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John MelegritoBy John Melegrito

“So, what do we gain by exercising our right to vote?”

That was the question posed recently to participants at the regional conference in Virginia Beach of the National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA). The objective: mobilize Filipino Americans to actively participate in this year’s U.S. presidential elections.

To whet everyone’s appetite, Dr. Araceli Suzara, a social scientist and professor at the Old Dominin University, cited some statistics: About two-thirds of Filipinos in the U.S. are foreign born, with a high naturalization rate of 73 percent. But their voter participation rate is extremely low. Among the reasons: Filipinos are more into ensuring their economic stability than attaining political empowerment; partisan politics turn them off; they don’t have a strong history of voter engagement back home.

Naomi Tacuyan, the AAPI voter outreach director of the Democratic National Committee, also presented a snapshot of Filipino American voters, based on latest census figures: 1.2 million Filipinos are eligible to vote, but in key states, such as Nevada, California and Virginia, Filipino registered voters make up only 17 percent of all Filipino eligible voters.

During a lively exchange of ideas and insights, participants agreed to conduct aggressive voter registration and get-out-the-vote drives. Most importantly, parents should be good role models for their children.

At the end of the day, we all came to consensus that we need to exercise our right to vote because we have a unique role in America.

The thought reminded me of J.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” and a movie review written by Filipino columnist Conrado de Quiros. He likens Filipinos, not to the elves and dwarves in the Middle Kingdom who are always bursting in song, but to the Hobbits who had the distinct honor of being asked to do an heroic task simply because they are, yes, unheroic.

In the story, a ring that endows its wearer absolute power is being sought by the Dark Lord, the bad guy. The good guys happen to have the ring and they figured the best solution is to get rid of it. But this can be done only by hurling it into the Ring of Fire.

In the story, only the Hobbits are trusted to carry out the task. Their unique qualification? Their “utter-ordinariness.” As de Quiros puts it, “the Hobbits have no ambition and drive, being perfectly content to sit all day, argue and quarrel over the silliest things, and drink ale at the end of the day. They’re the perfect candidates for the job. Their very mediocrity would be a shield to temptation. Their very ordinariness would be proof against power.”

Not unlike Filipinos, de Quiros concludes, tongue-in-cheek. “Who knows, maybe we’ll be good for something yet.”

But wait. Frodo, the leader of the Hobbits, would wrestle with his conscience as “the seductive promise of unbridled power takes its toll on his mind. The capacity of power to lay low even the noblest of creatures is certainly something worth pondering.”

It’s been said of us that we seem to thrive in a culture of self-imposed disempowerment. Our drive for political power is not backed by an aggressive will.

And yet in our hearts we know we are “good for something.” We are not doomed to fail. Despite our notoriety for “ordinariness,” content to remain in the shadows, we know we’ll be called upon someday to do something heroic for America. Like the Hobbits, Filipinos will rise to the occasion.

And having achieved political power, it will profoundly change us, alter our mindsets, transform our behavior.

At the gathering last weekend, we resolved to carry out the serious task of civic engagement, no longer content to just sit around and watch other ethnic groups get ahead of us, no longer obsessed with “crab mentality,” but determined to translate our ordinary numbers into something truly extraordinary.

So there.

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