Operation Manong at 40
Although now officially called a different term, Operation Manong’s vision to serve the underserved ethnolinguistic groups in Hawaii has remained the reason why public service in this state remains a concern today.
With forty years of service, that is more than a generation of concerted effort by a number of committed workers for a just cause.
This means that Operation Manong has nurtured a generation of people, and this generation it has nurtured is now nurturing others as well.
If we look at the list of its alumni, we have proofs of the kind of work it has done.
The list does not stop in Oahu, but goes into the other islands, thus spreading the vision for which it was founded four decades ago.
This is the kind of work that we want to see in these islands: sustained and sustaining.
We have a number of organizations like this, organizations that declare commitment to making the lives of immigrants better, but those that impacted the lives of the peoples of the Philippines and other ethnicities are few.
The reason is simple enough: this kind of work, while it is not impossible, is not at all easy.
For every resource it needed, it had to creatively figure out where to get it.
For every human resource it needed, it had to convince those who have the guts and gumption to stay and serve.
For every step of the way in these long years of engagement with the community, it has to be fired continuously by the same vision of access to the goods of public life, of access to education, of access to public life, and of access to full citizenship in this state.
A narrative of its founding in 1971 brings us to a group of students and faculty of the University of Hawaii joining hands with the community and the staff members of Immigrant Services Center in addressing the need of immigrant children from the Philippines to get back to the school system and stay there.
This act would turn into an operation—a coordinated activity—that zeroed in on the need to address head-on the issues affecting immigrant peoples in the state.
For those aware of the political issues in the Philippines in the turbulent 70s, ‘operation’ was a term in those decades that suggested activism, awareness of social issues, and the undying desire to take part in drawing up solutions to the many forms of inequities and disparities of that country, the old homeland of many of Operation Manong’s founders.
Those were energies that came from the young in search of something good—that good that is for all.
Many of those who were involved were schooled in this tradition of questing for what is just and fair in the Philippines, and its spilling over to Hawaii was a logical consequence of a sustained engagement that saw its beginnings, in some ways, in those years of activism in the homeland.
From the perspective of immigration, Operation Manong is boldness and daring defined.
It took a coalition like this one to name what social illness there was that needed addressing after more than 60 years of presence of Filipinos in the state since their coming in 1906, with the first 15 Ilokanos, and in 1909, with the Visayans.
Today, and funded by the state through the University of Hawaii, Operation Manong has metamorphosed into the Office of Multicultural Student Services since 2000.
With this transformation comes the broadening of its services to include programs that address representation, diversity, and tolerance.
We can only be thankful for this story of service of Operation Manong.
The next forty years, we are sure, will be more years of commitment to the cause of diversity and pluralism, of tolerance, of access to educational resources, and of fair representation in all aspects of public life.