March 1995 was very memorable to me. It was the moment I joined the millions of people around the world who aspire to the American Dream. Filipino's venture to the U.S. is not a recent fad. In fact my seafaring ancestors have been coming here since mid-16th century. The first Filipino immigrants settled in the bayous Louisiana. It was a beginning for others to follow, and sure enough, we did. We are one of the fastest growing minorities in the U.S. Recent studies shows that a sixth of the total immigrants in the States are Filipinos and one million of the seven million foreign-born residents are from the Philippines (I'm one of them). The questions that came to my mind was, "How is immigration working for the Filipinos, their lifestyle, family values and their perception of our Homeland?"
I ran a survey on the Internet for a few days. One hundred fifty-five Filipinos (or part-Filipinos) were eager to participate in my survey. Most of the participant were petition by somebody in the family while the others are either born here or first generation Filipino immigrant in the family. My father was the first member in my family to come to the U.S. He shares the experience of other immigrants of having to go through the difficulty of assimilating to the American culture at the same time coping with the pain of having to leave the family behind. For my father it was very hard because we are a closed-knit family and I'm sure it holds true for most of the Filipinos.
The first thing he did was to look for a job. What job? Any job. Having a military background (he was a Captain in the Air Force), it was difficult to take on just any job. Most immigrants take on odd jobs just get by on the first months or even years. A big sacrifice on their part keeping in mind that it'll all be easier one day, this is America isn't it? The American Dream. A Vietnamese friend once asked me, "Why does it seem so easy for Filipinos to get a job?" Survey says that almost 80% of Filipino immigrants find it rather easy to get a job in the States . Why? We owe this to the Motherland. Philippines is a country of very proud people. Education and faith are their defense if nothing else. Unlike in the U.S., education is not an option in the Philippines, which has a literacy rate of 93% . Big investors had been doing business with the P.I . and had been providing jobs to the Filipinos for over 20 years. But competition is very high. As Mr. Warren Uy of Timex Philippines said, "Job opportunities are abundant, but not to the extent that it will provide decent job to all the literate Filipinos. Determination, intelligence, self-confidence and patience are the key factors needed to acquire a job."
Coming to the United States, the Filipinos are equipped with educational background and strong communication skills thus looking for work is rather easy compared to other immigrants. "Yes, it wasn't so hard because I've got a BS degree and speak well.", says Mr. Andy Aganad. The 1990 census reveals that our family income is the highest among the minority group while being engaged in all types of profession. Years of education is the best guarantee of income in the U.S. And that is exactly what the Filipinos have. "For me, it was just as easy/hard as it was for any other American. Of course, my education helped me a lot. As far as my parents are concerned, I don't think that they had problems that were significantly different from anyone else." --Jerry Espinosa of CA. As far as raising a family, it has changed quite a bit as it changed generations. The first generation Filipinos in the U.S. were struggling to fit-in the American community as much as possible. Some have even gone to the extent of teaching only English to their children hoping to make their life easier and free from discriminatory incidents. "As a child growing up most of my life in America, I am the product of the struggles of my parents to assimilate at the sacrifice (or more appropriately, PRICE) of loss of language, custom, and overall Filipino culture. I had to go through my own "identity crisis" because I didn't know how to ask my parents about my culture, my background.
Actually, my experience happened after immigration. I remember asking my mom what my full name was (I asked her in Ilocano ) and she replied back in English. I was confused a little, but after that, my mom and dad only spoke to us in English, which contributed to my lack in expertise of the Ilocano language up to this point" -- Ms. Catherine Alcantara.
The children have more tendencies to grasp and search for their roots and to identify themselves with our culture (which is not unusual to Americans). "After going through a long period of trying to assimilate into the suburban white culture I learned in college the importance of my Pilipino-hood. Then I went through a period of anger and intense root searching. Now I am in a period of synthesis. Accepting my boyhood experiences in suburbia and celebrating my being Pilipino." -- Dante Salvatierra .... being a second generation Filipino American kinda makes me want to go see my roots...... I am also mixed so I think that contributes to my yearning to learn more about the Filipino side! --Arniel Brown One thing about our culture is that it is so rich, so diverse, and so beautiful. Even though we want to blend-in so much, Filipinos are more proud than desperate. We are very aware of the strengths of our faith and values. The qualities that make us unique, the bond that keep our families together. Filipino customs and family values are still strictly imposed in most of the Filipino homes in the U.S . "As a family, we still hold the Filipino family values such as showing respect to elders (either by mano(kissing the hands of elders), or by kiss/hug, and saying "po" to Lolo/Lola ), regular visit to parents (in some occasions staying overnight or kids permanently living with parents with no age limit until the kids are married and can support themselves, and kids sharing their partial income to parents." -- Ramon Cabrera The Filipino kids are pressured to get good grades and college is not an option for most, rather, it is expected. The Catholic upbringing is still upheld and practiced. In fact Catholic Charismatic movements and novenas are still very popular among the Filipinos in the U.S. As an old saying goes, "If all else will fail, God won't." Going to church, specially in California would seem like stepping into another dimension, just like going back home for an hour. Filipinos populate most of the Catholic Churches. Has the American dream been truly realized? Why do Filipinos want to leave the country for the U.S.? Is there something that we are missing or do not know about the Philippines? Most Filipino who has left the country think that it is better to live here then in the Philippines . Their reasons? Philippines = Corruption, Lack of Employment, Hunger, Depression. These are the four major reasons they gave me. I must admit we have all those in 'Pinas' . But don't we hear of corruption in the LAPD? How about layoffs in the Silicon Valley? Can someone tell me the unemployment rate in the U.S.? And don't we see hunger and depression all the time in the subways of New York City? Tell me one bad thing about the Philippines that we can't find in the U.S. or in any other country? I'm not saying that we have the best of the world. Philippines does have its faults, but who doesn't? I've seen the good and the bad side of the Philippines. I don't have a wealthy family but I've seen it enough to know that there are more things about this nation to love than to be bitter about. Some of the reasons are as follows: 7,107 islands which comprise our nation are the forgotten islands of the World. 5,000 of them are inhibited, pristine and not frequented by tourists. 87 languages and dialects, one voice. Despite all the political issues and economic instability, it is still a very relaxed and fairly safe country to live in. Food is good, education is cheap at high standards, accommodation is easy and the comfort of family is always available. Economy-wise, inflation has been tamed -- to a manageable 9 percent or so from the 18 percent or more that Pres. Ramos inherited. Foreign investment has begun returning. Last year alone almost $3 billion worth flowed in, bringing total commitments to about $15 billion. There won't be a shortage of investment opportunities in the next three years.
The Philippines 2000 vision includes development of two international airports, improvement of telecommunications and transport, and construction of roads, highways, railways, power plants and an integrated steel mill. Estimated total cost: about $13 billion. In Cavite province just south of Manila, for example, the Gateway Business Park, which Filipinos call "Asia's Silicon Valley," plans to reclaim from Malaysia the regional lead the Philippines once had in semiconductor assembly and testing. Seven U.S. semiconductor companies, led by Intel Corp., and five Japanese semiconductor and electronics firms have committed investments of more than $500 million. Their target: up to $5 billion worth of component exports by the decade's end. The projects should generate some 150,000 well-paying jobs. And how are Filipinos coping with all these changes? All these would indicate a sustainable recovery in any country. But the Philippines has even more to offer, especially in comparison with its neighbors. No other East Asian nation can boast its three notable advantages: English-speaking workers: the Philippines has been the world's second-largest English-speaking nation. English is here to stay as the international language. An abundance of inexpensive skilled labor: The world, and particularly Asia, faces a disturbing shortage of skilled labor, especially skilled English-speaking labor. In the Asia-Pacific region, the Philippines is the only country with a surplus of this scarce commodity. Says Bernardo Villegas of the Center for Research and Communication, a Manila think-tank: "I'm told that more than 2,000 Filipino professionals run Indonesia's conglomerates. In Bangkok these days, my Thai friends talk endlessly about losing their English-speaking accountants, computer experts and secretaries to one another every six months. The Thais' solution is the Indonesians' solution -- they're importing Filipino professionals." Southeast Asia's most stable political succession: In view of recent Philippine history, the claim may seem odd -- but it's true. Says Villegas: "No one knows what will happen to Indonesia after Suharto. No one really knows how Singapore will fare after Lee Kuan Yew. Most of these societies are overly dependent upon personalities. Even Thailand's so-called stability is so dependent on the King. These comparisons make the Philippines look good." Young Filipino professionals are already returning to work in Phils. Technological zones and similar places. This is the new Philippines. A vast return exodus of Filipino talent to the Philippines has begun. No wonder why I can never talk my cousins into coming to the U.S. Their reasons? It's quite obvious. Why leave the laid back, good life, and nice weather of Cebu if they can get the same satisfaction of having the job they want and enjoy without packing and leaving the comfort of home and love of family? Why should they do their own laundry or dishes when an average family can afford help in the house? Why should they come to a country of blizzards, tornadoes, earthquakes, and erratic weather when they have warm comfortable weather all throughout the year? Why settle with cliché friends when you can have loyal friends and family who are never too busy for a company? You might ask me as so many have already, what am I doing here if life is so good back home?? Being a Filipino, what would you do if your father sacrificed over ten years of his life to offer you the chance of the American Dream? I came here because my love ones are here. My family is the most important thing in my life. But - that doesn't stop me from being patriotic of my homeland. And I'll always look forward to going back home. Note: This paper reflects the personal opinion of the writer and the respondees of the survey and not necessarily that of the general population of the Filipinos.
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Part II-Anne Paulin