Oct 16, 2009

Celebrating October as Filipino-American History Month

By Aurelio S. Agcaoili
Fil-Am Observer, Editor-In-Chief
October 2009 Issue, Front Page/Cover Story

The designation by an act of the state House of Representatives and the Senate, and by the signing of Governor Linda Lingle of Act 15 on April 15, 2008 signals a beginning that is ominous of respect for history and the sacrifices of people who made—and continues to make—that history to happen.

That respect—as seen in the celebration of October as “Filipino-American History Month”—hinges upon the need to be just with human knowledge as a product of human history and to be fair with the burden of representing the various accounts of peoples making up the various communities of the current Hawaiian society.

For the history that is learned from the official books in basic education is wanting of this recognition of the contribution of Filipino-Americans in the life of this country.

In 1587, it is said that the first Filipinos came to the United States, when this country had yet to imagine that name, or summon it from the collective imaginary of its political visionaries who were drawn to the revolutionary ideals of justice, fairness, democracy, and equality, abstractions all that continue to move the world and whose pursuit is called forth with intensity and passion and commitment until today.

We know that ‘Filipino’ is not an ethnic category but a political terminology to account, in a more ‘national’ because ‘nationalized’ sense, of being a nation-state.

Even with this premise of a national experience, we do not deny the fact that the many peoples of the Philippines who came to the United States since the 1600’s are veritably members of ethnolinguistic groups. It is that membership that they were strongly came to be known, and it is through that membership as well that the remembrance of their collective experiences gets to be more relevant.

There are two ways to reckon the immigrant experience in the diaspora: by way of the terms of nation-state and by way of ethnolinguistic affiliation, the second one eventually implicating the first.

In Hawai’i, in practical terms, it works this way: while we call the immigrants of the Philippines ‘Filipino-Americans’ or ‘Filipino Americans’, these same people are also Ilokano, Sebuano, Ilonggo, Tagalog, Bikol and the like.

It is in this context that the celebration of the Filipino American History Month must be an occasion for multicultural competency and sensitivity—an occasion for an active recognition of the fact that in the diaspora as in the Philippines, there are many ethnolinguistic groups who need to be acknowledged as a matter of basic human right.

In another note, the celebration of the contributions of the peoples of the Philippines in Hawai’i is as well our recognition of the diversity that makes and marks the Philippines.

For in Hawai’i, in the past as it is still today, this diversity of contribution by the peoples of the Philippines to the economic, political, and cultural progress of this state is a diversity born of the diversity of the people, the diversity of their gifts, the diversity of their talents, the diversity of their abilities and competencies and capacities.

In marking this month as an occasion for relevant remembering, we mark as well the indignities that the many peoples of the Philippines went through as they tried to find their corner of the earth in this country, our marking off essentially our way of issuing memorandum to ourselves so that from hereon, we shall no longer fall asleep on our way to fighting for our basic dignity and basic human rights.

There is cause for celebration this October, with a long list of triumphs we can offer—we have, in fact, offered—to the United States as our adoptive land. Some of these triumphs have served to remind us that in time, we can do what we can if we were allowed to do what we can with the best of our abilities.

The list of ‘firsts’ can baffle, such that while the first who beat the odds is always an exemplar—unequalled in many ways—those who can sustain the achievement of the past are as important as those who showed as the way.

In the diaspora, a community—or communities of Filipino-Americans—must continually be in tandem with the changed and the changing circumstances of the adoptive land.

The challenges for doing so are enormous.

But there is no short cut to the path to this new citizenship demanded by our diasporic lives.

It is how we accept and confront these challenges that matter in the end without losing sight of the value of heritage, of the respect for the languages and cultures of the peoples we descended from, and of the difficult history that these people had to write with their sorrow and sweat, with their limbs and lives, and with their dreams and fears.

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