The Story Of Our People

by Jose Ma. Montelibano


It becomes clearer by each new visit, of which I have had quarterly for almost five years, that Filipinos in America continue to carry the flame in their heart for their motherland. The most intense evidence of this is their active attachment to family, resulting in approximately $8 billion of annual remittances.

I was informed that on December 24, 2010, Western Union and PNB recorded 1 million transactions of Filipinos in America remitting to their families in the Philippines. Although I have never been able to verify the exactness of the claimed number of transactions, the message is clear – the bonds of families are strong. And through these bonds, Filipinos and the Philippines retain their intimacy.

The challenge that faces Filipinos as one people is the conditioned divisiveness inculcated into our culture as our conquerors’ favorite method of keeping us in relative weakness and preventing unified resistance. The divide-and-rule method is an art that conquering nations traditionally apply in order to pacify subjects who greatly outnumber them. Filipinos, after four centuries under Spain, America and Japan simply and most effectively became afflicted with this conditioning – and assimilated enough of it into the culture.

The physical separation of Filipinos who have migrated to America, and their taking up American citizenship, aggravates that division or gap. But the family orientation of Filipinos struggle against the odds and, so far, has remained intact. What faces their children and grandchildren is another thing. The new generations have little or no direct connection with the Philippines. Worse, the passing of history via story-telling is a fading habit and new generations of Fil-Americans know so little about the Philippines, even and especially its geography. The younger generations may hear from their parents that they come from this or that town but have no idea where these are in the map of the Philippines.

This trip, I have been to New York, New Jersey, North Carolina, Virginia, Washington DC and Tampa. Everywhere, I meet with Filipinos as part of my desire to truly understand the lifestyles, dreams and fears of our people in America. I do this because I, too, have dreams of a people united in heart and mind, in culture and evolution, and, together, in building a motherland of pride and honor. I know the immigrant generations have not forgotten, even if some memories are not all that pleasant. But their children and grandchildren have little or no direct knowledge anymore, and the old practice of storytelling is a fading habit.

It is the story of our people that has to be told – both at home and everywhere where Filipinos are. The challenge of developing that story is a major one as most Filipinos have only a faint idea of what that is. What were we before Spain, America and Japan? What happened to us when our lives were severely disrupted by foreign masters who forced us to adapt to their ways and sacrifice ours? How did we adapt, what did we give up, what did we end up to be? This story has to be told because we have to know why poverty is massive in a most abundant land, why our people are squatters by the tens of millions and why so many are hungry.

We have to know not only why the vast majority became poor and why the wealth or patrimony of our country fell into the hands of the few. We have to know why those who have more than others, including those who managed to pull themselves out of poverty, can comfortably tolerate the suffering and hunger of those left behind. If we cannot begin the journey towards accepting our being one people, then no nation can be built except one full of shame and only waiting to fall from infighting.

We cannot go on being a people cursed with the shame of a family so torn apart by the heart that we cannot care for one another. We cannot go on having millions enjoy and many millions more in constant deprivation, pain and fear.

We cannot carry the same family name yet are completely unconcerned with the fate of fellow Filipinos. That way prepares us for the fall – and the scorn of the world of nations.

In the United States, Filipinos can become a potent force of change for the whole Filipino race because they have become the models of success. The success is not one of a million but grassroots more than selective. Filipino-American families have managed to succeed so much so that their incomes may be higher than mainstream Americans.

The influence, maybe more than their resources, of Fil-Ams can sway many times their numbers in the Philippines.

They will be listened to, even followed to some extent. Should that influence be used for the collective good, the journey out of poverty and towards honor and progress will have found a powerful ally.

It is our history and story as a people that gives life to the common blood flowing in our veins. We must strive to know these as I hope those who know the fuller versions strive even harder to share them. Especially for the millions left behind so far that they have no way to reach us, only we can turn around, reach out, and take them with us. Then, the story of our people can move on to a new page, to a future full of hope.

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