#PinoyPride: Fil-Am sociologist wins prestigious fellowship

Shakira Sison
#PinoyPride: Fil-Am sociologist wins prestigious fellowship

Tom Zasadzinski

'Why aren’t there more Filipino American professors? Filipino American political leaders? There is still way more work to be done, and complacency is the enemy of progress.'

Every year, the Ford Foundation, one of the largest and most influential foundations advancing human welfare, awards 60 predoctoral, 36 dissertation, and 20 postdoctoral fellowships to committed educators who use diversity as a resource for enriching the education of their students.

The Ford Foundation Fellowship is a coveted fellowship for academics in the United States.

Through its programs, the foundation aims to increase the ethnic and racial diversity in the country’s colleges and universities, maximize the educational benefits of diversity, and increase the number of professors who can and will use diversity as a resource for enriching the education of all students. 

One of 2016’s postdoctoral fellowships was awarded to Dr Anthony Ocampo, an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Cal Poly Pomona. He will receive a one year stipend of $45,000 as part of the foundation’s support for individuals engaged in postdoctoral study after the attainment of the PhD or ScD degree.  

Dr Ocampo is a graduate of Stanford University (BA ’03, MA ’04) and the University of California, Los Angeles (MA ’06, PhD ’11). The grant will give him the opportunity to focus on his second book, “Out in LA: Race, Masculinity, and Sexuality in an Immigrant City.”

More than the financial support, says Dr Ocampo, “the Ford Foundation treats its scholars like family. There is an annual conference where Ford Fellows get to connect and make friendships, which is especially important given the under representation of minority scholars.”

In a lot of places in the country, Ford Fellows are the “only one.” For example, Dr Ocampo was the first Fil-Am in his UCLA PhD program in a long time. In Cal Poly Pomona, he is the only Fil-Am professor in the entire campus that he knows of. 

Earning this recognition was quite a meaningful surprise for Anthony, who had applied for this fellowship five times in the past.

This time, instead of tailoring his application to what he believed the panel would like to hear, he simply wrote from his heart about the research project he was interested in — gay kids who grow up in immigrant families and communities. 

Damaging effects of hypermasculinity 

In his second book, Dr Ocampo wants to focus on young men because of the damaging effects of hypermasculinity in their lives.

“There are certain expectations of what it means to be a ‘real man’ in Filipino and Latino families, and there is tremendous pressure to live up to that standard. And for what? So that they can learn to degrade women? So that they can grow up feeling inferior because of who they are? I hate that.”

Amazing developments like marriage equality and an increased acceptance of LGBT individuals equality don’t magically erase the negative memories that young gay men of color have experienced in their own families and communities, says Dr Ocampo.

“Growing up as a gay Filipino or Latino in the US means being a survivor by default. These young men had to creatively maneuver their social relationships growing up in ways that their straight friends and relatives never had to. Not only did they grow up with the stigma of being gay. They also had to deal with the stigma of being a person of color in a predominantly white society,” he says, emphasizing that his book is not about their victimhood but their resilience in the face of homophobia and racism.

Filipinos are the Latinos of Asia

I found Dr. Ocampo’s first book, The Latinos of Asia: How Filipino Americans Break the Rules of Race to be such a valuable resource in placing Filipino identity in the global scene.

When asked what his motivation was in writing this book, Dr Ocampo simply said that he wrote it for all the Filipino kids who never got to read about themselves: “There’s something so empowering when you are able to read your story in a book. It makes you feel like your perspective, your experiences, and your feelings matter.” 

Filipinos are the third largest immigrant group in this country behind Mexicans and Chinese. Filipinos are the largest Asian American group in California, the state with the largest population of immigrants.

Because Filipinos hardly got any airtime – in school books, in the news, or in television – Dr Ocampo couldn’t stand that Filipinos had become so invisible. Knowing how rich our history and our culture is, he was disheartened that we barely had a presence in educational materials or in mass media.

This is what made him want to make a contribution, even if it was a small one. He wanted Filipinos to see their experiences on paper, and to inspire other writers to pick up the pen and author their versions of what it means to be Filipino American. 

Dr Ocampo credits his family and community for his strong Filipino identity. His family – parents, grandparents, titas, titos, and cousins – helped him keep his Filipino-ness intact.

“At no point in my life did I ever feel ashamed of being Filipino,” he says, and that he always felt a sense of connection whenever his parents (who hail from Quezon and Cavite) brought him back home.

In California, he went to a predominantly Filipino elementary school where they had Filipino teachers and did the tinikling, and this infused a sense of ethnic pride in him that never made him feel less than. This became even more important when he moved to a predominantly white high school and later to Stanford University.

His strong connection to a Filipino community instilled this belief that his experiences and perspective had value. 

‘Complacency is the enemy of progress’

Anthony hopes that Filipino-Americans will learn to capitalize on their unique connections with both the Asian American and Latino communities. He believes there is so much opportunity for Filipinos to build a base of support with these two communities because of our shared histories with both groups. 

Economically speaking, Dr Ocampo feels that many Filipinos are doing all right in the US, usually arriving with more education and professional experience than the average immigrant.

“My fear is that this could lead to complacency. It wasn’t too long ago that Filipinos were the ones of the bottom of the social hierarchy, and I think many Filipinos today aren’t aware of that. I think it’s important to never get too comfortable or complacent,” he says. 

According to Dr Ocampo, no matter how Americanized a Filipino may think he or she is, it doesn’t change the fact that we are still not part of the mainstream. He believes that being middle class buys a lot of privilege, but not the privilege of being white in America.

“Why aren’t there more Filipino American professors? Filipino American doctors? Filipino American political leaders?” He asks, and then answers, “There is still way more work to be done, and complacency is the enemy of progress.”

I asked Anthony what it was like to pursue a career in academia when most Filipino youth are pressured to find careers in nursing, computer science, or other technical fields.

He said that it was important to commend Filipinos who are making important contributions in these fields as well as being able to provide for their families financially.

He feels fortunate to be an only child in a middle class family, which allowed him a certain amount of privilege to pursue his passion of becoming a professor. 

“Being a sociologist is partly about opening people’s eyes to the inequalities that are everywhere in our society, whether we are talking about racism, sexism, or homophobia,” he says, and then adds that the field also provides a venue for creative solutions for addressing these social problems.  

Advice to Fil-Ams in academia

Dr Ocampo has this advice to give to young Filipino Americans thinking of careers in academia: “Having the opportunity to be a representative of the Filipino American community is both a privilege and a responsibility. When you write something, there is some young Filipino kid out there whose educational experience will be better because of what you wrote.”

Anthony believes it’s so important for Filipino professors to be public figures. He thinks the reason there aren’t many Filipinos out there who want to be college professors or writers is partly because they simply don’t encounter or see Filipino professors or writers.

“If you don’t see a Filipino professor, you’re going to think subconsciously that you can’t be a professor. However, when you see someone that looks like you do something, it expands your belief of what’s possible,” he says.

Finally, to end our great conversation on Filipino identity and his recent successes, I asked Dr Ocampo for some words of wisdom for someone struggling with their identity, sexual orientation, or academic or career path.

“You have one life. Live it the way you want to live it,” he said. – Rappler.com

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