My ‘birth’ in the Philippines and a note from Israel
My birthday is this week. I am 118.
I won’t take a day off for Columbus, but I’ll take a day off for me. And my father.
If age is just a number, I had long reached an age where I just stopped counting. But now I’m into counting each and every year. With honor.
It hit me while preparing for a Filipino American National Historical Society online seminar this weekend commemorating Filipino American History Month.
My father would have been 118 this year. And only now have I realized that his life has been mine. He was born in the Philippines under the American flag in 1905.
That’s seven years after the US bought the Philippines from Spain after the Spanish-American War in 1898. The Treaty of Paris sealed the deal 125 years ago. The US paid $20 million mostly for the Catholic artifacts. Note, that’s less than the New York Jets paid to get quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
Through the treaty, my father became more than a Filipino. He was a colonized American national, and able to come to America without need for papers. He was legally undocumented. And that’s where things sour.
My father was not lucky enough to immediately start a family. Not in 1928, 1938, 1948, but in the 1950s.
What happened? Was he a lout in loud unappealing clothes? Or was he just caught in Filipino-American history, a racist one where Filipinos were plugged up, stopped up, damned up.
Or maybe just damned.
Men like my father were brought in to replace excluded Chinese and Japanese labor, which made the male-to-female ratio among Filipinos around 14-1. You couldn’t find a Filipino wife.
Anti-miscegenation laws were also in play. Filipinos were shot or lynched just for looking a white woman.
My father was only able to start a family well after World War II when Filipino women were allowed to come more easily to America. The Baby Boom that took place overall in society was especially booming among Filipinos.
But not quite for my family.
My father’s health and age prevented him from enlisting in the segregated military. That made him ineligible for the first bit of affirmative action for Filipinos—the GI Bill that enabled the creation of a real Asian-American Filipino middle class.
And if you didn’t serve, you relived the ’20s, the ’30s, the ’40s.
Like my father.
My mother was not a traditional Filipino “war bride,” but survived the Japanese Occupation of Manila. She hid under sewing machines at a seamstress shop to avoid ending up as a comfort woman.
She was saved by a Spanish colonial who took her under her wing and brought her to San Francisco.
When she met my father in early 1950s, it was well after the war. But then the delayed new Filipino-American generation has begun.
As the second generation, I was born in the US. But I was always treated like the first, my father’s generation. Filipino-American history has always controlled my life. Even when I break glass ceilings, I am wounded by the chards.
During Filipino American History Month, it only makes sense to honor my father. My story begins with his on the day he was born under the American flag in the Philippines. An American national.
So today is my birthday. I am 118. And counting, gladly.
Note from an Asian-American Israeli
There are an estimated 35,000 Filipinos in Israel, a small part of the two to three million Filipinos in the Middle East.
But my friend is unique. A Filipino American born in the US, he married the Israeli sweetheart of his youth and moved to Israel nearly a decade ago.
He is essentially an Asian-American Filipino Israeli.
When Hamas attacked Israel over the weekend, I contacted my friend to find out if he and his family were fine.
“We are fine, away from the southern conflict areas,” he wrote me. “A major intelligence and operational failure by the IDF. The watchmen were sleeping. Israel’s 9/11.”
I was relieved to hear he was safe.
“There should have been a trigger with troops rushing in if there was a breach of the high-tech security fence. A quick reaction force. Failure of intel component,” he continued.
But he knew on Sunday something bigger and deadlier was brewing.
“The West Bank is ringed with troops. The northern border is on high alert. And Nasrullah learned his lesson in 2006,” he said. “A big ground war is coming. Two months tops on the fighting. But it is going to be bloody.”
I asked him if he was leaving Israel for safety.
He said he’d canceled a planned trip to the US. And was sure he would volunteer for security duties once things were organized.
But he sounded clear and determined as an Asian-American Filipino Israeli.
“We aren’t leaving.”
(Emil Guillermo is a journalist and commentator. He writes a column for the Inquirer’s North American Bureau. Listen to his secret podcast at www.amok.com)