October is Filipino/a/x American History Month, a time for celebrating the heritage and achievements of Filipino Americans whose contributions have helped build and shape this country. In honor of Filipino American History Month, our colleagues, Mercy Albaran, Micah Rimando, Myrna Chua-Miguel and Kayla Butler share their reflections:
How do you celebrate your connection to Filipino-American history and your Filipino heritage?
Mercy Albaran: While I was born in the U.S., staying in contact with my cousins and relatives in the Philippines over the years has given me strong ties to Filipino culture/heritage. I didn’t actually learn about Filipino-American history until after college and then I became an organizer. I celebrate by learning and spreading the knowledge!For example, Larry Itliong, a labor organizer, convinced Cesar Chavez to join the Delano Grape Strike and started the modern day farmworkers rights movement. Filipinos were also the first Asians to arrive to the U.S. in 1521 via Spanish ships. Wow!
Micah Rimando: I grew up in the Philippines for 20 years before moving here for graduate school, and so I am really closely aligned to my Filipino culture. Filipino-American history was taught all-throughout my academic years and so I am highly familiar with it, though I am wary about what is being passed on to us in our neo-liberal education in the Philippines. As a former student journalist and later an organized activist back home, I became more aware of the conditions and struggles of Overseas Filipino Workers in the United States, who stay here to support their families back home, and for some who eventually stayed for greener pastures. Though there is a stigma that they/we left the country and gave up on our fellow Filipinos who are suffering under the governance of incompetent leaders, I strongly believe in the concept of forced migration and sympathize with my countrymen here. To me, Filipino workers and migrants here can still partake in helping the country. And while the ties between Filipinos and Americans are celebrated, it is important to acknowledge the lasting effects of American colonization in the Philippines with a critical eye.
Myrna Chua-Miguel: Even if I am away from the Philippines, I still embody the values and culture of being a Filipino. The spirit of Bayanihan, close family ties and the Filipino brand, which is resiliency that was deeply rooted in me since I was young, is evident in my day-to-day encounter with every individual I engage with. We still manage to smile despite many challenges.
Kayla Butler: Ever since I was a child, I felt very connected to my Filipino heritage because my mom and her family would always share about their childhood growing up in Cebu. I feel connected to my Filipino heritage by learning about my ancestors, exploring the history of the Philippines and food. I’m so lucky to have grown up eating many delicious family recipes like Sinigang, Pan de Sal, and Lumpia.
Who are the Filipino-Americans that you look up to and why?
Mercy Albaran: I look up to Dr. Dawn Bohulano Mabalo who was was respected and loved Pinay historian, author and community activist from Stockton, California. Dawn was the first Pinay to earn a Ph.D. in American History from Stanford University and her dissertation became the award winning book, Little Manila is in the Heart: The Making of theFilipina/o American Community in Stockton, California. It’s the first history book I’ve read that just focused on Filipino/a/x folks in the U.S.
Micah Rimando: There is a saying “Kapag namulat ka na sa katotohanan, kasalanan na ang pumikit,” which translates to “Once your eyes have been opened, it is a sin to close your eyes again.” I look up to all the Filipino-Americans here in the United States who remain aware and do not turn a blind eye on the national situation in the Philippines, despite the more comfortable life here– while educating other Filipinos and diverse communities here for international solidarity. We can still work with them, and mobilizing here all starts with awareness amid the comforts and distractions here.
Myrna Chua-Miguel: Important Filipino-American History that could never be erased is the quarter of a million Filipino-Americans that fought in World War II. With the end of the war, the Philippines gained our independence 1946. Benefits for most Filipino veterans were rescinded with the Rescission Act of 1946, but the Filipino-American community fought for decades for those full benefits. Veterans finally received a lump-sum payment in 2009 for their service.
Kayla Butler: I look up to Larry Itliong, a Filipino-American labor organizer who was at the forefront of the United Farm Workers movement in the 1960s. When my grandfather first immigrated to the United States before my mom and her siblings came, he worked as a farmworker alongside other migrants in California’s Central Valley. Larry Itliong’s legacy reminds me of the importance of the labor rights movement that we are seeing today. I also look up to the author of Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self Delusion and staff writer at The New Yorker, Jia Tolentino. I’m inspired by her writing on reproductive rights and social justice issues through the use of a critical lens.
How do you connect with issues happening in the Philippines while living in the U.S.?
Mercy Albaran: I talk to my family, follow different news sources and activist organizations in the Philippines to keep track of the news when I can. I’m also a supporter of GABRIELA-USA, grassroots Filipino womxn’s organization fighting for the liberation of all oppressed Filipino womxn. I follow their work on the ground in the U.S. and Philippines around political issues and activism.
Micah Rimando: I continuously read the news, most especially from news outlets in the Philippines that cover not just issues about governance and politics, but also help give a platform for marginalized communities to voice out their concerns. I also stay in touch with some activist organizations in the Philippines and volunteer for a women’s rights and feminist organization remotely. I am also involved in a Filipino-activist movement here in the U.S. and I strongly encourage my kababayans here to do the same.
Myrna Chua-Miguel: With the advancement in technology, I get updates about what is happening around the globe through the web. I learn the news concerning the issues happening in the Philippines through the social media and news updates posted on the internet.
Kayla Butler: I connect with issues happening in the Philippines by talking to my family and Filipino friends. I also am connected to my family in the Philippines and often talk with them about how they are feeling with regards to the recent presidential election, issues with freedom of the press and other social and political issues. In addition, I follow a few different social media accounts, but in particular, I enjoy following an Instagram account called Bayan Southern California.
What is something we should not forget as Filipino-Americans being away from the PH?
Mercy Albaran: We should not forget that whether we are Filipino/a/x-Americans or Filipino/a/x folks in the Philippines, we are connected by our shared heritage, histories, struggles, futures and we should fight for the liberation of us all.
Micah Rimando: We should not forget that we are still Filipinos – and not only in the sense of our cultures and traditions, but also in our responsibilities to partake in the struggles of our countrymen back home. Yes, our mobilization here can be more limited while away from home, but there is still a way. For instance, there is a surge of Filipino academics who attend funded graduate schools in the United States. One of the things that they/we can do is to continue making use of our tools and resources in the academe to raise awareness on the conditions in the Philippines. We can also help fight for the rights of Filipino migrants here and do the best we can to help struggling immigrants in this country.
Myrna Chua-Miguel: First, we should not forget where we came from. The lesson that our parents taught us is to be humble, respectful to elders by not telling directly their names when you’re calling or talking to them and helpful to other people especially our kababayans. Lastly, the foods that we eat are adobo, sinigang, lechon and food with fish sauce like dinengdeng and pinakbet.
Kayla Butler: Being away from the PH, we should not forget the resilience of our people. I feel a great amount of gratitude for my family and the sacrifices that they have made so that I can have the life that I have, so I think it’s important to always remember the wonderful and strong people that have shaped me into the person I am today. I think that we shouldn’t forget the importance of liberation and freedom and to use our voices to advocate for these things everywhere around the world, because we are not free until we are all free.
Thank you Mercy, Micah, Myrna and Kayla for sharing your stories!