OPINION: Awe and Joy: The Pinoy in America

Buddy Gomez

Posted at Jul 01 2016 12:59 AM

Politics is a pervasive irresistibly Filipino addiction. Overseas compatriots who remained Philippine citizens, carting along the affliction, lobbied to be able to cast their to vote as an outlet for partisan itch. Distance but participative patriotism, perhaps.

But what would it be a reflection of when several hundred Filipinos, far away from the original homeland, gather together in one earthly spot and nary is there any mention of hometown politics? No mention at all of such current daily (even hourly!) byword names such as Aquino, Duterte, Roxas, Binay, Poe, Ramos, Estrada. Arroyo, etc. Strange, wouldn’t you say? For someone, like me, who is inured in a daily such dose, it was noteworthy, in fact a welcome, pleasant relief.

I came away with a respectful impression of the collective unspoken sentiment. Yes, they do care for the country of their origin but not her shoddy politics.

The instance we speak of was in New York City last week. Filipinos in their American diaspora gathering together, no longer as electorally participating citizens, but patriotic nonetheless. The legacy brought along from the country of origin pulsating still, deep in their hearts. A rare multi-generational (millennials, pre- and post-baby boomers, retirees and the ‘ancients’--the ‘gurangs’ 75 years young and beyond!) all gathering, interacting in celebration of their roots in the old archipelagic sod.

Venerative remembrances of culture, heritage, antecedents both personal and institutional. A commemoration of their journeys, the challenges and struggles, the trials and triumphs, the pains and pleasures, the achievements and the sheer experience were all in properly displayed array for participants to delve into, discuss or simply to delight in.

A PINOY STATE OF MIND

"A Pinoy State of Mind: Building with our Roots" was the theme of the 16th Biennial Conference of the Filipino American National Historical Society (FAHNS, as in fahnstastic!) bringing together a happy celebration of proud commonality, although of different ages and provinces of origin, among 675 registered participants at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice campus, (City University of NY), June 22 to 25, 2016, in Manhattan. These participants represent some 34 chapters of FANHS that cover the length and breadth of the US, many from the West Coast.

The conferees spread themselves in sessions of their choice. There were 62 such sessions presenting diverse topics and personal experiences. There were some 16 featured keynoters and speakers in additional segment openers and plenaries. These, over three days, accented by cultural and talent presentations.

Another truly noteworthy aspect of the gathering was the presence and participation of academics: teachers, professors, educators. There were at least 40 PhDs, with disciplines mostly in the social sciences and education, plus some 15 to 20 doctoral candidates.

I am personally in awe of such academic fire power, credentials that are now utilized in the American field of education. It is such a joy to surmise providence in the flow of history. It has been a century after the advent of the “Thomasites” in the development of public education in colonial Philippines and now we hail Fil-Ams in the reverse service, repaying as it were, an old debt of gratitude.

It is likewise heartwarming to observe a common thread that highlights their collective achievements. Many featured speakers (mostly millennials who I heard speak) expressed grateful appreciation for the support structure they were reared with by caring immigrant parents as well as by kin and native communities, without which their ‘stardom” would have been elusive. Social activism was a joy in their lives, making certain that Filipinos excel.

Speaking of PhDs, I must not be remiss in citing one such, Dr. Kevin Nadal, for the success of the Conference. Kevin was the Coordinator of the ‘16th Biennial.’ He made it happen! Along with his corps of volunteers from the FANHS New York Chapter, he masterminded and pulled off an excellent undertaking, indeed a job well done! Future conferences can only profit by consulting with Kevin. (The Conference Souvenir Programme cum guidebook makes for an excellent template.) He is an Associate Professor in the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. (The next Biennial Conference, by the way, will be in Chicago, with the FANHS chapters in the Midwest as collaborating hosts. 2018.)

Time, space and fallible memory do not allow me to capture the entirety of gatherings and be able to name all the participating luminaries and their respective fields. Aside from the academics, there were personalities in the fields of media and entertainment notably actors, dancers, singers, producers, stage managers--all performing prominently off as well as in Broadway. They are the success stories that do not attract attention and renown from “kababayans” (countrymen) back in the Philippines.

Out of fancy and outlook, my personal choice of outstanding Fil-Am achievers in attendance during the conference are a female judge and a Filipino-AfroAmerican musician from Harlem.
Lorna Schofield is the first Filipino-American (mother is Pinay) Federal Judge in US History. She has a lifetime appointment, nominated by President Obama, vetted by the Department of Justice and the FBI and confirmed by the US Senate. She is US District Court Judge for the Southern District of New York. [The Chief Justice of the California State Supreme Court is also a Pinay. Tani Gorre-Cantil Sakauye was born in Sacramento of a Hawaii-born Filipino father and a Cebuana mother.) And the other is, would you believe…

New York’s “King of Latin-Soul” is Pinoy! Latin Jazz and ‘bugaloo’ too! He swings between the B.B. King blues and Tito Puente mambos. “Joe Bataan,” he is popularly known. New York Times calls him a paradox because he is not Latino, at all. Born in Spanish Harlem of an African-American mother and a Filipino.

Peter “Bataan” Nitollano. A graduate of the reformatory (not conservatory) and Puerto Rican street gangs, he found his soul in music. I danced to his music on board the evening cruise along the Hudson last Saturday night. I fantasize an evening of dancing to a Joe Bataan performance at the Ayala Triangle with Metro Manila partygoers reveling all night, a fund raising event for the Filipino American National Historical Society Museum in Stockton. A fantasy?

FIL-AM HISTORY MONTH

The Filipino American History Month is now observed every October nationwide in the US. This is most probably the crowning achievement of the Filipino American National Historical Society (established in 1982), an initiative of founders Fred (and Dorothy) Cordova. Both possess PhDs. and are tireless, committed social activists for the Filipino American cause. Fred passed away in late 2013 while Dorothy continues as Executive Director, overseeing FANHS policy and the National Pinoy Archives in Seattle.

Dorothy was in attendance at the NY conference. Her usual presence is always inspiring for all members and more so, for the future leadership who will take up the baton ably held by Fred and Dorothy.

FANHS is devoted to the research and documentation of the Filipino presence in the Americas. (The Filipino American History Month is what FANHS says it is. No, no, no, it ought never to be confused with “Filipino American Heritage Month” which is an absolute non-entity. That title refers to something non-existent. When the occasion arises, I will devote a full essay on FANHS, maybe on its anniversary or when October rolls along. I have been a member since 1988 when I affiliated during a conference in New Orleans. That was when we visited the village of St. Malo, now recognized as the very first Filipino ( then known as Indios de Luconia [Luzon] or ‘Manilamen’) settlement in 1763, years before the American Independence. (Please google: “Saint Malo, Louisiana.”)

READ RELATED ARTICLE ON FANHS:
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There is indeed much to be proud of as Filipinos in America, the second largest Asian Americans in the US now at an estimated 4- million plus. Also, the largest concentration of overseas Filipinos. The Filipino in America is awesome, a fount of joy for those who take sincere pride in being Pinoy.

The 16th Biennial was truly a fun learning experience. Thank you, FANHS! Thanks, New York!       

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