Friday, December 23, 2011
Discrimination Against Filipinos in the US
The prejudice against Filipino immigrants in the US and specially in California in the 1920s to 1940s is well documented (1,2). One of the well-known books, America is in the Heart, documenting the life of the Filipino immigrants at that time period, was written by Carlos Bulosan. Mr Bulosan is my number one literary heroes of that time.
Like many Filipinos during that time, Bulosan left for America in July 1930 at age 17, in the hope of finding salvation from the economic depression of his home. He never again saw his Philippine homeland. No sooner had he arrived in Seattle, was he immediately met with the hostility of racism, forcing him to work in low paying jobs.
He worked as a farm worker, harvesting grapes, asparagus and other kinds of hard labor work in the fields of California. He also worked as a dishwasher with his brother, Lorenzo in the famous Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo. He was active in labor politics along the Pacific coast of the United States and edited the 1952 Yearbook for ILWU Local 37, a predominantly Filipino American cannery union based in Seattle.
Mr Bulosan died in 1956. To honor his memory, a Bulusan Memorial Exhibit located in Seattle's International District and in the Eastern Hotel features his literary works and manuscripts. One of his famous books, America is in the Heart based on his autobiography is now made into a Philippine movie.
One of the famous quotes from that book is timeless, as follows: "We in America understand the many imperfections of democracy and the malignant disease corroding its very heart. We must be united in the effort to make an America in which our people can find happiness. It is a great wrong that anyone in America, whether he be brown or white, should be illiterate or hungry or miserable."
Discrimination against Filipinos was very blatant during the time of the Manongs and Carlos Bulosan. It appeared that by the 1960s, racial discrimination had disappeared from the minds of the American people. But in 1965, my wife and three children experienced their first discrimination experience in Gladstone, Missouri.
Gladstone is a northern suburb of Kansas City, Missouri with about 99.5% Caucasian population at that time.
The discrimination was not blatant but very subtle. After relocating in Missouri for my first job after my Ph.D. graduation from the University of Illinois, my family and I joined a Country Swim Club just a couple of blocks and a walking distance from our rented residence.
My wife, Macrine, and the kids would swim at the country club twice or three times a week. The first day, they were there, she overheard the conversation from two middle-aged ladies. She heard a comment of the first lady to her friend, "Look we are getting invaded by blacks already". Macrine looked around, but there were no black families around; she and the kids were the only colored (brown) people relaxing and swimming in the pool area. Macrine was bothered by what she heard but did not get upset. She continued watching the kids swimming in the pool. Suffice to say, I had never experienced personally an incident of prejudice or a discriminatory remark in my more than 51 years residing and working here in the US (California, Illinois, Missouri and Maryland).
After our second year in the neighborhood, we became more active socially and became well-known to the Gladstone community. I was elected by the members of the club as treasurer for two years. I was handling the payroll of three employees and collecting the membership fees of the 300 members. I was delighted that the club members and Board of Directors trusted me with their finances. I therefore conclude that the cure for discrimination is education and ignorance is the mother of prejudice.
If you are a Filipino-American or a member of a minority and are reading this article, have you ever experienced prejudice or discrimination in your life here in the US? Discrimination may be racial, religious, sexual, financial or your educational status.
Here's a trailer of an award winning documentary on the Filipino farm workers of Delano, California.
(1) Carlos Bulosan, America Is in the Heart, 1946 (2) The Delano Manongs:Forgotten Heroes of the United Farm Workers-a Video by mediafactory.tv/2008/01