A New Breed of Americans

Perryscope
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.

 

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com)

 


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