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The Spirit of June 12

Jon MelegritoBy Jon Melegrito

For years, we’ve always prided ourselves in being “Number Two,” by virtue of our numbers as the second largest Asian group in America.  The Chinese, of course, have always been Number One.

Officially, that’s how it stood, because the U.S. Census said so. We’ve always maintained, however, that not all Filipinos were counted. We claim that at least half a million  who are “out of status” or hiding in the shadows  did not fill out the census forms or answered the knock on the door. I can’t imagine why (he says tongue-in-cheek), but their numbers would have been enough to catapult us to the top spot. Darn!

Still, Filipinos continue to have the highest birth rate among all ethnic groups  next only to Mexicans. My own daughter confirmed this recently when she disclosed that she’ll be expecting their second child.

And now comes the Census 2010 figures and we learn that the South Asians (Indians & Pakistanis) have now surpassed Filipinos as the Number Two group.  WTF.

But do not dismay. The census has some positive things to say about us. Apparently Maryland has one of the largest proportional increases of any minority in the state, with Filipinos soaring by more than 65 percent  from 34,799 in 2000 to 44,000 in 2010. Part of that growth is the influx of large numbers of teachers from the Philippines. Last year alone, nearly 2,000 Filipinos were recruited by Baltimore and Prince George’s County Public Schools. Joined by their families, the numbers naturally add up.

While Prince George’s County continues to have a high concentration of Filipinos in the region, the 10,067 figure has since been overtaken by Montgomery County’s 12,159. But the real dynamic growth appears to be in Northern Virginia’s Fairfax County, which boasts of 13,835 Filipinos in 2000  an 80 percent increase in 10 years. All of the latest census figures aren’t in yet, but we expect significant growth in Arlington, Alexandria, Springfield and Woodbridge  where Filipinos in Prince William County doubled in a decade. Along with more than 76,000 Asians and Hispanics, Filipinos in this county have dramatically transformed the area’s mostly white population, with minorities now making up the majority of residents.

There was a time when Filipinos in the Washington DC metro area numbered less than a thousand. That was in the 1950s. They came to the area primarily to pursue higher education. Others came because they were US servicemen and women stationed with their families in government-subsidized housing units located in military bases such as Bolling AFB and Andrews AFB. Several Navy enlisted men worked as cooks and valets in the White House.  President Bill Clinton’s own valet was a Filipino who also served two other presidents.

By 1990, the Filipino population in the tri-state region ballooned from 10,000 in the 70s to more than 56,000.

But figures are one thing. Giving flesh to them is another.

So, for the month of June let’s begin anew to strut our stuff.  Translate our numbers into political muscle so we can flex it to show our collective strength.  Or one-two punch, ala Pacquiao.  Let everyone know that we’re here, and here to stay.

Yes, I must admit, I’m a little jealous about our Indian and Pakistani sisters and brothers. You see them everywhere, notably in TV sitcoms with their quaint British accent and mesmerizing Bollywood style.  From buffett spreads to corporate boards, their prominence is palpable, tasting good, looking good, feeling good.  And they all look successful and prosperous.

I’d like to see more Filipino faces and voices on TV screens actually performing lead roles, not just talked about or ridiculed, as in Desperate Housewives.  Who says our Cebuano or Ilocano accent will only limit us to lesser roles, like drivers or gardeners? Why not The Bachelor or The Bachelorette? By the way, the Ilongo accent would be perfect for these romantic characters.  We sound happy even if we’re actually sad. We are reeking with niceness even if we’re about to kill someone. So, Hollywood producers take note. They don’t call Filipinos the best lovers in the world for nothing.

We want to see positive images constantly, not only occasionally when Pacquiao knocks out his latest opponent, or when Gen. Tony Taguba puts the Pentagon brass on the spot, or when our own Kris Valderrama kicks butt when  electoral challengers in Prince George’s County try to put her down.

So, let’s start with the month of June.  And every month thereafter. And we don’t  have to try to “be like them” (whoever it is we’re tempted to imitate).  We can just be ourselves  with perhaps a little more “attitude” that says “Yes, I want to rock this boat,” and “Yes, I’m not afraid to bite the hand that feeds me,” and “Yes, I have as much stake as everybody else in the American Dream,” and “Yes, I am an American, too.”

And still celebrate with pride and gusto Philippine Independence Day, Filipino American History Month, Rizal Day, National Heroes Day, and Kampupot Week (that’s a beautiful Philippine flower, as if you didn’t know.) The way Irish Americans honor St. Patrick.

Let’s do this for our Philippine National Hero, Dr. Jose Rizal, on his 150th birthday. And remember him, not as a martyr, but the great international lover that he was. He may have annoyed the Spanish men but even at five foot one he most definitely charmed their women. And they were never the same again.

Now, that’s keeping the spirit of June 12 alive.

E-mail your comments to jonmele@aol.com


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