Exciting times for Fil-Ams
MANILA, Philippines – I chose to pursue journalism shortly after graduating from college in 2010. Of all the beats I could have covered and the publications I could have written for, I decided to cover the Filipino community.
California's ethnic communities would probably be the last choice for most aspiring journalists, but nothing inspired me more than the story of the Filipino-American.
These were the stories not being heard on popular television, or on the front pages of mainstream newspapers. I felt compelled to cover the Fil-Am community because telling their stories was inevitably telling my own story.
I am a second-generation Filipino-American. My parents migrated to the US from the Philippines to look for greener pastures, to provide a happy and comfortable life for their children, and give them the opportunity to pursue the American dream.
But the American dream is only one side of it. The Filipino-American story is also one of struggle. Most Filipinos left for the US with nothing but dreams. Those dreams don't always materialize, however, and sometimes turn into nightmares.
Our family lived in a large home with a huge backyard in a comfortable and safe neighborhood. That house was more than just a house for us. That house was my mother's blood, sweat and tears. She was the breadwinner of our family.
We lived the American dream until 2008 when we lost it all. We were hit by the US mortgage crisis and global recession, but we weren't alone.
Thousands of Filipino Americans across the country who put their money in real estate also lost everything.
Losing everything taught me that working, minding your own business was not enough. It taught me that you must do everything necessary to fight to protect the people you cared about. The people I cared about were the thousands of families like my own who came to the US from the Philippines, worked to give their children a better life, only to lose it all.
Telling their stories is my way of fighting. Like how the manongs – the Filipino immigrants who came to the US in the early 20th century – fought for rights that we enjoy today. Like being able to eat at the same restaurants as white people, or buying houses in the same neighborhood.
In my journey of telling the Fil-Am story, I learned we would never be able to protect ourselves from something like losing our homes again if we don't elect our own into positions of leadership. They are the best advocates for the Fil-Am community.
Why didn't we have that many Fil-Am leaders? It was a question that fueled my desire to report on the achievements, developments and happenings in the community.
While I eventually moved on to also cover city government for other local news sites, I was always on the lookout for Fil-Ams in the city halls, county offices and in the state capitol.
It was an exciting beat to cover. Nowhere else in the United States were Filipinos breaking glass ceilings and blazing trails more than in California.
I covered Rob Bonta's rise to become the first Fil-Am representative to the California State Assembly in 2012. (READ: Rob Bonta: California’s first Fil-Am assemblyman)
I also saw the first Filipina elected president of the New Haven Unified School District in Union City, California – Rosalinda Canlas – successfully push for the renaming of a school after labor leaders Larry Itliong and Philip Vera Cruz in spite of fierce opposition to it. It will be the first school in the US named after a Filipino.
In 2009, Mona Pasquil was appointed interim Lt Governor of California, making her the highest ranking Asian-American in California’s history.
In 2011, Tani Gorre Cantil-Sakauye, became the first Filipina-American and Asian-American – and only the second woman chief justice of the state of California. She was nominated by former California Gov Arnold Schwarzenegger and elected by California voters by an “overwhelming majority,” according to the official website of the California judiciary.
California's Assembly Bill 123 – filed by Bonta – was passed and signed by the governor requiring schools to teach children across California about the role Filipinos played in contributing to the country, something I never learned about in school.
I had a front row seat and watched change happen right in front of me.
The Fil-Am vote
While getting on the radar of presidential campaigns is important, it is more than that. The Fil-Am vote should also mean electing our own.
Despite efforts from national Filipino organizations like the National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA) and KAYA Grassroots: FilAms for Progress, it has yet to translate to a significant election of Fil-Am representatives at any level.
On the national level, there have been at least 3 others in the US Congress who acknowledged having Filipino ancestry. Steven Austria of Ohio – the first who identifies himself as Fil-Am – was elected to the House of Representatives. Austria’s father was a doctor born in Quezon Province.
Why is it important to see someone who has a name like yours, who has similar skin tone, and whose parents came from similar background, in leadership positions?
Thomas Jefferson said it best — “Government is strongest of which every man feels himself a part.”
Each of America’s ethnic communities has always had a unique set of needs and the Filipino community is no different. (READ: INFOGRAPHIC: Filipinos and the US elections)
Some Fil-Am concerns include: Immigration reform and a path to citizenship, the abuse of undocumented workers by their employees, and harassment of undocumented Fil-Ams by immigration authorities. Filipino World War II veterans received a lump sum in 2009, but that is far from the full benefits and recognition the veteranos have been fighting for, for decades.
This is of course in addition to the economic, unemployment and health issues, among other issues that all Americans face.
Fil-Am leadership is about changing the narrative. It is about no longer sitting on the sidelines, and about taking center stage. (READ: Survey reveals rise of Filipino Americans)
While it is starting to happen, I know we can do much better. And I am confident that if we continue to be fearless in challenging the status quo, Filipino-Americans will rise. – Rappler.com
Ryan Macasero is a social media producer for Rappler. Ryan was a freelance reporter who covered local government and ethnic politics in Northern California before moving to Manila. Follow Ryan on Twitter: @ryanmacasero