships found in realizing one’s mistakes, like The Pig.  It is a tradition in some minority populations for segregated gender activities, like the Filipinos’ slaughtering a pig.  Tragic mistakes happen even in traditional practices, like selecting the fattest pig and not realizing sow was pregnant.  The economic loss of loosing six piglets to a single meal is beyond unbearable to the father who tried to get ahead for his family.  Noting skin color in others makes getting ahead more difficult. In Piedmont Avenue, a “Chasm [is] determined by economic”, status.    “…we affected a rough and tough attitude that was in contrast to the silent ‘you don’t belong here’ stare of the boys our own age…”  The attitudes from those different from a minority population stem from social conditioning taught to us from our parents and reinforced by peer groups.  Collectively, several groups add to this delusional imbalance, while other groups  absorb this shock.  Still, other Filipino families are able to get ahead, if even illegally, as in Uncle Eddies’ Restaurant:  “My Uncle’s gambling establishment was just one of many in the Chinatown area of Oakland.“  Bribes were given to policemen to keep their secret gambling in the backroom as a social venue for Filipino men to come to.

Because there were few Filipinos in the early days, socializing with other Filipinos created a community.  In The Modern Pool Hall, “…anti-miscegenation laws,” prevented Filipinos “from marrying outside their race”, so other people’s “children…would be the only family that many of these men [migrant field workers] would ever know.”  For men and for women, social gatherings serve a purpose.  In 200 Grand Avenue, “…membership in this organization brought us into a social circle within a Filipino community where new friendships were developed.” Additionally, in Seven Card Stud with Seven Manangs Wild, card playing was an opportunity to aid a proud Filipino financially, who would not take pity money.

Money management maybe a personal issue rectified by a close circle of friends; however, racism is an issue in need of greater numbers to support the fight against.  Prior to the civil rights’ movement, there was nothing to substantiate legal ramifications for the Filipinos.  In The Turning Point, the “Filipino American community became involved with the struggles for civil rights” in the 1960’s and 1970’s.  For some Filipinos, in And then there was one, “…seeing my roots brought me closer to my present…” (79).  The Tydings-McDuffie Act of 1934 restricted the number of Filipinos in the US, as stated in My Manang Dad, War Bride Momma, and Maverick Me, in which 50 Filipinos entered the US per year.  This restriction ended in 1965.

For many who discriminate, a commonality amongst the discriminator and the discriminated exists.  In Of Pipes, Tobacco, Dad, “When I think of my parent[s], I marvel at the incredible adaptability, resourcefulness, and faith that helped them survive a brutal ocean crossing, overwhelming homesickness, and a transition to a strange and new culture.  Surviving the Great Depression, and certainly racism and bias, gave further proof of their strength and determination.”  Discrimination appears from ignorance, not only of one’s own history but of history in general.  It is common for some people to speak and display their utter “bliss” and disrespect for their forbearer in this way.  This is remedied as in My Manong Dad, War Bride Momma, and Maverick Me, by providing cultural diversity and relevant education for all students because “In difficult times, we know we stand on our ancestor’s shoulders.  We seek to strengthen our community legacy from across the Pacific, where I began my life’s journey.”

Paternal great grandparents: Tan Quintana Family

Paternal side of my maternal great grandparents: Tan Quintana Family

Today, proud Filipinos Kiss the Ground, because they are “empathy[ic] for [their] grandparent[s] who sweated for pennies” (?).  Filipino immigrants made many sacrifices to get the present generation to where they are now.  If self-acceptance is not present, then self-loathing takes its place.  Discrimination plagues a community that does not support its minority populations. Perhaps one perspective to adopt is Cultural Engineering, where we don’t see our differences as problems.  We see them as resources.  Being mindful as in not asking What are you?, but realize “we are all basically members of the same race, the human race” (25).  With early social conditioning and signs like “No dogs or Filipinos allowed” (29), it explains why I never felt good about being Filipina.  Ultimately, I am “of [a] humble beginning… and every historical event that came upon the Philippine archipelago and where Filipinos were brought or went to…  I am a [wo]man of the world…mestiz[a]o—the ultimate mix of East and West….”

As a nearly neo-native American English speaker, I appreciate Convergence, whose lines reverberates every human being’s struggle:  “He chose, instead, a different path, one which ultimately led to the one we both walked on.  Here, in this forest[,] our lives converged.  Two places [,] ten thousand miles and 50 years a part were merged through a memory relived.“