by Perry Diaz
Music maestro! It’s Cha-Cha time! 1-2-3 cha cha cha… Three steps forward, three steps backward. Few simple steps make this relatively new dance — introduced in the US in 1954 — very popular, especially among the middle-aged Filipino-Americans. Go to a Filipino party and you’d fill the dance floor when Cha-Cha is played. One thing good about Cha-Cha is that you don’t need a lot of space to dance it. You can dance it with little steps. And chances are you’ll end up on the same spot where you started.
Filipino-Americans seem to practice in life the way they dance Cha-Cha, three steps forward, three steps backward. Now, what am I talking about here? Does it seem like I am trying to say that we — Filipino-Americans — live a non-productive life? On the contrary, Filipino-Americans are very productive, prosperous and successful in life. Yes, we live in majestic style. Our poverty level is less than one percent (lower than the Jewish community) and our average household income is one of the highest compared to other ethnic communities.
However, this rosy picture of the economic state of Filipino-Americans is negated by our lack of political voice. Several months ago, I wrote an article about our “Guest Mentality.” We still have a mindset that we are in America only temporarily. Folks, you’re wrong. We’re here to stay. So, let’s take stock in America.
But things are now beginning to change. In the election earlier this month, Filipino-Americans were more participative and noticeable than in prior years. In California, where 50 percent of Filipino-Americans live, there is a good number of Filipino-Americans who ran for elective offices. Several Filipino-American candidates won including Jose Esteves who was reelected as Mayor of Milpitas, Christopher Cabaldon as Mayor of West Sacramento, Frank Batara who will be elevated to Mayor of Hercules in January, Jim Navarro who beat an incumbent Council Member in Union City, Tony Ubalde to the College Board of the Solano Community College, and Mitz Lee to the San Diego Unified School District.
Several Filipino-Americans were defeated in their bids. Of particular interest was the defeat of two Filipina-American candidates. In San Francisco — where Filipino-Americans have yet to be elected to the Board of Supervisors — Myrna Lim lost in her second attempt. She placed second to the incumbent Gerardo Sandoval, a Latino, who was reelected with the votes of Filipino-Americans. Yes, Myrna Lim lost because of the campaign against her from our own community! What is really sad was that the Filipino-American Democratic leadership in San Francisco endorsed Sandoval. In my opinion, had the Filipino-American community rallied behind Lim, the outcome would have been in favor of Lim, particularly because of the large Asian population, 46%, to the Latinos’ 26%. The question is: Why did the Filipino-American Democratic Leadership dump Myrna Lim? I asked one of the Filipino-American Democratic leaders and he could not tell me why his group would not support Lim. However, he said that supporting Lim was like supporting Marcos. But that was what made the campaign against her insidious.
San Diego — one of the largest concentrations of Filipino-Americans — has a politically active Filipino-American community. During the past 25 years, Filipino-American candidates ran for various offices, from school boards to the US Congress. However, to my knowledge, only two have been elected. Some 20 years ago, Angelito Gale, a Filipino immigrant, ran for Board Member of an affluent suburban school district in San Diego County. It was a school district that hardly had a Filipino-American community at that time. A Republican, he ran as Angel Gale, and won handily. He was reelected to a second term. On his third bid, the local newspaper published the candidates with their photos and Angelito “Angel” Gale (pronounced Gah-lee by Filipinos and Gayle by Americans) lost the election. Could we then surmise that he was elected because the mostly Caucasian voters thought that he was a Caucasian? With a name like “Angel Gale,” he could have been anybody but a Filipino.
In the 2004 general election, Mitz Lee, a Filipina-American Republican, ran for Board Member of the San Diego Unified School District and won! She was the first Filipino-American elected to the San Diego school board. I know Mitz personally and I am sure that her wide network of supporters and her ability to reach out to the large minority communities brought her over the top. However, one might surmise that her Anglo-sounding name helped her also. Hey, if that would help, there is nothing wrong with that.
Being a Republican in San Diego is like being a Catholic in Rome. Angel Gale, Mitz Lee, and Marissa Acierto are Republicans. The party label may have helped Gale and Lee in more ways than others. But Marissa Acierto failed in her second attempt to win a seat in the San Diego City Council, where no Filipino-American has ever been elected in to. Considering the large Filipino-American community in San Diego, Marissa shouldn’t have had any problems getting the support of her own community. However, based on my source, Marissa was supported by the Hispanics and Asians. Did the Filipino-American community support Marissa? According to my source, the Filipino-American community leaders supported her opponents and several Filipino-Americans even waged a nasty vilification campaign against her.
In addition to the lack of support from the Filipino-American community, in my opinion, I believe that the San Diego City Council’s decision to hold the election on November 16, two weeks after the general election, created a low voter turnout, particularly in the Filipino-American community. The deck was stacked against Marissa but she was not bitter. She was happy in that “she created an awareness of the great potential Filipinos have in reshaping the political landscape of San Diego.” “I wish,” Marissa said, “that the Filipinos would wield their votes the way they wield their tongues.”
So, we’re back to square one in San Francisco and San Diego — two metropolitan areas heavily populated with Filipino-Americans. And just like Cha-Cha, if you’re good at it, you’ll end the dance on square one.
With a projected five-million strong Filipino-American community by 2010, it’s time to learn a new dance — the “Swing.” This graceful dance is gaining popularity in the Filipino-American community. In politics, hey, the Filipino-Americans could be a powerful “swing” vote in any election. But first, let’s swing around and get our act together in getting more Filipino-Americans elected.