If we don’t know our history, we do not know our present. If we do not know our present, our future is uncertain. For Filipino youth in the US, our history is a hidden. For many of us, discovering the truth about our progressive people’s history is a challenge. It is a challenge that is founded on centuries of colonialism, imperialism, racism, sexism and systemic oppression. To have a grasp of our individual and collective identity is a first step to understanding our issues and doing something about it. Through Ugnayan, we take these steps into our past, stand firm in our present and march towards our future.
Forced Migration of Filipinos from Our Motherland
Filipinos migrate to the US and other countries because there are limited opportunities for livelihood. The vast majority of the 96 million Filipinos in the Philippines are kept in unsustainable conditions without living wages, high cost of living and political repression. Philippine society is plagued with corruption and upholds the interest of an elite few over the impoverished majority. The Philippines, as a neo-colony of the US has always been in a state of chronic economic crisis, without the capacity to absorb the expanding labor force or to provide appropriate wages and proper social services for its people. For many families who have the means to go abroad, leaving the Philippines is not a matter of choice. It is a matter of survival.
Because of this chronic economic crisis, millions of Filipinos are forced to migrate or to seek employment abroad. This export of labor was adopted as a matter of state policy during the period of the US-Marcos dictatorship in the early 1970s and reinforced in the 1990s, through the program known as Philippines 2000. Today, it is estimated that 4,000 Filipinos leave every day, and 11 million Filipinos are outside the Philippines, supporting the Philippine economy with $20.1 billion US dollars in 2012.
Filipinos in the US
Filipinos in the US are a dynamic, growing community. According to the 2010 Census, Filipinos are the second largest Asian American group with more than 3.4 million. The US State Department estimates that there are 4 million Filipinos living, working and thriving in the US. Outside of the Philippines, the US has the largest resident of number of Filipinos. With a strong immigrant community, Filipinos contribute both to US and Philippine society.
Upon arrival in the US, Filipinos have historically experienced systemic racism and discrimination. In the period of Filipino migration from 1906-1934, migrant workers in Hawaiian plantations, California farms and Alaska fishing docks were segregated from white facilities and blamed for taking US citizens’ jobs and women. An Anti-Miscegenation Law barred Filipinos from marrying white women. Perceived as a social problem, disease carriers and an economical threat, Filipino immigration was limited to 50 people per year through the Tydings-McDuffie Act of 1934.
The Nationality Act of 1940 allowed non-citizens who joined the military to seek citizenship. Close to 10,000 Filipinos applied. Though Filipino WWII veterans fought for the US against the Japanese on Philippine soil, the Rescission Act of 1946 denied Filipino veterans their rights to benefits. Of the 66 countries allied with the US during the war, only Filipinos were denied military benefits.
By 1965, the Immigration and Nationality Act changed the character of Filipino labor flowing to the US. “Relative-selective immigration” allowed Filipinos to immigrate as petitioned relatives of previous migrants who became US citizens. On the other hand, “occupational immigration” allowed the entry of mostly middle-level professionals—nurses, medical technologists, doctors, teachers, managers and engineers. Today, Filipinos suffer one of the longest waiting periods among immigrant groups, and despite the relationship between the Philippines and the US, there is a backlog of about 1.4 million petitions for family reunification.
Towards the 1990s and beyond, the pattern of Filipino migration to the US changed. Even as the US continues to accept independent immigrants, the number of migrant service workers has dramatically increased—especially the domestic workers. Many of these workers are undocumented. Over half of Filipinos who are given tourist visas stay in the US with the hope of finding jobs to support their families back home.
The US government profits by maintaining the undocumented status of migrant workers; they do not need to provide social benefits such as healthcare, workman’s compensation and disability to these workers. And of the immigration bills currently on the table, none has a single provision to protect these workers from abuse and a just path to citizenship.
Filipino/Filipino-American Youth in New York City
Young Filipinos serve as a huge potential for social change. Filipinos in New York City comprise the third largest minority among all Asian Americans with the highest labor participation (71%). According to the 2010 Census, Filipinos in New York City comprise the third largest minorities of among all Asian Americans, with 32% of Filipinos under the age of 25, and another 14% between the ages of 25-34. Filipino youth and young adults under the age of 34 comprise half of the total Filipino community in New York City; majority of whom remain unorganized.
With the deepening economic crisis, budget cuts to education, decreasing quality for meaningful employment, political attacks on im/migrant, women, people of color, LGBTQ communities, Filipino youth lack power. With the knowledge of the progressive history of the Filipino people, the tools and a community organization as a means to fully develop to realize our full potential, Filipino youth have the capacity to reshape our lives. The Filipino youth are resilient. Rather than being on the receiving end of policies and a victim of social conditions, there is hope in organizing the youth to collectively build power and rightfully wield it with our own hands.
Immigrant Filipino youth are those who were born in the Philippines and later came to the US. We are the newly arrived and those who came when we were younger. The issues of immigrant youth are similar and connected but there are particularities to our experiences.
Due to forced assimilation, immigrant youth are exposed to all types of perpetual discrimination and exploitation- wherein a “culture shock” ensues, a direct result of systemic racism. Most contend with loneliness and homesickness, others experience anxiety due to financial instability, immigration status, and family frustrations. Some Filipino youth turn to alcoholism, drug abuse, and violence to deal with these new problems.
Newly arrived immigrant youth that come to the US, were educated in the Philippines. However, our credits/degrees attained back home are not always recognized or transferable. As a result, many go back to school and must pay tuition again. Most school-aged youth are back-tracked into ESL classes (English as a Second Language) and are further stigmatized and readily discriminated. At a time where self-esteem and development are crucial, we are isolated and outcast by our peers and surroundings.
There is a dynamic cycle of low wage workers, inevitably working service-oriented jobs which include janitorial, warehouse workers, and food-service workers. As with all immigrant worker youth, they face discrimination in the workplace including long hours, low wages, and lack of benefits/insurance. More importantly, many face the burden of supporting their families. They are responsible for balancing the remittances for their families back home and their self-preservation here in the US. Compared to their worker youth counterparts in the Philippines, they have relatively higher wages which feeds the illusion of the ‘American Dream’. Because they earn dollars, they are able to acculturate and be a part of the ‘youth/pop culture’. But the reality of these menial jobs is to serve as cheap labor, resulting in a cycle of poverty and marginalization.
Due to numerous domestic worker mothers, there is a trend in our community of offspring immigrant youth becoming domestic workers themselves. Lack of quality jobs, inequity in qualifications, and persistent financial problems makes domestic work a trend due to its “easy money, easy work” appeal. The preservation of the family and family dynamics has also changed as many families have the mother as the breadwinner. Also, because of higher expectations by parents to make a model of their child, many youths are pressured into the position as the salvation for their families. Unfortunately, this family and societal pressure also becomes the basis for domestic violence, family dysfunction, backlash, and rebellion.
US-Born Second Generation Youth
The exploitation, racism, and discrimination in the workplace combined with the pain and anxiety of family separation suffered by Filipino immigrants in New York and New Jersey are neither documented nor made public for the Filipino community to take ownership of and draw lessons from. US-born Filipino youth are the offspring of Filipino immigrants and therefore, the inheritors of this hidden history.
Born and raised in the US by immigrant parents, 2nd-generation youth express a lack of knowledge about their parents’ struggles. Driven by the need to assimilate into US society and shield their children from racism, struggles of immigrants are veiled by a culture of silence that damages communication between immigrant parents and 2nd-generation youth. This “generation gap” is greatly exacerbated by the loss of the Filipino language- the result of a US-imposed education system in the Philippines- and the relentless drive of US individualism and commercialism- values that are foreign to Filipinos. These barriers, imposed upon Filipino families and experienced daily in the home, may result in US-born youth imagining themselves to be separate and different from immigrant Filipinos.
Outside the home, US-born youth are further divided from their roots. Youth educated in the US system, particularly New York and New Jersey where the community is newer than the West Coast, are generally not offered Philippine studies courses during their studies. Upon leaving high school or college we are entering the workforce or military ranks and contributing our labor to the US economy, yet we’re provided little or no tools to understand why we are in the US to begin with, what we as a people experienced as immigrants in the US during our 100 years here, or our Philippine history and culture that has shaped who we are as a people. This loss of heritage and identity makes us vulnerable to personal and systemic racism- be it at work, at school or socially. In fact, the majority of 2nd-generation youth in the US are stuck in service-oriented/ odd jobs. Even as full-status Americans, we continue to face systemic and personal racism that cheapens our labor, especially as women or GLBT.
The majority of us find ourselves unable to achieve the ‘American Dream’. We are branded lazy and ungrateful to our parents who worked so hard for us to have opportunities in the US; for not taking advantage of what our cousins and family members back in the Philippines do not have. What we often do not understand is that it is the system that has failed us.
In spite of obstacles, when 2nd-generation youth do manage to ‘succeed’ we do so only as ‘model minorities’- achieving a standard of success that is individualistic, alienating and dehumanizing. We’re prized for our assimilation into the American culture. Furthermore, we’re utilized as a buffer in our community to mask the real, poor condition of our Filipino community.
The damaged communication between immigrant parents and children and the divisions in our community among immigrant Filipinos and US-born Filipinos are the result of forced migration. However, through a deeper understanding of forced migration and the experiences of all Filipinos, both here and in the Philippines, we can better our communication and our community.
Young immigrant women and women of color in the US face many added challenges because of systemic gender oppression. Both in Philippine and US society, women continue to struggle within and against male-dominated political, economic, social and cultural systems. The wage gap, political marginalization, freedom and control over her body, beauty standards, prescribed gender roles, the objectification of women, and domestic violence are all part of a collective (and political) women’s experience. Experiences of young Filipinas at home, at work, in intimate relationships and in the broader society vary but the common factor is one that young women are generally molded by gender oppression. Through understanding how personal experiences of Filipino women and piecing together a collective her-stories, young women are building out leadership. Young women are taking ownership of both personal and social change.