The New Measure of Filipino Empowerment: ‘Exceptions to the Rule of Success, Should Be the Standard’

Filipino empowerment in Hawaii has been a goal, point of discussion for decades since the early days of the sakadas (marginal awareness because sakadas viewed themselves as transient) to Filipinos’ entry into labor unions as stevedores and hotel industry Local 5 members (nascent stage of Filipino empowerment). Arguably the peak of Filipino empowerment awareness came in the 1990s, early 2000s with the rise of Filipinos’ penetration into multi-sectors of industry and professions.

Unfortunately today, there is a clear drop among millennials and Gen Z in their focus on or of even having a need for Filipino empowerment wherein this latest generation places more emphasis on individual empowerment rather than community empowerment.

Community, strength in numbers, first measure of Filipino empowerment
Central to Filipino empowerment is this sense of “community.” For those who live or have lived outside of Hawaii and California they perhaps have a better understanding of this. The absence of a vibrant Filipino community, thus absence of Filipino empowerment, is palpable on the mainland. Because at the very basic level of empowerment there needs to be strength in numbers and unity. And not just having a community with a shared culture, but having actual events-meetings to gather and celebrate our uniqueness and place in society as a subculture within the larger society.

In most parts of US mainland, this stark dearth of community among Filipinos makes Hawaii transplants realize just how having a sense of “belonging” is potently empowering and something many Hawaii Filipinos take for granted.In sheer numbers alone, one aspect of Filipino empowerment – a truly significant one –Filipinos have already achieved a high level of empowerment as Hawaii’s largest ethnic community in the state. With immigration from the Philippines to Hawaii posting the highest number, this area of empowerment will only fortify.

Political empowerment, second measure of Filipino empowerment
Based on Filipinos large population, we are actually slightly underperforming politically (voting turnout not as high, based on voter turnout stats in neighborhoods with high concentration of Filipinos). We still have potential to harness even greater pollical strength, which is another significant area measuring Filipino empowerment.

Already examples of Filipinos political strength in representation at the State Senate, House and City Councils are plentiful with the high point being Ben Cayetano’s election as the first governor in the nation; and arguably a missing piece in the political power chess board being the elusive election of a Filipino to represent Hawaii in Congress (which this 2022 election is arguably one of if not the best chances for victory).

Why is the political arena so important for empowerment? Because politics is the most practical area and most powerful tool from which all areas of lifestyles and opportunities can be engineered and parlayed into what’s deemed “progress.”

We’re everywhere, plethora of role models, advocacy organizations
Besides our political representatives, there is now ample Filipino role models in practically every sector. The examples could be seen in medicine, academia, business, labor, and so on.

Filipino advocacy organizations from the FilCom Center to our very own Hawaii Filipino Chronicle, among many others including scholarship foundations provide the structural support for our community’s advancement.In both role models and organizational support – there’s strong evidence of Filipino empowerment.

True empowerment, gaged by the average Filipino
But arguably the ultimate measure of Filipino empowerment has to do with how fare is the average member in that community is doing. It is in this area that Filipinos as a group has room for improvement.An example of this point being made here is to look at other ethnic groups. For example in many parts of the mainland, the nation’s Jewish community is a minority (in numbers), but they make up for it and have political strength, ample role models and organizational influence because the average member of the Jewish community exceeds expectations and excels socioeconomically.

In Hawaii, perhaps our Chinese community would be the closest example of this. Both the Jewish community on the mainland and Hawaii’s Chinese community (smaller compared to Filipinos and Japanese) arguably have very high level of empowerment and could make the case of having fully “arrived” as an ethnic group, and certainly this is true in their power centers like New York City (for Jews) and San Francisco (for Chinese).Until the average Filipino (and not multitudes of exceptions to the rule) can achieve high levels in the areas of education, economic wealth, intellectual success (as writers, artists, professors),  entrepreneurship, corporate representation, etc. Filipino empowerment specifically in Hawaii is still promising and a potential, but not fully achieved.

Comparatively, the average Filipino in California is one-up on Hawaii’s Filipinos in this area of empowerment. Arguably the average Filipino in California is doing better than the average Filipino in Hawaii. But Hawaii’s Filipino community in terms of empowerment as a group has the highest ceiling, and could rise to the level as the Chinese of San Francisco and Jews in New York.

Hawaii’s Filipinos have come a long way with regard to empowerment. But a new model of heightened empowerment should be established more lucidly as what the new model or potential could look like. And that is not just focusing on our many successful exceptions to the rule, but achieving actual progress for the average Filipino.

This is why Filipino empowerment is still relevant and something that should be talked about.

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