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PERRYSCOPE: Bridging the generation gap

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By Perry Diaz

Recently, I read an article by my good friend Peter Jamero who was featured in the Positively Filipino magazine under his byline. Peter’s column was titled, Racism: Reflections of a bridge generation Filipino-American.”  I was touched by Peter’s article.  Being born in 1930 during the Great Depression speaks volumes of how his family managed to survive the discrimination faced by Filipinos in an era when white Americans treated Filipinos harshly and inhumanely.  It was not uncommon to see signs in hotels saying, “Filipinos and dogs not allowed.”  But Peter and his family thrived.  Peter is now one of the most respected and successful Filipino-Americans in the country.  I ran into him occasionally, which I cherished dearly.  Peter is well known for his book, “Growing Up Brown: Memoirs of a Filipino-American” (2006) where he shares his insights and hardships growing up brown.

I came across the term “Bridge Generation” in 2003 when I worked closely with another Filipino-American, my very good friend, the late Judy Cantorna Tafoya.  Judy and I used to get together over coffee or lunch and talked about the Filipino-American community.  It was our common ground and we bonded well.  Judy was a second-generation Filipino-American.  She didn’t speak the Filipino language but we communicated well in English.  We both served under the late Dr. Cecie Fontanoza who was appointed by then-Governor George Deukmejian as Director of the California Department of Rehabilitation. Judy was appointed Assistant Director of Special Projects and I was appointed Assistant Director for External Affairs.

Judy told me about the “Bridge Generation,” her generation of American-born Filipinos that is spread thinly throughout the United States, mostly in California. They were children of the “Manong Generation,” who came to the U.S. in the early 1900s.

I wrote the column, “Bridging the generation gap,” 16 years ago, on January 30, 2004, which is reprinted here for your perusal:

Last week I attended the installation of officers of the Sacramento/Delta Chapter of the Filipino American National Historical Society (FANHS), one of 22 chapters across the United States.  In addition to the swearing-in of the chapter’s new leaders, two Filipino-Americans were presented with recognition awards.

Alfred Raquel, Sr., born in 1910, who came to the US in 1928, was part of the First Wave of Filipino immigrants. Maestro Eugene Castillo, in his 30’s, was born to parents who came to the US in the early 1960s and were part of the Third Wave of Filipino immigrants.  They were honored for different reasons.  Mr. Raquel, honored for his community leadership, represents the dwindling number of a rare breed of Filipinos — the pioneer manongs and manangs — who came to the US from 1901 through 1945.  The US Department of Commerce documented their numbers from the 1910 census through the 1940 census at 200,393 men and 35,967 women.

Maestro Castillo, honored as the only Filipino-American conductor of a metropolitan symphony orchestra in the US, represents a fast-growing number of Filipino-Americans who are gaining visibility in the American socio-economic-political landscape.  Some people refer to them as the Fourth Wave — the US-born Filipino-Americans since 1946.

It is interesting to note that at the FANHS installation event, each wave of Filipino immigrants was represented.  There were members of the Second Wave, the Filipino immigrants who came after World War II.  The Second Wave consisted mostly of families of Filipinos who were veterans of the US armed forces.  The Second Wave also included descendants of American soldiers who fought in the Spanish-American War of 1898.  A large number of American soldiers, including regiments of Buffalo soldiers — African-American soldiers — sent to the Philippines to fight in the Spanish-American War decided to stay after the war and married Filipino women.  After World War II, the US government allowed the descendants of American veterans of the Spanish-American War to come to the US and become American citizens.  Since almost all of them were raised in the Philippines, their native language was Tagalog or any of the regional dialects.  It was not uncommon in the 50s and 60s to meet a Caucasian or African-American in the US who spoke fluent Tagalog.

Another group of Filipinos in the Second Wave was the First Wave Filipinos who enlisted in the US Army when the US declared war on Japan.  They were part of the much-decorated First and Second Filipino Infantry Regiments who landed in Leyte with General MacArthur.  Since most of them were bachelors, a lot of them went back to the US after the war with their Filipina “war brides.”

The Third Wave started with the passage of the Immigration Act of 1965, which increased the immigration quota of Filipinos from 50 per year to 20,000 per year.  Most of the Filipino immigrants were professionals needed to fill the shortage of teachers, nurses, doctors, engineers, and other professional fields. Among those who arrived in the Third Wave was my mother Maxima C. Diaz, an elementary school principal in Quezon City who taught at the San Francisco Unified School District.

The “annual quota of 50” was imposed in 1934 when the US Congress passed the Tydings-McDuffie Act.  The Act provided for the independence of the Philippines on July 4, 1946.  However, it stripped Filipinos of their status as US nationals and severely restricted Filipino immigration by establishing an annual immigration quota of 50.  Henceforth, Filipinos in the US were no longer considered “nationals.”  They were labeled as “aliens.”

With the influx of Filipino immigrants curtailed and with a ratio of seven Filipino men for every Filipino woman, no more than 10% of the Filipino men got married.  Those who were lucky were married to the few Filipino women available in the US.  A large number of Filipino men married white women and other races including blacks, Indians, and Mexicans due to the rarity of Filipino women.  A small number of Filipino men spent their savings and went back to the Philippines to find a bride.  The Filipino men were known to be romantic and good lovers.  It was not uncommon for five or more Filipino men to pool their savings and buy the flashiest car in town.  Then they took turns in driving the car with their dates.   The anti-miscegenation laws in most states — including California — prevented the Filipinos from marrying white women.  Undeterred, the Filipino men went to states with no anti-miscegenation laws and marry their non-Filipino brides.  Mr. Raquel was one of them.

Out of these institutionalized racist laws, a new generation of Filipinos emerged.  About 20,000 of the First Wave Filipinos were able to marry and raise families.  Their children — a good number of which were of mixed parentage — assimilated easily into the American mainstream.  However, to survive in mainstream America, virtually all of them were not taught the language of their Filipino parents.  They grew up without the idiosyncrasies of their Filipino heritage.  A lot of them succeeded in life.  And for a while they lost their links to their Filipino heritage.  Some called them the “Invisible Generation” and others called them the “Lost Generation.”

When Fred and Dorothy Cordova in Seattle, Washington founded FANHS in 1982, the Invisible or Lost Generation began to surface.  One of the society’s priorities is to research and document the “Filipino presence as early as 1587 and of Filipinos’ permanent settlement as early as 1763 in the Continental U.S.”  FANHS was successful in achieving its goals.

One of the prominent leaders of FANHS is Peter Jamero.  Born in Oakdale, California, he received his bachelor’s degree at the San Jose State University, his master’s degree at UCLA, and one-year graduate work at Stanford University.  Peter and his family moved to Seattle, Washington and consequently were appointed by Governor Don Evans as State Director of Vocational Rehabilitation in 1972.  He served until 1980, the first Filipino-American appointed as a Director of a state department.  He was also the first Filipino-American appointed as a department head in the City and County of San Francisco from 1989-91.  Now retired, Mr. Jamero is back to his roots in California.  He told me that in 1994, at the FANHS national convention in San Francisco, the society redefined the Invisible or Lost Generation as the “Bridge Generation” — “the sons and daughters born to at least one Filipino parent prior to1945.”

The list of successful members of the Bridge Generation is long.  Amongst them is a United States Senator from a western state.  Now in their 60s and 70s, they served as the living bridge between the pioneer manongs and manangs — who came and established a new community in the United States — and a new class of Americans that we know today as “Filipino-Americans.”

Postscript: Filipino-Americans born to members of the Bridge Generation include present-day California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, current Mayor Christopher Cabaldon of West Sacramento, former Acting California Secretary of State Mona Pasquil, and Congressman Bobby Scott of Virginia whose maternal grandfather belongs to the First Wave.

Fourth Wave immigrants who made good in the U.S. include former Mayor Ruth Asmundson of Davis, California; former Mayors Jose Esteves and Henry Manayan of Milpitas, California; and many more from around the U.S.

Notable children of Fourth Wave Filipino-Americans include Attorney General Sean Reyes of Utah; U.S. Solicitor General Noel Francisco; Congressman TJ Cox of California; California Assemblyman Rob Bonta; former Mayor Mark Pulido of Cerritos, California; and many more from all over the United States.

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