by Rose Churma
This book maintains that after half a century of seeking new jobs and lives outside of their homeland, Filipino migrants are agents of change.
They have challenged fundamental social institutions. They have altered the business and economic landscapes of their host countries, as well as their own cultural perceptions of what it is to be Filipino. The author describes this history of transformations from the perspective of the migrants themselves.
In telling the stories of selected migrants, what emerges is not the narrative of the disenfranchised workers or marginalized groups, or the bagong bayani—the martyr who sacrificed and forfeited life among kababayans and family to work in a strange land.
Instead, the migrants are shown as having enormous impact on businesses they choose to patronize as consumers. They are shown as activists that can influence the conditions of their minority ethnic group. They are described as philanthropists that have improved the lives of the poor in their homeland. They are historians who ensure that their contributions are documented and acknowledged by their adopted countries as well as the homeland.
It is a fact that Filipino immigrants have influenced the course of Philippine economy due to the massive remittances they send back home, and the public discourse had been from the point of view of the Philippines or the host countries, but never from the perspective of the “successful” immigrant. As the author notes in the introduction—this book “offers new categories to understand the migrant experience beyond that of disenfranchised laborer.”
The author notes that her primary source are “migrant archives,” which are data collected, published, and disseminated by migrants themselves. These archives document their voices, achievements and aspirations, as well as critiques of the homeland and its social institutions. This book uses case studies from the migrant archives to show how migrants enacted change both in their host countries and the homeland.
One of the case studies used in this book was Operation Manong (OM)—a program that was established 50 years ago in Hawai’i.
OM was developed to address the educational and cultural problems of immigrant children by a group of college students and Filipino faculty at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa (UHM) as well as groups from the Filipino community in Hawai’i.
Its goal is to help the recently arrived immigrant children by establishing an outreach program where volunteers from the UHM (consisting mostly of Fil-Am undergraduate students called manong) were trained, and then paired with immigrant children (called ading).
The manongs tutored the children in academic subjects but were also encouraged to organize extracurricular and social activities. The undergraduate’s volunteer work was counted as academic credit which required collaboration, support, and approval from the faculty at UHM.
In 2000 the program was moved out of the UHM’s education department and incorporated into the university’s bureaucracy and changed its name to Office of Multicultural Services (OMS), erasing its Operation Manong branding and becoming a permanent section of the UHM’s student services (with assured funding), and expanding its role in providing similar services to all of Hawai’i’s marginalized students regardless of ethnicity or racial background.
The author notes that the timing of OM’s founding in the wake of the civil rights movement, the rise of ethnic studies program and others (such as the protests against Martial Law in the Philippines), provided a pool of civic-minded volunteers.
The movement also produced second- and third-generation Filipinos who discovered their “Filipinoness” and became one of the main cohorts of volunteers. In fact, the book asserts that the primary “winners” of the OM program were the tutors or the manongs and manangs themselves. Many of them eventually became successful and influential individuals in Hawai’i.
When OM/OMS celebrates its 50th anniversary on November 19, Saturday at the FilCom Center—this five-decade history coincides with the Filipino community’s own storyline of moving on up in the social hierarchy of Hawai’i.
The book gives a positive voice to the Filipino immigrant narrative—a different take from the portrayal of the Filipino immigrant as a martyr, vulnerable to exploitation and subject to bouts of loneliness from living away from family and other loved ones.
Since this book was originally written as an academic paper, the writing style is dense and difficult to navigate—thus intimidating to choose as a bedtime read and not easily accessible to the non-academician, which is unfortunate.
The author uses the term “Filipina/o/x Americans”—apparently the preferred terminology of scholars, with the “x” added recently to be gender-inclusive. This nod to political correctness can be very irritating since she opted to use the label “Filipino American” without the a/o/x, preferred by the organizations she was writing about. It can be confusing to see the “a/o/x” in some portions of the text, then disappears in other paragraphs.
The author, Mina Roces, was born in Manila and migrated to Sydney as a teenager in the late 1970s—a 1.5-generation immigrant. She finished her undergraduate degree at the University of Sydney and her postgraduate degrees from the University of Michigan. She is currently a professor of history at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. Her other books are on 20th-century Filipino women’s history.
ROSE CRUZ CHURMA established Kalamansi Books & Things three decades ago. It has evolved from a mail-order bookstore into an on-line advocacy with the intent of helping global Pinoys discover their heritage by promoting books of value from the Philippines and those written by Filipinos in the Diaspora. We can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
by Rose Churma