I have an uncle who likes to play devil’s advocate whenever we debate the larger issues of the day. In the course of our discussions, I have tried to persuade him that I am far from being the left-wing, bleeding-heart liberal that I suspect he thinks I am. I have also persuaded myself that my uncle is just as far from being the right-wing, Fox Channel conservative he can come across as if one didn’t know any better. Knowing him, my uncle simply enjoys taking the opposite view for the sake of having a stimulating dialogue.
Recently, in our latest round of socio-economic, cultural, and political cogitations, my uncle made an interesting point about Filipino American writers. He submitted that Filipino writers living in the United States are putting too much energy and focus in their opinions over the challenges that Filipinos in the Philippines face and not enough into examining the challenges standing in the way of Filipinos in America.
I wasn’t sure whether to agree or disagree with my uncle when we talked about this matter, but I did see what he was getting at. My uncle was saying that everything going on in the Philippines, as important as all of it should be to Filipinos, was receiving an inordinate amount of attention from FilAm writers compared to the conditions and experiences that Filipinos have been sharing as residents in America. What he was trying to convey in so many words was that FilAm writers are too preoccupied with Filipinos who live half a world away and not occupied enough with Filipinos who live right here with them in the US.
Underlying my uncle’s opinion is a distinction between the inequitable and impoverished world that millions of Filipinos in the Philippines can unfortunately relate to all too well, and the parts of an idealized American society that bear the mark of decades of Filipino immigration. This second picture has been shaped and illuminated by the abstract promise of freedom and prosperity. Of these two representations of the Filipino condition, the first has been more visible and manifested. The second hasn’t been so categorical in terms of its promise, especially as of late.
No Filipino has to apologize for believing in the American Dream and achieving a respectable level of success in the United States as a one-time immigrant or as a Filipino born in America. Various FilAms have attained some degree of success and deservedly so. They worked hard, they were smart and disciplined, and most of all, they were willing to pay whatever price American society and the American economic system exacted from them.
I wish I could believe that Filipinos in the US have overcome all the thunderbolts of adversity that have struck them hard along the way. But in meandering through the elaborate passageways of the Filipino American experience, I cannot convince myself to start taking for granted that Filipinos have finally made it in America. Right now, their individual American success stories are both permanent and temporary. Permanent in that their accomplishments can never be taken away from them, but temporary in that their march to further success can be halted indefinitely in its tracks.
There are a lot of things that can still put a damper on Filipino American progress and development. But the most pernicious menace to the well-being of Filipino Americans is racism. The issue is a supercharged one for any vibrant minority, but for Filipino Americans—outside of academic, artistic, and activist circles—it has faded into something of a non-issue, a painful memory from the past not worth retrieving after all this time. FilAms should be deeply concerned about racism because it is still there, underneath the surface, imperceptibly compromising their future in this great but haunted country. Yet, do FilAm writers write enough about this? You be the judge.
Why, in my uncle’s view, do FilAm writers—he specifically names two who shall remain anonymous—craft so many op-eds on Filipinos back home and comparatively fewer on Filipinos in America who are no less beset by a myriad of troubles. Is it because FilAms have acquired the habit of holding themselves up as models of exemplary and thriving consumerist citizens and who are therefore fully accepted by the dominant white social structure? I’m sure my uncle would try to answer all these questions by eagerly playing the devil’s advocate.