December 2003

By Perry Diaz

Eagle-FeatherLast week, I met a gentleman who was planning to relocate to the Oneida Indian Nation’s reservation in Wisconsin. He has an Anglo-sounding name and did not seem like a Native American to me, so I asked him why he is relocating to an Indian reservation. He explained that his father was a German-American and his mother was a member of the Oneida Indian Nation. He said that he is retiring from his job and that he wants to move to the reservation where the tribe will provide him with a piece of land — free — where he can build his retirement house. In addition, he will be receiving a stipend from the tribe. Curiously, I asked him to explain all the benefits he will be receiving from the tribe.

As it turned out, the Oneida Indian Nation has become prosperous because of the gambling casino that they operate inside the reservation. Each member of the tribe is entitled to a stipend, thanks to the revenues generated from the casino operation. He stated that anyone who can prove that he or she has at least one quarter of Oneida Indian blood is entitled to all the benefits given to members of the tribe.

“Oneida West,” as his friends called him when he was in the U.S. Air Force, claimed that he was the first Indian to fly a plane for the Air Force.  Proudly displayed on his living room wall was a framed Eagle feather. He explained that because of his exemplary accomplishment as an Air Force pilot, the Oneida Nation gave him the highest honor bestowed upon a member of the tribe — an Eagle feather. He recounted how Indians were treated unfairly for a long time. “Now,” he said, “because of the revenues from the gambling casinos, Indians have a political voice.”

Prior to becoming self-sufficient and progressive, the Indian reservations were administered and managed by the Federal government’s Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). The BIA provides education for about 50,000 Indian students. However, it does not have enough funds to maintain the basic infrastructure in the Indian reservations. Indians lived in poverty.

In 1978, the U.S. Supreme Court reaffirmed the “inherent sovereignty” of the Indian tribes in the landmark case, United States vs. Wheeler. The Supreme Court’s decision stated: “Although physically within the territory of the U.S. and subject to ultimate federal control, they nonetheless remain a separate people, with the power of regulating their internal and social relations. The powers of the Indian tribes are, in general, ‘inherent powers of a limited sovereignty which has never been extinguished.’ ”

Since then, the Indian tribes began operating casinos which were then called “Indian Gaming” because they were mainly bingo games. Bingo was not considered gambling and was therefore legal in almost all the states. Because of the high jackpot prizes offered by “Indian Gaming,” lots of urban people would take a charter bus to the Indian reservation to try their luck at winning the mega jackpots. I remember in the early 1980’s when Filipino-Americans in the Sacramento area would travel in groups to the three Indian Bingos in Northern California. Word-of-mouth stories of people winning $20,000 jackpots were not uncommon. However, to this date, I still have to meet a Filipino-American who won the big jackpot.

Over the years, “Indian Gaming” evolved into Las Vegas-style casinos. They were no longer just places for Indian Bingo. Slot machines, blackjack and other forms of gambling were introduced. To date, there are 48 Indian casinos in California alone. It is estimated that the Indian casinos in California generate as much as 100 billion dollars a year in revenues.

When I parted with “Oneida West,” I cannot forget what he said, “You know, one of our biggest groups of gamblers are Filipinos.” To which I replied, “Perhaps we deserve an Eagle feather from your tribe,” and we both laughed. He had a happy laughter. I had mixed feelings. I started doing a mental calculation.  There are about 1.5 million Filipinos in California. I assumed one-half — 750,000 — are adult and therefore would be allowed to gamble. Say, 10% are habitual gamblers and each would loose at least $1,000 a year. That’s a hefty $75 million a year that Filipinos lose at the Indian casinos.

If only Filipino-Americans can redirect their gambling losses to empower the Filipino-American community, we too could have a “political voice.” We are one of the largest minorities in the United States. Our family income level is one of the highest. Our poverty level is less than 1%, lower than the Jewish-Americans. We have a high number of professionals. And yet, we still have to be seen on the political radar screen. We still have to elect a Filipino-American to the California Legislature, a state where one-half of all Filipino-Americans in the United States reside.

In politics, two things count — money and votes. While the Filipino-American community has the financial means to build a political base and the votes to make a difference, particularly in a close contest, the community has yet to discover its latent political power. However, as more Filipino-Americans engage themselves in politics as candidates and activists, there is a noticeable increase in political activities of Filipino-Americans. There is now a healthy competition between the Filipino-American Democrats and Filipino-American Republicans; thus, increasing the political awareness in the Filipino-American community. In California, the Filipino-American Republicans are not too far behind the Democrats, who, until a few years ago, had a virtual dominance in the Filipino-American community.

The reason why the Filipino-American Republicans were invisible in the 1990’s in California was that those few Filipino-American Republicans at that time blended with the Asian-American Republicans; therefore, losing their distinct identity.  Today, it is a different story. There are Filipino-American candidates from both the Democratic and Republican parties running for partisan as well as non-partisan offices. To my knowledge, there are at least three Filipino-Americans running for California state assembly districts. Fortunately, nobody is running against each other.

If only the 75,000 Filipino-American habitual gamblers in California could funnel their gambling money to the political war chests of Filipino-American candidates and other candidates who are committed to champion for Filipino-American issues such as the Equity bills for Filipino War Veterans, they could make a big impact that would eventually give the Filipino-American community a political voice.

And if the Filipino-American candidates in California break the political glass ceiling in 2004, it would then be appropriate to honor each of them with a feather from the largest specie of eagles, the pithecophaga jefferyi or the monkey-eating Philippine National Eagle.




By Perry Diaz

Eugene Frederick Castillo

Eugene Frederick Castillo

In the early 1960’s, the United States opened its doors wide open to immigrants – mostly  professionals — to fill the job shortage caused by the robust U.S. economy.  Thousands of Filipino professionals in the fields of education, medicine, engineering, computer programming, accounting and others were attracted to the prospect of U.S. employment.


Thus, started the Brain Drain.  Over a period of almost 40 years, we saw the immigration of more than one million Filipinos to the United States.  Today, with the addition of American-born Filipinos, it is estimated that there are more than three million Americans of Filipino descent living in the United States.


Amongst those early immigrants were Federico Castillo and Diane Claudio.  They came at different times.  They met in Los Angeles, fell in love, got married, and raised children.  One of their children — Eugene Frederick – had great interest in music and pursued it throughout his life.  Eugene, born in 1966, is in his last season as Music Director of the Camellia Symphony Orchestra based in Sacramento, California.  As the first Filipino-American to be appointed music director in a major metropolitan city in the United States, he has proven himself a strong community leader, orchestra builder, and a dynamic arts advocate.


Prior to his appointment in Sacramento, Eugene has served for seven years as Assistant Conductor of the Long Beach Symphony Orchestra.  He was also on the Music faculty at California State University, Long Beach from 1994-1997.  In addition, Eugene has performed as guest conductor in the U.S., Mexico, and England.  He has been a favorite at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, appearing there for the first time in 1993.


With more than 350 works in his repertoire, Eugene is also an outspoken champion of contemporary music, the music of Asia and the Americas, and music that touch on social issues.  Eugene is also a composer.  He has written works for orchestras, chamber ensembles and choirs as well as liturgical music sung in many Catholic churches throughout the United States.


My wife, Dolores, and I first met Eugene Castillo in 1996 during the World View Festival in which the Sacramento Symphony and the University of the Philippines Choral Concert (UPCC) jointly performed with UPCC Director Rey Paguio conducting.  Former Sacramento Mayor Anne Rudin introduced us to Eugene.  We found out later that Eugene was in Sacramento to interview with the Selection Committee of the Camellia Symphony Orchestra (CSO).


In June 1997, it was announced that Eugene was selected as the new Music Director and Conductor of the CSO.  Upon his arrival in Sacramento, Dolores and I hosted a community reception at our home to introduce Eugene to the Filipino-American community. 


After five and a half years at CSO, Eugene has devoted all his time to develop the CSO into a world-class orchestra.  Dolores who joined the CSO Board of Directors in 1998, committed to give Eugene her full support.  In 2000, Dolores was elected President of the CSO.  Together with Eugene, they pursued Eugene’s program of upgrading the quality of CSO.  The CSO, for the first time in its 39-year history, performed twice at the 3,500-seat Sacramento Convention Center and once at the Memorial Auditorium.  CSO received several awards including the prestigious ASCAP Award from the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers for Adventurous Programming of Contemporary Music. 


With all the accolades that the CSO received, Eugene felt that the orchestra fell short of his vision.  Clearly, Eugene was way ahead of his time.  He needed an orchestra that is willing to aim high.   And an opportunity presented itself when he conducted the Cebu Symphony Orchestra several times.  People associated with the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra (PPO) liked his conducting.  He was invited several times to interview with the PPO’s Board of Directors and was eventually offered the position of Music Director and Conductor.  He is to begin his new job in June 2004.


With the passage of the Dual Citizenship Act in the Philippines, Eugene decided to apply for dual citizenship.  On December 12, 2003, Eugene took his oath of citizenship at the Consulate General in San Francisco.  The Consul General, Ambassador Delia Menez Rosal, officiated his oath taking.  Ambassador Rosal commented that hopefully Eugene’s decision to serve the Philippines would encourage other Filipino-Americans to go to the Philippines and use their talents and profession to serve the country.  Indeed, it would be the reversal of the Brain Drain that has befallen the Philippines for so long.  Eugene’s going back signals the beginning of what Ambassador Rosal terms as the Brain Gain.  From Brain Drain to Brain Gain. 


Asked what his mission is in taking the job with PPO, Eugene said he wanted to break the cast of classical music that is perceived only for the Philippines’ elite.  He would like to reach out to the people with his innovative ideas.  His goal is to bring quality music to the people and to the world.


As a tribute to Eugene, Dolores has put together an event that will be a memorable Farewell performance as well as a kickoff of his career that will bring his music to the world.  With the influence and assistance of Dr. Ruth Asmundon, the Mayor Pro Tem of Davis, California, the prestigious Mondavi Center at the University of California Davis will be the venue of the concert.  Dr. Asmundson, a Fil-Am, will be the Mayor of Davis at the time of the concert, May 16, 2004.  At the second half of the concert, Maestro Eugene Castillo will conduct the Davis Symphony Orchestra with volunteers from the Camellia Symphony Orchestra.  It will be Maestro Eugene’s farewell performance to Sacramento as well as the prelude of his music to the world beyond.


The Mondavi Center concert, however, will not be Eugene’s last performance in Sacramento.  Eugene’s vision is to make the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra a world-class orchestra – to become the Philippines’ international ambassadors of culture and to bring national and international pride.


 Preliminary planning has already begun by a group headed by Leticia T. Figueroa, President of the Foundation for the Philippine Folklife Museum based in Berkeley, California.  Eugene hopes to bring the PPO on a U.S. tour in 2005, to Hawaii, Canada and Mexico in 2006, and to Europe in 2007.


Finally, Eugene has found a venue to pursue what he wants to achieve in his life – near his maternal family’s neighborhood along the beautiful Bay of Manila.



By Perry Diaz

Eulogio "Amang" Rodriguez

Eulogio “Amang” Rodriguez

When I was a young boy growing up in Quezon City, Philippines, one of my favorite politicians was Eulogio Rodriguez, Sr.  “Amang,” as he was popularly called, started his political career in 1906 — as Municipal President of Montalban, Rizal — when he was only 23 years old.  In 1916 he became governor of Rizal.  Later he became Mayor of Manila, Representative in Congress, Secretary of Agriculture and Commerce, Senator, and in 1953, he was elected Senate President.  He served in that position until 1961.  He attributed the success of his 55-year political career to the art “of addition.”  “Politics is addition” was his favorite expression.  Amang never lost an election.

But not every politician use Amang’s simplistic formula for political power.  Mao Zedong, who was the absolute ruler of the People’s Republic of China until his death on September 9, 1976, had a different philosophy.  To Mao, “political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.”  He believed that for him to stay in power, he had to keep the Chinese people in a state of perpetual revolution – that the final objective of the revolution has not yet been achieved.  Thus, the Chinese revolution never ended… until Mao’s death.  After his death, the country started veering towards a western-style capitalist system while staying true to Chairman Mao’s belief in the dictatorship of the proletariat.
The methods in which Amang and Mao used to stay in power were strikingly different.  Amang used his personal power and charisma to keep the loyalty of his followers and popularity with the people to deal with his political rivals.  Mao used a well-armed cadre of political and military followers to control the people and subdue his enemies from the “barrel of a gun.”  Mao had to make sure that the strength of the people that he controlled never exceeded the strength of his armed followers.
In the United States, political leaders are most likely to follow Amang’s leadership style.  Mao’s style of leadership will never cross any American politician’s mind only because the real political power in America is still held by the American people.  However, there were several American political leaders in the past that wielded unchallenged political power in their domains.  Huey Long of Louisiana and Richard Daley of Chicago were legends during in their heydays.
Huey Long – a radical populist — used his popularity with his constituents to wield political power rarely matched in American politics.  He was Governor of Louisiana from 1928 to 1932 and was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1930.  When he was governor, he introduced many reforms that endeared him to the rural poor.    Colorful and charismatic – and controversial – he gave himself the nickname of “Kingfish” because, he said, “I’m a small fish in Washington. But I am the Kingfish to the folks in Louisiana.”  A high-school dropout, he taught himself law in one year and got his law degree.  He was so confident that he would be President of the U.S. in 1936 that he wrote a book entitled, “My First Days in the White House.”  However, fate did not allow him to rule the United States.  On September 8, 1935, Long was assassinated inside the state’s capitol.
Mayor Richard Daley of Chicago was a self-made political leader.  He was elected Mayor of Chicago in 1955 and served until his death in 1976.  He is remembered as the last “Big Boss” of Chicago.  During his political rule, he developed a formidable political machine that had dominated politics in every ward in Chicago during his time.
Mee-MouaLet me share the story of a young Hmong woman.  Mee Moua was born in Laos 1969 amidst the Vietnam War.  The Hmongs were allied with the United States’ military operations in Laos and her father served as a medic with the U.S. forces.  After the Vietnam War ended in 1975, the Hmongs left their ancestral land in Laos and fled to the refugee camps in Thailand.  Her family moved from one camp to another, including one in the Philippines.  In 1978, the Hmongs found resettlement sponsors in Minnesota.  More than 25,000 Hmongs, including Moua’s family – resettled in the St. Paul area. She studied law and received her Juris Doctorate from the University of Minnesota Law School.
Moua became involved in the community. She was committed to provide the Eastside of St. Paul – where most of the Hmongs resettled – a voice in fighting for greater economic development, safer neighborhoods, quality education and affordable housing.
In January 2002, Ms. Moua was elected in a special election held when the incumbent state senator became Mayor of St. Paul.  A political novice, State Senator Moua ran again on November 5, 2002, to keep her District 67 Senate Seat.  She won the election with more than 60% of the votes.  She attributed her victories to an aggressive effort to register the Hmongs to vote.  The Hmongs’ solid vote for her provided the swing vote that put her over the top.

During that same election on November 5, 2002, another Hmong political newcomer – 30-year old Cy Thao – was elected as State Representative in Minnesota’s District 65A.  He won with 81% of the votes.  The dual victories of Moua and Thao were achieved due to a large coalition of organized supporters.  The Hmong swing vote proved to be the icing on the cake.

In all these cases, it is fair to surmise that the key to political power is numbers.  Yes, political power is a “numbers game.”  And Amang’s philosophy of “politics is addition” is true in every political success story – from Mao Zedong’s absolute political power to the populist appeal of Huey Long to Richard Daley’s political machine to the leveraged political power of Mee Moua and Cy Thao.  They all realized that the key to their political power is all about numbers.  Yes, politics is a numbers game.


By Perry Diaz


1st Class Warriors, 2nd Class Citizens, 3rd Class War Veterans

Tomas-ClaudioOn June 29, 1918, the first Filipino-American war hero – Pvt. Tomas Claudio — died during a battle in France.  He was a member of the American Expeditionary Force to France sent to fight the German army during World War I.  France awarded him its highest honor — the Legion of Honor.


On August 5, 1923, the Pvt. Tomas Claudio Post 1063 Veterans of Foreign Wars of the U.S., was founded in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania by a group of dedicated Filipino-American veterans of World War I.  Streets in Manila and other cities in the Philippines were named after him.   Pvt. Claudio became the epitome of the bravery of the Filipino warrior


On July 26, 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt issued an Executive Order calling members of the Philippine Commonwealth Army into the service of the United States Armed Forces of the Far East (USAFFE).  Under his order, Filipinos were entitled to full veterans’ benefits.


Thousands of Filipinos joined the USAFFE in the months before and the days just after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.  General MacArthur’s forces were unable to stop the Japanese invasion force.  By New Year’s Day of 1942, the Japanese occupied Manila.


The great retreat into the Bataan Peninsula began.  The retreat was completed by January 6, 1942.  However, with 80,000 troops and about 26,000 civilian refugees, there was not enough food to feed everybody.  Fighting courageously against an enemy with superior firepower, the USAFFE was pushed back and grew weaker.   


On April 9, 1942 the USAFFE, numbering about 70,000 Filipinos and Americans surrendered.  It was the largest American Army in history to surrender.  Some refused to become prisoners and fled, joining a resistance movement that grew to about 180,000 guerrillas throughout the Philippines. 


On May 6, 1942 the USAFFE forces in Corregidor — the island fortress at the entrance of Manila Bay – surrendered.  The Japanese then led their American and Filipino prisoners out of Bataan and Corregidor to Camp O’Donnell, which the Japanese converted into a Prisoners of War camp.   It was estimated that more than 10,000 American and Filipino prisoners died along the way.  Thus, the deadly 60-mile march became known as the “Death March.” 


The Death March did not stop the resistance against the Japanese.  Thousands of Filipino and American soldiers formed guerilla groups throughout the Philippines. The guerillas were involved in intelligence gathering, harassment, and attacks on the Japanese army.  In Mindanao, Col. Wendell Fertig commanded a force of 38,000 men.  As a result, the Japanese never gained full control over large areas in Mindanao. Col. Edwin Ramsey, a guerilla leader in Luzon, recounted what Gen. MacArthur told him at a meeting in Tokyo a few years after the war ended.  MacArthur said that, “The activities of the guerillas had saved tens of thousands of American lives, because the Japanese were never able to put up a single major defensive position, from Lingayen Gulf, all the way to Manila.” 


General MacArthur, in his final tribute to the Filipino soldiers after World War II said,  “Give me 100 Filipinos and I shall conquer the world.”  Truly, these men were first-class warriors.

On February 18, 1946, the US Congress passed the Rescission Act of 1946. On July 25, 1997 – 51 years later — Senator Inouye said at his testimony before the US Senate,  “The U.S. Congress betrayed the Filipino World War II veterans by enacting the Rescission Act of 1946.  The Congress declared the service performed by the Philippine Commonwealth Army veterans as not ‘active service,’ thus denying many benefits to which these veterans were entitled.”  His testimony fell on deaf ears.


For more than 50 years, the Filipino-American community has been fighting for cause of the Filipino war veterans.  In 1990, President George H.W. Bush (the father) signed the Immigration Act of 1990.  Under the new law, certain Filipino veterans who served during World War II became eligible for US citizenship.  Approximately 24,000 veterans became US citizens under this Act.  However, this law did not provide veterans’ benefits on these new American citizens.


Those who came to the US to acquire their citizenship found out that they had to earn a living to live stateside.  Already in their 70’s and 80’s, these old veterans were unemployable – too old with no employable skills.  They had two choices: go back home with their certificates of citizenship or stay and apply for welfare assistance.  A few thousand veterans went home and the rest stayed and lived on government handouts.  In the 44 years that ensued since the Rescission Act of 1946, these first-class warriors became second-class citizens of the country they served.


In the 13 years that followed, the Filipino-American community became divided on how to get legislation passed that will give the Filipino veterans the benefits they deserve.  The Filipino veterans’ advocates were divided.  Several groups supported the “Step-by-Step” approach. They believed that asking for small pieces of legislation — one at a time — was doable.  As a matter of fact, within the past several years, the American Coalition of Filipino Veterans (ACFV) had successfully lobbied for the passage of several benefits packages for the Filipino veterans.  The latest were H.R. 2297, the “Veterans Benefits Act of 2003,” and S. 1156, the “Long-Term Care and Personnel Authorities Enhancement Act of 2003,” passed in the closing days of this year’s session.  President George W. Bush, according to the ACFV, is expected to sign the two laws by December 5, 2003.  These laws would provide about $19 million per year to 8,000 US-based Filipino veterans.   


Several groups were critical of the piecemeal legislation achieved by the Step-By-Step group.  They want to take the “All or Nothing” approach; that is, full benefits for Filipino veterans or nothing.  They believe that it is possible to pass legislation that would provide full benefits and equity to the Filipino veterans in a single legislation.


There is another faction that wants to repeal the Rescission Act of 1946.  They argue that the Rescission Act of 1946 was an act of discrimination and may even be unconstitutional.  They believe that Congress should right a wrong.  They also criticized the Philippine government and the Philippine Embassy for not doing enough to push the H.R. 677, the Equity bill introduced by Congressman Duke Cunningham during the previous Congress.


Clearly, there is good rationale in the “All or Nothing” approach.  After all of the small pieces of legislation have been won by the “Step-By-Step” group, there seems to be nothing left to fight for but full equity or a repeal of the Rescission Act of 1946.  The Filipino World War II veterans are now in their 80’s and 90’s and their number is getting smaller and smaller.


 General MacArthur said during his farewell address to the US Congress on April 19, 1951, “Old soldiers never die, they just fade away.”   The Filipino World War II veterans will never die in our hearts.  But the Filipino-Americans should not let time takes its toll upon the aging and fading veterans.  The Filipino-Americans must never let them down.  The battle for full equity for the Filipino veterans is not over.  They must not become third-class war veterans.



Post-publication note:  I watched the movie “MacArthur” two nights ago.  It’s interesting to note that at a strategic planning meeting held by President Roosevelt with General MacArthur and Admiral Nimitz in late 1944, Admiral Nimitz recommended to President Roosevelt that the US forces in Australia should bypass the Philippines and go direct to Formosa and then to Japan.  General MacArthur argued that it was important to attack and disable the Japanese forces in the Philippines before proceeding to Formosa and Japan.  General MacArthur promised that it will take him five weeks to reach Manila from the Gulf of Lingayen where he was going to land.  He said that his forces will be in Manila by March 1, 1945.  When President Roosevelt asked MacArthur how can he do it in only five weeks, MacArthur told Roosevelt that for the past two years the Filipino guerillas have been gathering intelligence data on the strengths and locations of Japanese forces.  Roosevelt approved MacArthur’s plan.  The  U.S. forces landed in Lingayen on January 18, 1945 and entered Manila on February 5, 1945, one-half the time he estimated it would take. – Perry