My current US visit is now 20 days long where I have traveled to San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington DC, and Houston. As I write this, I am on my way to the last leg of the journey – Northeastern US which absorbed the brunt of Hurricane Sandy. By sheer luck, or good intuition, I chose earlier last month when I booked my ticket to enter the US via Los Angeles instead of New York. Because of that, I did not experience the 12-day power blackout which my New York host family experienced and I may not see anymore the tree that fell on the roof of my New Jersey hosts.
The vastness of America really takes a lot of time to traverse. Driving from Southern California and back took two days, and then three more days from San Diego to Washington DC, Washington DC to Houston, and Houston to New York. It is not as hectic a schedule, though, as the one that Tony Meloto had from Manila to California, Washington DC, Houston and then back to Manila. By now, he must be in England to attend conferences and be a speaker in at least two of them. But despite my relatively slower pace, I have been in three meetings in San Diego, two in San Francisco, two in Los Angeles, two in Washington DC, and seven in Houston while staying in four private homes and two hotels this time.
I expect the same pace in the East for my last several days. More than twenty such trips as these in the last five years have helped established a powerful pattern of stories with very few exceptions. Many of the families who have hosted me in their homes can be counted as part of the middle class. They had all improved their economic status compared to how they were when they first arrived the United States. Then there were others, fewer in number but had accumulated much more. They not only had larger homes but owned other homes and properties which they mostly rented out.
Staying a few weeks at any one visit allows me not just more understanding with what I am told by Fil-Am residents or discover by myself but a certain distancing from the domestic dynamics in the Philippines. That distancing creates more possibility for objectivity on my part. I read the online versions of media outlets in the Philippines but the distance deflects the emotional reactions that physical proximity often brings. I can better appreciate what physical separation can do in terms of creating gaps between individuals here and individuals, families and society in the motherland. Over time and the powerful influence of life in America, Filipinos do adjust, almost automatically, and develop mainstream coping patterns.
Of course, when speaking about the lives of about 4 million Filipinos in America, first, second, third and even fourth generations, there are many exceptions. These exceptions, however, remain a smaller percentage of the four million, especially the percentage of Fil-Ams who get and stay involved in community affairs or sectoral advocacy. I do get to attend events participated in by Fil-Ams and have been monitoring email groups for 16 years. I notice those who are noticeable especially the advocates or the more involved. At the same time, I have been staying in the homes and communities of Filipinos in America. They are mostly quiet and unnoticed, or do not want to be noticed. If this were not true for a great number, or for the greater number, there would have been no basis for Filipinos to be called the silent or invisible minority by Wikipedia.
Change beyond its normal parameters, though, seems to be the order of the day and the next decades to come. For Filipinos in the Philippines and in America, serious change will flow from inner, evolutionary urges and external dynamics. Just as the Motherland is uncharacteristically gaining praises from international financial and economic institutions whose opinions make or break credit standing of nations, just as the Philippines detains and prosecutes a former president and impeaches a Chief Justice, just as a country described as a basket case in Asia raises itself to be a rising star, so Filipinos in America are awakening. The visionaries and determined advocates among them have succeeded, over forty years, to finally attract attention for the collective minority, not just themselves. It is only the beginning and I anticipate a strong forward movement. The main reason is the new generations and their natural capability to use communications and creative technology.
The younger Fil-Ams, basically the young professionals and the students, those in their early 30’s and younger, are quite outgoing. They may not be as audible and visible as they are capable of, especially because of their talents, but they are less silent and invisible as their parent generations. Their involvement with community affairs, though, has been largely to attend fiestas. I have noticed more efforts to draw young professionals to join Fil-Am organizations, but their numbers are still small. Whatever participation they may have had in Fil-Am groups in colleges and universities, this has not yet translated to sustained involvement after graduation.
External developments, though, do trigger change to move faster, as did the recent reelection of US President Obama. From the commentaries of many a political analyst, there was a general acceptance that minorities in America played a vital role – and will have even more powerful impact in the future elections. Fil-Ams will be part of this evolution. I witnessed an obviously large number having registered and actually voted in the city of San Diego. As a minority, they contributed significantly to the victory of their favored mayoral candidate.
At the same time, the Internet has reconnected separated families and clans, those who migrated to the US and those who stayed behind – and their children. Facebook and Twitter are phenomenal and interactive connectors. They are redefining the meaning of physical separation and fast obliterating the information gap for greater numbers of Filipinos and Fil-Ams. They are also tipping the balance of power and influence between generations, towards the younger ones, of course.
There is much to look forward to, and many to be thankful for. Most of the brave pioneers of change will yet see the fruits of their labor. Indeed, it is a good time to be Filipino.