October is Filipino American History Month. I am proud of both my American and my Filipino heritage and am glad that there is a month to celebrate the contributions of Filipino Americans to American society. I have to admit though that it’s taken a while for me to fully appreciate my Filipino heritage, as I spent my childhood in navy bases and was never really exposed to Filipino culture. I did a cartoon for the October 16, 2013 edition of the Philippines Today to commemorate this month.
Until my teen years, I lived most of my childhood in military bases. It was a happy childhood and I had a very multicultural group of friends, but I was never really exposed to much Filipino culture. I only saw my relatives once a year and I spoke English at home. I was what is what people now call a coconut: brown on the outside, white in the inside.
When my Dad retired and we began to live among civilians, that was the first time I got to know a large number of Filipino Americans. A few Filipinos would constantly criticize me for not knowing tagalog and it made me very self-conscious and insecure about my Filipino heritage. Three things made me more confident about my identity as a Filipino American.
The first thing was my first girlfriend, who was a Filipina. She was a very kind person who accepted me for who I was. She didn’t care that I didn’t know tagalog and she admired the fact that I knew so much about American history. Her family took me in and treated me very well. They would tell me these stories of when they were in the Philippines and how glad they were to come to America and the opportunities that they had in the States. Though we eventually broke up, I’m still grateful for her kindness and the kindness of her family.
The second thing that made me confident about my Philippine heritage was an Asian American class that I took in college. I met other Filipino Americans who had similar backgrounds as I. I learned a lot about the history of the Filipino immigrants who went first to Hawaii and then to the mainland and worked in the canneries, the farms, and the work in the lower strata of the American job market. The greatest impression that was made on me was Carlos Bulosan’s book America Is In The Heart. Reading about Carlos Bulosan’s experiences as a migrant worker who traveled around the western U.S. looking for work and experiencing prejudice. Carlos Bulosan saw the distance between America’s high ideals and the reality of prejudice and discrimination against Filipinos and other minorities and Bulosan made it his life mission to get the United States to treat all her citizens fairly and to live up to its highest ideals. Carlos Bulosan helped me to be proud to be both an American and a Filipino.
The third thing that helped me to embrace my Filipino heritage was the People Power revolution that overthrew the Marcos administration. I remember following the newspaper with great interest at the latest news of Cory Aquino’s campaign for the Philippines’ presidency. When Marcos tried to steal the elections, I was amazed at the nonviolent nature of the protests that followed. The nuns who sat in front of tanks. Unarmed citizens from all walks of life, poor, middle class, rich, wearing yellow shirts and marching for their rights. I was very proud of my Filipino heritage after seeing the way the People Power revolution was conducted, and I admired Cory Aquino for her quiet dignity during all the chaos.
Around seven years later, I visited the Philippines to attend a friend’s wedding and to visit relatives whom I never met before. It was a wonderful experience. I visited my father’s old home, and saw the old pig pen in the backyard. I rode on a jeepney and my cousin’s passenger motorcycle. I went to a barrio fiesta, where people would go from house to house in the neighborhood, where food was prepared for the visitors to eat. I tried playing basketball with some of the guys in the town, but I didn’t really play well. I had accidently drank some water and got sick a few days before, so I was still a little weak and didn’t have the strength to play basketball well.
I loved the people that I met. But I hated the poverty. Everywhere I went, there were children begging. There were a lot of shacks with poor people. When I was in Manila, I had to put a handkerchief in my mouth because of the air pollution. When I do my cartoons for the Philippines Today, I try to focus on ways to remind readers of the plight of the poor.
UCLA has a website that gives a few suggestions on what you could do to celebrate Filipino American History Month. Among the suggestions are to read Carlos Bulosan’s America Is In The Heart, watch the documentary Filipino American: Discovering Their Past For The Future, read poetry of Jose Garcia Villa or just get into a conversation with a Filipino American about their experiences in the Philippines and in America.
California Assemblymember Ron Bonta sks everyone to celebrate Filipino traditions and heritage during October, Filipino-American History Month
A youtube video of Filipino American History Month
If you enjoy this cartoon, take a look at these links for more of my political cartoons at my blog. You could also join my Jasper the Cat facebook page. If you’d like to email me, you can write a comment at firstname.lastname@example.org
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