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What is the Filipino-American? (Part III)

It is so difficult to end this series, especially when I know the story is far from over. And I, too, have to end my trip to the US in a few days and return to my home and homeland. My question, ” What is the Filipino-American?”, has found answers, some new but mostly affirmations of answers found earlier.

What did I hope to accomplish by asking questions that provoked varied, sometimes conflicting, responses? Truthfully, I hoped for honest answers. I received them. Truthfully, too, I hoped to stimulate thinking and reflection – which I intend to continue whichever way I can.

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Many know me as a regular contributor to Inquirer.net as I have been one for ten years. Others know me as an advocate and worker for Gawad Kalinga. A few remember me as quite political, a founding member of COPA (Council On Philippine Affairs). I had an earlier life as a corporate person, then as a lover of Mt. Banahaw, Filipino culture and the environment. Like many Filipinos, I am many things to many people.

And that is true of Filipino-Americans, people of many seasons, of many gifts, of many sacrifices and bearers of pain. Many have excelled in their fields, doctors and nurses, artists and journalists, entertainers and athletes, chefs and soldiers. Most work, live, enjoy and suffer unseen and unheard. One job, two jobs or three, sending money to family or relatives still in the Philippines, more than $8 billion in 2010. Generous, hard-working, tired.

We are a race, but we are not a nation. Embedded in our attitudes is a penchant to be servile, a consequence of four hundred years of colonization. Though now free, though now in the United States, being servile is hard to transcend – so Fil-Ams just stay silent or invisible. Those who are not wont to be submissive take opposite roles, one inspiring from their courage and creativity, the other unable to resist being fodder for conflict and divisiveness.

Filipino-Americans claim they love their people and motherland. They do, but mostly their personal families and relatives. Beyond that, it is not as obvious, if at all. And if people are judged by their actions, then there would be little evidence that Fil-Ams can love their race beyond their relatives, and appreciate the land that has been home to their ancestors. It does not mean that Filipinos in the Philippines are much better. Massive poverty cannot exist without a high level of apathy, and corruption needs a citizenry that is just as apathetic, or subservient.

We are one people, one race, with one motherland. “Kapatid” is a beautiful word, meaning “cut from the same source.” We are a fraternity, a family sharing one name – Filipino. All Filipinos have the same family name, all. Except those who have a choice because they have become another land’s citizens, like Fil-Ams. It is simpler for Filipinos in the Philippines – they can only be Filipinos.

One response from a friend said I might have noticed only the “ego-centrics” who add to the negative image of Fil-Ams. I would like all to know that I cannot miss the noble and generous among Fil-Ams. I walk with them, work with them, laugh with them, and cry with them. I know they love Filipinos who are not related to them, or completely unknown to them, and show that love by the sacrifices they endure for the nameless and faceless poor in the motherland, for the weak, the sick, the old and the innocent. They understand that heroism is not just about bravery, it is about bravery for the sake of others.

In fact, it is the “ego-centric” that I least relate to, not by avoidance, but simply by fortunate circumstance. Yet, it is the “ego-centric,” in the Philippines and in America, that are able to grab the attention. Because they are the visible, and the noisy, they are often seen as the face of the Filipino. They may mean no harm, but what is legendary in America is the propensity of Fil-Am leaders to split and divide, proof of which is the inordinate number of Fil-Am associations, sometimes hundreds in one country.

At the end of the day, however, we must accept reality and hopefully make no excuses. If the family name is more besmirched than admirable but Fil-Ams still decide to incorporate this identity, then they should realize that this truth is not fixed and permanent. With poverty, corruption and divisiveness plaguing the name, Fil-Ams can do their share in enhancing the nobility and beauty of the Filipino – and reducing whatever brings us embarrassment or shame.

Everything we inherit may not be all good, may even be more bad than good, but we are capable of changing the kind of life we wish to be known by, of changing the kind of reputation we do not like and building one that we do. If we are one race or family before the eyes of the world, we ourselves must know, accept, and do all we can to transform the imagery from negative to positive.

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We are one Filipino. We must learn to take care of one another, especially the stronger one tending to those in great need. The poor are brothers and sisters who are cold, hungry and desperate. If those who are not poor do not do enough for those who are, then the rest of the world have basis to say that we do not take care of our own, that our people are without honor.

From across oceans, Filipinos and Filipino-Americans are challenged to erase their shame and create the new Filipino. A special opportunity, and accountability, belong to those who have more. It is a journey Filipinos will take together, wherever we may be. May it be blessed, and may we find we are one.

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