To My Loved Ones, I Am Sorry (or, I Want To Believe in Manong’s Words)

We must live in America where there is freedom for all regardless of color, station and beliefs. Great Americans worked with unselfish devotion toward one goal, that is, to use the power of the myriad peoples in the service of America’s freedom.

In this we are the same; we must also fight for an America where [people] should be given unconditional opportunities to cultivate [their] potentialities and to restore [them] to [their] rightful dignity.

These words were written by Carlos Bulosan, in his novel America Is In The Heart. He was an immigrant that came to the United States, in the early 20th century, and worked in the canneries and agricultural fields of the West Coast. He was part of the manong generation–a wave of Filipino migrants (mostly unmarried men) that sought opportunity in the United States. His experience fits into the immigrant narrative, which no doubt is filled with disheartening struggle and unfair and inhumane treatment…

I am an American-born Filipina. I was born in one of the best hospitals in New York, probably one of the best hospitals in the nation and in the world. I was entitled to a United States citizenship, the moment I was born on this soil. My birth certificate proves that I am American. My passport, state ID, and all other federal and state-issued documents are proof of my citizenship.

Many people worked hard to earn their citizenship and their right to be recognized as Americans. I was just given the right, and of course, I took it for granted.

During this whole election season, I tried to avoid getting into conversations regarding political views, current issues, and the candidates. Those conversations required discussing strong personal opinions and factual evidence to back up arguments. I felt I had more passion than substance that could have been written off as “blind consideration” or “overly emotional”. Maybe it was due to the fact that I am female-identified and assumed to “base everything on emotion”, that I am young and often associated with “the millenial generation”, or that I am a person of color since my looks are “exotic” and “Oriental”. Because of these things, I decided to stay silent.

And I regret doing so. I did not utilize my citizenship to offer contributions to those discussions. I did not try to defend those whose civil rights and civil liberties were not being recognized. I did not try to educate people on the nuances of controversial issues that became land mines whenever it hit a personal point. I did not practice my entitled citizenship where it was most necessary to do so.

And with that, I am sorry.

I am sorry for not expressing how I felt during this whole election. I was more concerned about my pride and image than about the lives of others who are different from me. It was not enough to keep those whose lives were going to be most affected by legislation, in my thoughts and prayers.

I am sorry for not sharing my knowledge on things that the mainstream media would not report. I was too afraid to say that all media is biased, even the ones that claim to be “independent” or “family-owned” or “religious-affiliated”. What counts is how you interpret the information, and hopefully with a clear and sound conscience.

I am sorry for not using my position, as an American citizen, to fight for those that needed the most support. I stayed on the sidelines and did the minimal to show my support for certain causes. But it was not enough to build the morale that would help push those causes to create effective change.

I have lived on the principles of “not talking back”, of “not sounding disrespectful”, of “keeping quiet”. I have allowed fear and resentment to prevent me from being the ideal American citizen, in the way my manong described it.

We are all Americans that have toiled and suffered and known oppression and defeat, from the first Indian that offered peace in Manhattan to the last Filipino pea pickers.

America is in the hearts of [those] that died for freedom; it is also in the eyes of [those] that are building a new world.

America is a warning to those who would try to falsify the ideals of freemen.

As a becoming-writer, I have failed to learn the most crucial lesson: saying things that could make others uncomfortable, even if those things will ring in truth. But I have also realized that I am not limited to the written word (even though it has become the most convenient way to communicate to a mass audience, in these times). I must learn to be more vocal, to embrace the spoken word, and to anticipate any criticism that comes afterwards. The writer becomes the voice that is brave and bold enough to speak everyone’s mind; I intend to become as such.

Whatever may come, for the next few years, I will do my best to be the American my manong wished for. His efforts, as wells as the efforts of many who came before me, will not be wasted. As an American-born Filipina with a U.S. citizenship and modes of communication, I will not hold back my words.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/jjpacres/3792737813/

We Have A Community Problem

[Photo source: Jeffrey James Pacres (Flickr: Creative Commons)]

We have just started celebrating Filipino American History Month. At this time, I feel that I must bring up a conversation that began a while back, as it is essential to our growth and unity as a community. Continue reading

The Balikbayan Complex, Part I

 

I often wonder what it is like to grow up with family around. Specifically, extended family–cousins, aunts and uncles that are my parents’ siblings or cousins, grandparents, and other relatives that come from an expansive tree. I appreciate hearing stories from people I know about their families, growing up with cousins and spending holidays at a relative’s house that is only an hour or so away from home.

For my family (parents and brother), we could only hope to have enough money to travel halfway across the world to see our relatives. I was lucky enough to visit the Philippines several times, more times than other people I know that only know about the motherland through anecdotes, The Filipino Channel, and short paragraphs in history textbooks. But I always feel like I am missing whole chapters of a book about my life. That is to say, I don’t know my origin or context, with regards to how I came to be here, in the United States, at this point in time.

I am actively investigating and recovering the missing chapters. That means looking for anything that has not been touched by the foreign hands that sought to take away the riches of my ancestors. Continue reading