Victory for the Equity Bill will only be achieved the American way!
Recently, I was asked to speak to the Filipinotown Rotary Club regarding the creation of Equity Village. So I went through some old materials and found this 1997 article, which could be my first writing regarding Filipino involvement in American politics, and soon after I had my initial experience with ‘crab mentality.’ When I spoke at the Rotary Club I admitted that I thought I would write this article, convince everyone that the ‘crab mentality’ was very counterproductive, and that would be the end of ‘crab mentality.’ - Joel Bander 2012
On Flag Day, June 14, 1997, about 40 veterans wrapped themselves with an American flag and chained themselves to the MacArthur statue and surrounding fence in an act of civil disobedience. While the plan was to get arrested to gain media attention, LAPD would not arrest these noble defenders of freedom, thus Equity Village was born. These Veterans understood that only by appealing to American symbols and values would their 51-year fight be noticed. The American way provides the only chance to successfully conclude the fight for passage of the Filipino Veterans Equity Bill. I provide this column as my reflections and advise to the Filipino community so all can hopefully come together.
I was born and raised in America and honestly do not have a recollection of even hearing about the Philippines until the eighth grade. (I remember Magellan; the Spanish-American War (lot more focus on Cuba and therefore Roosevelt, as his summer home was about three miles from my hometown; MacArthur). Prior to practicing law, I had about 10 years of combined political experience in Washington, D.C. and political campaigns in five states so I’m quite familiar with the squabbles and infighting that politics breed. On entering the fray for the veterans, however, I was amazed at the infighting within, and among most Filipino organizations having common goals, as compared to my experience in the American arena. I am told all Filipinos know about the problem, and somehow believe it is unsolvable, as if this great cultural sport cannot be existed. However, Filipinos must find a way to break this jinx and work together if they are to succeed in the American arena. There are about 2.6 million Filipinos in America, yet Filipinos are not active in politics and have never succeeded in electing one from their community to a national political office. Statistics shows that Filipinos have the highest median income for a family of four, and the lowest unemployment rate. These positives are not being used effectively mainly because of internecine wrangling within the various community organizations.
The “crab mentality” is an amazing phenomenon. Essentially, as I understand it, those who wish to lead and are not successful in an organizational election either try to pull their adversaries down or storm out with their supporters and create a new, competing organization. The desire to lead is often different in American organizations, as my experience is that the group usually has to go without heavily contested elections. In Filipinos organization, election and control often are more important than the goal of the organization. Then there is the use of libel and rumor mongering, seemingly much more acceptable to Filipinos than my American experience. I am regularly told that spreading rumors is another acceptable cultural sport, with its masters often gaining the respect of others for their shear ability to be a superstar in this particularly dirty phenomenon,
Equally causing inefficiency and creating divisions are the problems involving Philippine politics and the upcoming presidential elections. Certain activists do not want to work with others because of their lies to this or that presidential candidate. Then there are the regional groups like the Visayans, Luzon, Batangas, Davao, etc. organizations, also affecting cooperation and unity. While I appreciate the desire to keep contact with your home politics and local culture, you must not overlook its negative effects on Filipino efficacy in the American arena. In the reality the names of all these organizations don’t matter. Americans don’t particularly care and view the community as Filipino, not by the myriad organizational titles. Everybody wanting an organization readily moves to set one up, as it working with the existing structure is far too painful. Moreover, personal animosities do not go away. Be mad at someone a month or two and get over it! I have heard of, and know, many fine individuals who will not talk to each other because of a pretty dispute years ago. Paradoxically, Filipinos act this way only against other Filipinos.
I believe that anti-American attitudes and strategies practiced in the American arena are the death knell to success. It negates some of the strongest attributes Filipinos have to be successful in American politics: the great historical ties between our two nations and the claim that should be emphasized, again and again, that Filipinos anywhere in the world are the greatest friend America has. In all my travels and readings, there is no other place in the world where America and Americans are held in such high esteem and friendship. Americans always appreciate this. But many younger activists act as if they are still trying to get the bases closes, Others protest in behalf of the veterans with nose rings, colored hair, and dressed in gang clothing. The greatest strength that Filipinos have, particularly the veterans, is their respect, demeanor, decorum and civility. These young radicals in their gangland fashion and style do a lot of damage and harm to the cause and image of these gentlemen-veterans. During the Proposition 187 campaign in California, Mexican –American flew the Mexican flag at demonstrations. These were considered major blunders, as Americans became scared that these immigrant groups would not assimilate. However, a great attribute for the Filipinos is how well they have assimilated into society in America. This is why there is no “Filipino town” like Chinatown, Little Tokyo or other ethnic communities. Filipinos love America and they easily fit in. This is a great strength of the community.
Another major problem is the lack of social consciousness and concern for issues among many Filipinos. They love socials, dancing, coronations of Kings and Queens, fiestas and parties. They are lukewarm to social causes and issues. They prefer to work within their families, clans and regional groupings. Again, this is a reflection of the distrust and animosities that simmer in the Filipinos community, especially among its leaders. Rather than praising accomplishments, they take satisfaction in seeing the ignominy and embarrassment of other leaders, if they don’t get the limelight or are not the source of the ideas, would rather see the project fail than give credit to somebody else. This creates a great fear of controversy to the point of inaction and timidity. What is wrong with accepting funds from the Philippines? So long as it is used for a cause and not to promote any politician, there shall be no problems either politically or legally.
The only way to win and succeed is by coordinated national action. Honesty and dedication to the cause are paramount. There are some leaders around of that caliber and integrity, but they need to rally the community around them, and the Filipino community has to learn to work the American Way if they expect to succeed in America. This must begin by nurturing local organizations and helping them grow and become strong advocate in their communities. Aside from the fight for equity and justice for Filipino veterans, there are still many issues out there that the community can rally around: the issues on Amerasian children, immigration, civil rights, discrimination, trade, political empowerment, etc., all need to be addressed. Some of them are have the support of entire Fil-Am community in America. In all these issues, the best advocates are the people themselves affected. In the campaign for the passage of the Equity Bill, the veterans themselves are the best lobbyists and spoke persons for their issues. The community, however, must rally around and support their cause.
Asian, including Filipinos, society is built around the family, Loyalty to, and concern for, the family is the strength. At the same time, it is weakness as, due to the focus on the family, they forget that there is a community out there in which they live, and people with whom they must interact. This takes skills and attitudes which require submitting to majority rule, respecting the opinion of others, and standing on the merit of your ideas, not on age or seniority. This means working for a common goal, helping each other, even if they are not of your family or clan. This is why America is great. Despite its own problems, America still takes time to others, to respect the cultures and ideas of others, and to support worthy cause. This is the American Way! This is what Filipinos in America must learn to adopt and practice if they wish to succeed and get the Equity Bill passed. I have made many friends in the Filipino community. I have learned to respect and like them. I hope this piece will help mend relationships and get the community working together. I would appreciate receiving any responses that the readers deems appropriate.
Joel Bander 1997