February 2004

By Perry Diaz 

Movie-MiracleI saw the movie “Miracle” last week and was impressed on how the US National Hockey Team overcame incredible odds to win the Gold Medal at the 980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York.  Minutes prior to their showdown with the superior Russian Hockey Team, coach Herb Brooks gave his American team the speech of his life.  He began by saying, “Great moments are born from great opportunities.”  He told them that the Russians’ time is over and now is their time to be champions.  He said, “You’re meant to be here.  This moment is yours. You’re meant to be here at this time.” He ended by saying, “But you got to go out there and get it!”  The US team was so revved up that they trounced the Russians in the semi-finals and went on to beat Finland for the Gold Medal.

The “Miracle on Ice,” as the 1980 US-Russian hockey game was dubbed, happened only because Herb Brooks saw the opportunity to win and he seized the moment.  It was a moment never to be repeated again. In the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Herb coached the US Hockey Team again but only placed second with a Silver Medal.  On August 11, 2003, he was killed in a car accident.  He never saw “Miracle.”

What Herb Brooks told his hockey players intrigued me: “Great moments are born from great opportunities.”  This seems like a rule that can be applied in all facets of life, in any vocation or profession, and in politics.

On November 2, 1863, several months after the battle of Gettysburg, President Abraham Lincoln was invited to make a “few appropriate remarks” at the dedication ceremony of the new military cemetery at Gettysburg.  The invitation stated that President Lincoln will make a “few appropriate remarks” following an oration to be given by the venerable Edward Everett, the nation’s foremost rhetorician.  President Lincoln was aware of his secondary role of just making a “few appropriate remarks” after the oration of Edward Everett.  He could have declined the invitation and that would be the end of it.  But Lincoln saw a great opportunity and he seized the moment to tell the people that the War is not just to save the Union, but also to establish freedom and equality for all.  Delivered on November 19, 1863, Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address — as it is now known — lasted two and one-half minutes while Everett’s long-forgotten oration lasted two hours.  If there is one event that was associated with the greatness of Lincoln, it was his Gettysburg address to which he set the tone for what the United States of America is all about, “government of the people, by the people, for the people.”

On December 1, 1955, 92 years after Abraham Lincoln gave one of the most memorable speeches of all time, Rosa Park, an African-American seamstress, weary and tired from a long day of work, rode a bus and sat at the “White” section of the vehicle.  When she was asked to give up her seat for a white man, she saw an opportunity to show the world that she had a right to her seat.  She seized the moment and refused to give up her seat to a white man.  She was arrested and the Civil Rights movement started.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a Baptist pastor in Montgomery, Alabama, saw the opportunity to right a wrong and he seized the moment.   He led a boycott of the bus company.  Violence against African-Americans erupted.  The boycott continued for over a year.  Finally, the US Supreme Court took action to end the boycott.  On November 13, 1956, the Supreme Court declared that Alabama’s segregation laws on buses were illegal.  On December 21, 1956, Dr. King and Rev. Glen Smiley, a white minister, shared the front seat of a public bus.

The first batch — five men — of Filipino farm workers came to California in 1900. By 1930, there were more than 30,000 Filipino farm workers in California.  The state’s agribusiness took advantage of the cheap, unorganized migratory labor — Chinese, Japanese, Mexican and Filipino. Recruiters were sent to the Philippines.  At one time in the 1930s, Filipino farm workers comprised 15% of all California agricultural workers.  As the newest recruits into the labor force, Filipino workers were paid the lowest wages in the industry.

In 1929, a 16-year old Filipino came to the United States.  His name was Larry Dulay Itliong.  Larry became involved in workers’ rights struggles in California and Alaska.  In 1956, Larry founded the Filipino Farm Labor Union in California.  He became involved with the plight of the Filipino farm workers.   On September 8, 1965, Larry saw an opportunity to improve the lot of the Filipino farm workers.   He seized the moment and led a strike of Filipino-American farm workers in the grape vineyards of Delano.

Cesar Chaves and Dolores Huerta, leaders of Mexican American farm workers, joined forces with Itliong.  Within a few years, the Mexican farm workers increased in numbers and eventually outnumbered the Filipinos.  Frustrated with the loss of Filipino identity in the farm labor movement, Itliong resigned from United Farm Workers (UFW) on October 15, 1971.

Without the pioneering work of Larry Itliong in the farm labor movement, the UFW would not have achieved their current status.  Today, Mexican Americans and America owe a debt of gratitude to Larry Itliong. Larry Itliong’s activism has changed America.  He made America a better place to live in for the farm labor workers.

I wonder what America would be today if Abraham Lincoln, Rosa Park, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Larry Itliong did not seize those great moments to make a change.  




By Perry Diaz

New-AmericansLast week, my wife and I attended an event in Sacramento and were seated with a couple, Ben and Mary (not their real names), who are about 15 years younger than us.  We had a good conversation with them and then they told us about their son’s aspirations.  They said that their son, Michael (not his real name), a senior in college, wants to be a lawyer and eventually wants to run for public office.  It was no surprise to us that a 22-year old youth would be thinking of what he wants to be in life.  What surprised me was that he wanted to be a politician!   And more surprising is that Michael is part of a fast-growing breed of new Americans.

This new breed of Americans is “American” in every meaning of the word  — natural-born Americans; they love America; they are patriotic; they speak perfect English; they are schooled in American schools, and they love football, baseball, and basketball.  The only difference that sets them apart from other Americans is that they are descendants of Filipino immigrants. Based on the 2000 Census, their number is estimated at 1,008,000  — roughly 42% of all Filipino-Americans.

There is another group of Filipino-Americans born in the US but are now residing in the Philippines.  Most of them are children of rich Filipinos who have residences in the US.  Their children were born in the US — by design — and are therefore American citizens.  As a safeguard against any domestic turmoil — communist takeover or revolution — that could threaten the safety of the ruling oligarchs and the business tycoons in the Philippines, an American citizenship for their children is paramount in their survival plan.

Another group consists of those born to overstaying Filipino visitors in the US — TNTs, as we call them — whose number is estimated between 500,000 and 1,000,000, or, possibly, even more.   Their children, born on US soil, are American citizens.  However, it is unlikely that they have surfaced to be counted during the 2000 Census.  And if they did, for self-preservation, it was very likely that they declared themselves as Hispanic, Asian or anything but a Filipino.

This new breed of Americans has not yet been labeled.  However, a good friend of mine, Judy, has referred to them as the Fourth Wave.  They’re the descendants of three waves of Filipino immigrants that began in1900.  The largest, the Third Wave, which started immigrating to the US in 1965 with the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act, has produced a generation of Filipino-Americans who are now in their young adult life, a generation searching for a niche in the only place they know as home — America.  Many have found theirs — in business, in government, in their professions, in sports, in the performing arts, in the movie industry (big name actors, directors and producers), and politics.

In politics, we have a few Filipino-Americans that blazed the political trail.  In the 1960’s, Patricia Carpio, daughter of a First Wave pensionado and an American mother, became the first Filipino-American elected to a state legislature in the continental United States.  She served in the Oregon House of Representatives.  In 1995, John Ensign, a veterinarian with Filipino ancestry, was elected as Congressman representing the 1st District of Nevada. In 2000, he was elected to the US Senate.  In 1998, Steve Austria was elected to the Ohio House of Representatives.  In 2001, he was elected as a State Senator.  In 2001, Jeff Coleman, son of an American father and a Filipina mother, became the youngest member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.  He is the first of the Fourth Wave of Filipino-Americans elected to a state legislature.

In Hawaii, Filipino-Americans have a strong voice in the Hawaii Legislature.  In 1994, Benjamin Cayetano became the first governor of Filipino descent.  Another outstanding Filipino-American elected official is David Pendleton.  He was first elected at age 29 in 1996 as a member of the Hawaii House of Representatives.  He said that he may only be half Filipino by blood, but he is 100% Filipino by heart.  However, he said that he has served his constituents well, without regard for race or ethnicity.  “That is the Filipino way,” he said.

In California, the $64,000 question is:  When will California elect its first Filipino-American legislator?   With an estimated 450,000 qualified voters out of a population of 1.3 million Filipino-Americans, there is enough support to propel a Filipino-American to the state legislature.  As a matter of fact, Henry Manayan, former Mayor of Milpitas, is running to represent Assembly District 20, a district that has a large number of Filipino-Americans.  Interviews with supporters indicate an optimistic but cautious campaign to win in the Democratic Primary on March 2, 2004.  If Manayan wins the primary, he would be a shoo-in in the general election on November 2, 2004. 


With the Republicans, Ely Ayao is running for the second time in Assembly District 39.  He is optimistic that, like his first try in 2002, he will win in the Republican Primary.  However, the general election will not be as easy.  In a heavily Democratic district, he is the Republican underdog.  But Ayao, an immigrant and a successful real estate broker, is not deterred by the odds against him.  He is going all the way for an upset victory in November.  It must be the immigrant in Ayao that gives him the will power to succeed.

And the “will power to succeed” is what this new breed of Americans should learn from their immigrant parents.  Michael and the other members of his generation who are aspiring to become politicians have one good thing going for them.  Filipinos love politics.  Politics is in their blood.  However, it is hard to erase Philippine politics from the psyche of the Filipino mind.  So be it!  But let not the minds of our children be, for lack of a better word, brainwashed with Philippine politics.  If Michael’s aspiration to enter American politics is a flicker of a signal from his generation, then we know that it is just a matter of time — short time — before we will see Filipino-Americans of the Fourth Wave get elected.

As one of my favorite speakers once said, “If you see the light at the end of a tunnel, get the hell out of the way – it’s a train!”  Riding in that train are Michael and others in his generation.




By Perry Diaz


Statue-of-LibertyIn the 1937 movie “Conquest,” Napoleon Bonaparte, on the eve of his second exile to the island of St. Helena, was urged by his mistress, Countess Marie Walewska, to escape with her and their young son, Alexandre, to America and start a new life.  After contemplating the proposal, he decided instead to go to St. Helena to “follow his star.”  However, in real life, on June 22, 1815 — after his defeat at Waterloo — he abdicated for the second time and attempted to flee to the United States.  He was intercepted by the English and held prisoner.  On July 15, 1815, he was sent to St. Helena where he spent the rest of his life.

Can you imagine what would have happened if Napoleon escaped and reached America?  Would he have raised an army and return to France? Or find a homestead in Louisiana and start a new life?  After losing his empire twice and everything he owned, I doubt if he had the desire to go back to France.  He was going to America to survive and stay alive.  America was the land of opportunity — a land to have a second chance in life. That, I believe, was what Napoleon had in mind. And so did many before him.

In 1620, to escape persecution in England, a group of Separatist Puritans left for America on board the Mayflower.  Later known as the Pilgrims, 102 Puritans settled in Plymouth, Massachusetts.  Thus, the colonial immigration began. Other groups followed: Hessians, Huguenots, Mennonites, Moravians, Palatines, Quakers, Scots-Irish, Walloons, Jews, and the Africans.  Interestingly, the largest group of colonial immigrants — 360,000 — who came before 1790 were the African slaves.  They account for about 40% of the 900,000 colonial immigrants.  The Hessians were German troops used by the British in the Revolutionary War.  The others came due to religious persecution in their countries.  Between 1790 and 1820, another 300,000 immigrants arrived in the US.

In the 19th century, immigration from other countries began — Irish, Germans, Norwegians, Swedes, Slavs, and other Northern and Western Europeans.  By 1850, three out of 10 Americans were foreign-born.  They came for various reasons, but mainly to survive and to start a new life.  The Irish left Ireland due to the potato famine and religious persecution.  The Irish were treated harshly.  It was not uncommon to see ads for employment followed by “No Irish Need Apply.”

During the Gold Rush in California, Chinese laborers began arriving in the US.  They were the first to arrive from Asia.  When the Transcontinental Railroad was being built, thousands of cheap Chinese labor was used.  Due to the large influx of Chinese, a xenophobic US Congress enacted the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.  The act suspended the immigration of Chinese to the US and also made them ineligible for naturalization.  In 1892, the act was extended for another 10 years. In 1902, Chinese immigration was made permanently illegal.

The Japanese first came to the US in the 1880s.  They came to Hawaii and California to replace the Chinese workers who had been excluded.  However, continuous Japanese immigration became an issue with the US government.  In 1907, the US negotiated with Japan a “Gentlemen’s Agreement,” for Japan to close its door to outbound immigration.  At that time, there were 130,000 Japanese immigrants in the US.

In 1924, US passed the National Origins Act of 1924, which established admission quotas.  It was designed to curb immigration from new source countries such as Italy, Poland, and Russia by allocating them small quotas.  In addition, it excluded Asian immigration permanently.  The Philippines, which was a US colony at that time, was not affected by the exclusion of Asian immigration.  In fact, Filipino laborers were recruited to replace those who were excluded.  More than 200,000 Filipinos arrived in the US between 1900 and 1940.  In 1935, US Congress passed the Tydings-McDuffie Act, which provided independence for the Philippines in 10 years.  However, the act curtailed the immigration of Filipinos to the US and set a quota of 50 immigrants per year.  Finally, “Exclusion” caught up with the Filipinos.

Immigration reached a high point at the beginning of the 20th century.  In 1890, the Ellis Island in New York became the entry point of immigrants.  In addition to immigrants from Northern and Western Europe, large groups of Italians, Greeks, Austrians, Hungarians, Polish, Armenians, and Russians — mostly undocumented — were arriving by the thousands.  There is also a significant number — more than 200,000 — of immigrants from Arab countries ruled by the Ottoman Empire.  They were mostly Arab Christians escaping from religious persecution.  However, there were also 50,000 Muslim Turks who immigrated to the US for various reasons.  A third group from the Ottoman Empire were thousands of Armenians who escaped the genocide in 1915.  Between 1892 and 1954, 12 million immigrants passed through the immigration center at Ellis Island.  Today, about 40% of Americans can trace their ancestry to immigrants through Ellis Island.

In 1965, US Congress passed the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which, among others, abolished the National Origins Quota System.  The law allowed for a “dual chain” system of immigration consisting of the “relative-selective” and “occupational” migration.  Under “relative-selective immigration,” Filipinos came as petitioned relatives of previous migrants who had become US citizens.  The “occupational immigration” was added in response to the need for more professionals.  Today, the Filipinos are the fastest growing Asian community in the US.

America today is still the land of opportunity.  It is a haven for those who escape from persecution and a place for those who wish to start a new life.  Among those who have come to the United States are children of past communist dictators of the defunct Soviet Union.  Svetlana Alliluyeva, daughter of the Russian communist dictator Stalin, defected and sought asylum in the US in 1967.  She became a US citizen and married an American architect.  Sergei Khrushchev, son of Nikita Khrushchev — the Soviet dictator who pounded his shoe on a lectern at the United Nations and promised to bury the US — immigrated to the US after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.  He was naturalized in 1999.  Who could have imagined that they would pursue a second chance in America?

In 1883, Emma Lazarus wrote a poem, the “New Colossus” which is inscribed on a plaque on the Statue of Liberty.  “Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she, with silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore; Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”  A gift to America from a country once ruled by Napoleon Bonaparte, the Statue of Liberty still stands tall welcoming immigrants to America.






By Perry Diaz

A Man Without A Country

Fernando Poe Jr.

Fernando Poe Jr.

There is a story that God recently asked Dr. Jose Rizal, the Philippine National Hero, to go back to the Philippines and try to solve its political problems, particularly the forthcoming presidential election.

On his way to the Philippines, Rizal dropped by hell to have a chat with Satan.  “Man, I am telling you, I wouldn’t touch those guys running for president with a ten-foot pole, especially that smart little woman,” said Satan.  “Why?” asked Rizal. “Well,” Satan started to explain, “That actor guy is a friend of deposed president Joseph Estrada and if he wins he’ll release Estrada from prison and they’ll have a hell of a good time running the country.  Then there is that other guy who was accused of the Kulatong Baleleng gang’s demise.  When the Kulatong Baleleng gang members came to hell, they warned me about him.  But what really worries me is this smart little woman who is running for reelection.  She really scares the hell out of me!”  Rizal was stunned and asked, “Why are you scared of her?”  Satan looked around and said, “Look, she is a friend of George W. Bush.   If you look at what Bush did to Afghanistan and Iraq, you wouldn’t mess around with this lady.  I just heard that Saddam Hussein has gone bananas and…”  “That’s enough!  That’s all I want to hear,” Rizal said and ran out of hell as fast as he could.  He decided to skip the Philippines and went back to Heaven.  “Wow!  That’s a record time to finish a complex assignment.  Tell me, what happened?” asked God.  “Lord,” replied Rizal, “Please don’t let any of them come to Heaven.  They’ll take over your kingdom if they ever get in.”

“Takeover” has always been the trademark of Philippine politics.  From the time of the 1896 Revolution, transition of power has always been in the fashion of a “takeover.” Manuel Roxas, the first president of the republic, died in office of heart attack in 1948.  Elpidio Quirino, the Vice President, succeeded Roxas but lost in his reelection bid in 1953 to Ramon Magsaysay.  Magsaysay died in a plane crash in 1957 and was succeeded by Vice President Carlos P. Garcia. Garcia lost in his reelection bid to Diosdado Macapagal in 1961.  In 1965, Macapagal was defeated in his reelection bid to Ferdinand Marcos.  Marcos was reelected in 1969, the first president to be reelected.  In 1972, following a series of bombings in Manila, Marcos declared martial law due to an “imminent communist takeover.”  In 1986, Marcos was deposed by the People Power revolution and Cory Aquino was installed as President.  Fidel Ramos succeeded Aquino, who was precluded from running for a second term under the new constitution, in 1992.  In 1998, Joseph Estrada, a political rival of Ramos, was elected president.  Within 18 months Estrada was deposed by another People Power revolution.  On January 20, 2001 — the same day that George W. Bush was inaugurated as US President — Gloria Macapagal Arroyo of the opposition party and the Vice President then, was sworn in as President.

The presidential election on May 10, 2004 could be the most important political event since the People Power revolution of 1986.  What makes it interesting is the entry into the race of Fernando Poe, Jr.  FPJ, as he is referred to these days, is the most popular actor in the Philippines today.  However, his candidacy has opened a closet full of skeletons that have suddenly come to life to haunt him.

Fernando Poe, Jr.  — “Ronnie” to his friends and associates — was born Ronald Allan Poe on August 20, 1939 in Manila.  When FPJ became an actor, he used the name of his brother Andy — the real Fernando Poe Jr. — for his screen name.  Andy died several years ago, long before his name was embroiled in the current controversy.

FPJ’s father was Fernando Poe, Sr., a famous actor-producer. He died of hydrophobia in 1951 when he let a rabid dog lick a wound he sustained during the filming of a movie.  His mother was Elizabeth Kelly, an American citizen.  Born in the Philippines, she visited the US for the first time only when she was 50 years old.  She died at the age of 81 in 1999.

FPJ’s dilemma is his father’s citizenship and marriages.  Poe Sr.’s father, Lorenzo Poe, or Pou as it was originally spelled, was born in Majorca, Spain.  FPJ claimed that his grandfather became a naturalized Filipino citizen after he settled in the Philippines.  Lorenzo Poe’s wife, Marta Reyes, was a Spanish mestiza; that is, half-Spanish and half-Filipino.  I would assume that she was born in the Philippines.  It was also determined that Lorenzo Poe owned land in San Carlos, Pangasinan.  Philippine law allows only Filipino citizens to own land.  That being the case, it would be reasonable to presume that Poe Sr. was born to Filipino parents.

However, the key to FPJ’s citizenship controversy is Poe Sr.’s marriages to two women.  It was alleged that Poe Sr. was first married to a certain Paulita Gomez, a Spanish citizen, at the time of FPJ’s birth.  Since Poe Sr. was already married to Gomez, his later marriage to Elizabeth Kelly was bigamous and illegal.  Therefore, since FPJ was born out of wedlock, he was illegitimate.  Philippine law states that an illegitimate child takes the citizenship of the mother.  Elizabeth Kelly being an American citizen, FPJ is therefore an American at birth.

The question is: What is FPJ’s citizenship today?  The legal arguments claim that he is not a Filipino citizen because of his illegitimate birth.  If he is not a Filipino citizen, is he then an American citizen?  Not necessarily.  If I am not mistaken, I think that American citizens born in foreign countries, in which one parent is not an American citizen, have to claim their US citizenship when they reach 18 years of age.  However, granted that he is still an American citizen, didn’t he lose it when he declared to run for President of the Philippines?  Sounds like a Catch-22 situation.   If FPJ is not a Filipino citizen or an American citizen, is he then a state-less person — a man without a country?

That is intriguing, isn’t it?  How can a person who is born and raised in the Philippines, with all the intrinsic values, habits, and idiosyncrasies of a Filipino, who speaks Filipino, spent 100% of his adult life acting in Filipino movies; wake up one day and realize that some people think he is not a Filipino?

On Friday, January 31, the Commission on Election dismissed a petition to disqualify FPJ from the presidential race due to his citizenship.  Barring further legal actions by FPJ’s political enemies, the May 10th election looms as a battle royale pitting incumbent President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo — a seasoned politician and member of a political family — against political neophyte Ronald Allan Poe, aka Fernando Poe, Jr.   May the best man… oops! person wins.