Filipino American History Month And My Birthday

by Emil Guillermo

October is my birthday. I am 118. No lie.

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 webinar commemorating Filipino American History Month.

My father would have been 118 this year. And only now have I realized that his life has been my life.

He was born in the Philippines under the American flag in 1905.

That was seven years after the U.S. bought the country from Spain after the Spanish-American War in 1898. The Treaty of Paris sealed the deal 125 years ago. The U.S. 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 papers.

He was legally undocumented.

And that’s where things sour. My father was not lucky enough to immediately start a family. He skipped Hawaii and went straight to the U.S. in 1928. So, he was unlucky in many ways when he arrived in 1928, ‘38, ‘48, and nearly 1958.

40 years? What happened? Was he a lot 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 dammed.

Men like my father were brought in to replace excluded Chinese and Japanese laborers, which made the male-to-female ratio among Filipinos around 14-1.

Finding a Filipino wife was harder than finding a free women’s restroom at a stadium event. Anti-miscegenation laws were also in play. You couldn’t marry anyone you loved. Filipinos were shot or lynched just for looking at 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 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, which enabled the creation of a real Asian American Filipino middle class.

And if you didn’t serve, you relived the ‘20s, the ‘30s, and the ‘40s.

Like my father. In his time he recycled the past.

My mother was not a traditional Filipina “war bride,” but survived the Japanese occupation of Manila. She hid under sewing machines at a seamstress shop to avoid being forced to become a Filipina 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 the early 1950s, it was well after the war. But then the delayed new Filipino American generation had begun.

As the second generation, I was born in the U.S. 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 shards.

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 October is not just Filipino American History Month, October is my birthday month.

I am 118. And counting, gladly.

A note from an Asian American Israeli
There are an estimated 35,000 Filipinos in Israel, a small part of the 2-3 million Filipinos in the Middle East.

But my friend is unique. A Filipino American born in the U.S., 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 Israel was attacked by Hamas, I contacted him to make sure he and his family were fine.

“We are fine, away from the southern conflict areas,” he wrote to 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 by the next Sunday something bigger and more deadly was brewing.

“The West Bank is ringed with troops. The northern border is on high alert. And Nazrullah 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 for safety.

He said he’d canceled a planned trip to the U.S. 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.”

Said with a fearless defiance… full of pride, and a willingness to endure the pain in the fight for the right to exist.

But it means a geo-political change in the world, for everyone, maybe forever.

NOTE: I will talk about this column and other matters on “Emil Amok’s Takeout,” my AAPI micro-talk show. Live @2p Pacific. Livestream on Facebook; my YouTube channel; and Twitter. Catch the recordings on

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 is a journalist, columnist, and media commentator. He wrote columns and opinions as an editorial board member for both the Advertiser and the Star-Bulletin. In Washington, DC he was the first Asian American to host NPR’s “All Things Considered,” in 1989.

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