Do You Know Your Way To San Jose?

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

The Internet and Facebook are really fantastic. I had always been skeptical about the virtual dimension. I found it too complicated and daunting for a senior citizen like me. But circumstances forced me to be more appreciative, especially because my favorite advocacy requires instant and constant communication.

In trying to understand the state of life that Filipinos have in the United States, I found it necessary to be personally observing and relating with many of them. My quarterly trips to the US these last three years have been in support of Gawad Kalinga and its mission of building a nation from the ground up. America and Filipino-Americans are great sources for funds; beyond that, however, they are a great source of influence.

Since I have been monitoring, and often engaged in, email activity with Filipino-Americans, or Fil-Ams, for the past 15 years, I have discovered that some of my previous assumptions were more myth than fact. The most untrue was my belief in a long-standing rumor that Filipinos in America are wracked with divisiveness, which means they have a habit of quarreling with one another and cannot stay working together for long. Proof of this, I was told, was the crazy number of competing associations and organizations when only a very few were necessary.

Indeed, those unusually many competing Filipino groups were real in most places where I have been in the United States. What was not so obvious to me in the beginning was that the leaders of these organizations were more self-proclaimed rather than representative of the Filipino community. In fact, the organizations themselves could hardly be called representative because only an insignificant percentage of Filipinos have been active in community activities. In a survey commissioned by a friend from San Diego, it came out that only 5% of about 300,000 Fil-Ams were participating in community affairs.

It then dawned on me that Filipinos in the United States had carried with them many of the same weaknesses that they tried to leave behind. When the image of Filipinos in the motherland is projected to the rest of the world, there is an aura of confusion and dissonance, of constant bickering and politicking. Aggravating it is the reputation of corruption and poverty that deeply colors the face of our government and people. But the truth is, if truth refers to the majority in a diverse and often contrasting culture, the Filipino, and the Filipino-American, is not the divisive and quarrelsome person he is painted to be.

Yet, the myth persists because Filipinos have long been subservient and obedient to their leaders, to the point that they do quarrel when their leaders quarrel. Though there is hardly an instance when conflict arises from the people themselves, Filipinos did have that pattern of almost blindly following the footsteps of their leaders – mostly inept or bad if we are to go by the results of their leaderships.

What is really encouraging is that Filipino-Americans have been trying, and succeeding, to break away from that subservience and bind obedience to less-than-inspiring leadership. As a result, they withdrew from activities of their communities, leaving leaders with embarrassingly few followers. Instead, the vast majority of Filipino-Americans simply worked hard and became too tired to be actively engaged in community affairs, especially when they would only be drawn to the petty conflicts of egotistic personalities. 95% or more of Filipino-Americans simply went below the radar, became invisible, and did earn that description of “invisible minority” from Wikipedia.

But invisibility did not mean a lack of performance. Results from hard work cannot remain invisible if that hard work is well done – and it has been. Filipinos have taken a leadership position among minorities in family income, beating even their Caucasian counterparts. But most of all, they remitted $8 billion to their relatives in 2009 and will most probably do more this year. Hard work is paying off in dollars that cannot remain invisible.

There is, though, an even greater achievement that Filipino-Americans have done which has gone unnoticed so far but will not remain so for long. As much ass they have worked hard to build a different future for their family, they have also regarded the land of their birth, the home of their people, with quiet but passionate love. They have remained patriots in their invisibility.

Proof of this enduring love for country is now emerging in their children, and grandchildren for the earlier immigrants. I call them the “tip of the iceberg,” this new generation of Filipino-Americans who are as American as anyone can be yet are discovering that they are Filipino, too, and finding acceptance and pride in their discovery. They have little or no direct relationship with the motherland and their people who remain in the Philippines as most have never even stepped on our shores. Yet, almost without basis, they are honoring their being Filipino.

The fact is, though, these new generation of Filipino-Americans do have the best of basis to love the land of their ancestors and the people of their race. Their basis is the love of country and the Filipino by their own parents who kept the connection alive – though invisibly, quietly, until the fruits of their love could not be hidden anymore. Year after year, they continued to help their relatives but only in recent times have their remittances been tracked and publicized. $8 billion of remittances has become impossible to hide.

Their children, too, are starting to come out of a shell and the first among them are being recognized, not because they are seeking the limelight, but because thee limelight will embrace passion and dynamism. They are too young to be known by especially political or economic leaders of both the Fil-Am community and Filipino politicians and bureaucrats here at home.

The visit of President P-Noy to the United States has triggered a movement to be born in the flesh, and the new generation will introduce themselves to him and to the rest of the Filipino people. The first to be awakened are sounding a call to gather in San Jose, California, in front of the hotel where P-Noy will be brought by those who are traditional allies of political and economic hierarchy. They want P-Noy to hear them, to see them, to slowly understand that he is looking at the future, a future full of hope.

Do you know your way to San Jose?

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