Why Every Day Is Veterans Day If You’re Filipino Americans

by Emil Guillermo

Veterans Day has passed, but in Hawaii, you could be commemorating all year and not honor everyone who deserves recognition.

And that’s just people you know who have served in the last 20 years, or who are still alive.

So I want to make sure you didn’t forget the First and Second U.S. Army Regiment of World War II, manned mostly by Filipino Americans from the mainland.

Too often they get conflated with the veterans in the Philippines who answered President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s call to join the U.S. Armed Forces in the Far East (the USAFFE) with the promise of citizenship.

It was later in 1946 that the U.S. went back on its word with the Rescission Act. These are the men whom most people think of when they hear the term “Filipino Vets of WWII.”

We honor them, too, of course. But I want to make sure we note the difference between the USAFFE in the Philippines and the Filipinos on the mainland who were part of the regular U.S. Army.

Most of the 1st and 2nd regiment members had come from the Philippines to the U.S. in the 1920s and 1930s as “colonized” American nationals.

When they arrived, they experienced discrimination so complete that by law, they couldn’t own land, vote, or marry.

And when they found work, they were accused of stealing jobs during the Depression.

The Filipino men were mostly bachelors, just like the Chinese men who came before them. But the Filipinos were slightly different. They mixed. Especially with white women. That brought on the ire and jealousy of white men, which extended the existing Anti-Asian hate toward the Chinese immigrants to Filipinos.

In the ‘20s and ‘30s, to be anti-Asian was to be anti-Filipino. Some were killed and even lynched.  It was so virulent that the laws were invoked to change Filipinos status from “nationals” to “foreign aliens.”

Filipinos were asked to self-deport.WWII was seen as an opportunity to show allegiance to America. Many Filipino men felt that if they could prove their loyalty to America, the politics would change. So, laws were passed to allow foreign nationals from the Philippines to join the Army, and that was what made the First and Second Regiments different from the other ethnic regiments.

Yes, the 442nd, the so-called “Go for Broke” Japanese Americans had something to prove, just like the Filipinos. But the Japanese Americans were American. The Filipinos in the U.S. were not.

Prof. Dan Gonzales, one of the first academics to emerge from the San Francisco State strike in 1968 to form the College of Ethnic Studies and dedicated Asian American and Filipino American Studies classes, joined me in conversation about these issues on my Emil Guillermo YouTube channel, Shows 177 and 178.

Gonzales said that while some Filipinos wanted to prove their value, others were also angered by the discrimination they experienced in the U.S. For those men, the war provided a way to return to the Philippines with a real sense of service and honor.

Still, for most of the 1st and 2nd regiments, the military created the foundation of a real Filipino American community in the U.S.Filipino American soldiers met Filipino women in Cebu, the Visayan region of the Philippines. It’s the reason there are so many mixed Filipino marriages among Visayans with the mostly Ilocano Filipinos (who represented many Filipinos who came in the 1920s and 1930s).

And they took them back home to America.

The women came to be known as “War Brides,” which was both good and bad. Was it love at first sight? Or love at first soldier? For some, it was a lasting union, but there was often a stigma attached to some women who were looking to escape the Philippines.

At the same time, there also was the undeniable presence of the “comfort women,” Filipino women sold into sexual slavery to serve the needs of the Japanese Army who occupied the Philippines.

And then there were the out-marriages of Filipino women who met African American and Latinx soldiers.

The breaking of norms for Filipina women meant there was plenty of stigmas to go around that resulted in the kind of “shame” that makes people unwilling to talk or share their history publicly.

And yet, the positive outcome is that many of those marriages would last, as the Filipino women came to America with their veteran husbands to start real Filipino American families.

Prof. Gonzales’ mother and father are an example of such a union, as was his wife’s father and mother.

The “War Brides” provided the base of the WWII baby boom for Filipinos.

Add to that the G.I. Bill, and later laws that allowed for the Filipinos in the Army to gain citizenship, and you can see how the mere fact that one was a WWII vet made a big difference in Filipinos’ lives in America.

The racism of the 1920s and 1930s wasn’t exactly fully mitigated, but many Filipinos now had a chance to buy homes and get jobs in the domestic military or through military connections.

Filipinos were lucky. Recently, it came to light that many Blacks fighting in WWII did not have adequate access to the G.I. Bill because in places like the south local officials had control. And many of those in charge is alleged to have been discriminatory to Blacks.

Legislation was introduced to make sure the families of those who served are made whole. That’s how important the G.I. Bill was toward gaining a sense of equity in America. If you risk your life to serve, you should be taken care of.

It’s more than just serving one’s country in war. For Filipinos, the military helped them establish a real foothold in American life.

Of course, my father was 4F. Asthma kept him from joining the war. That fact alone was a significant setback for my family.  Without the military, my family just didn’t get the boost needed to find economic stability in America. That’s why most Filipinos can’t honor Veteran’s Day enough.

EMIL GUILLERMO is a journalist and commentator. Check out his conversation with Prof. Gonzales on Show 177 (11/10/21) on Facebook and Part 2 on Show 178. Or watch on my YouTube channel. Or at www.amok.com.

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