By Emil Guillermo

There’s something in the bureaucracy where people lose track, documents are forged.


I sat in the crowd at last week’s Fred T. Korematsu Day ceremonies (he’s the man who said no to the U.S. internment of Japanese Americans during WWII). There were two other unsung honorees that day, American Filipinos, who most people should know but usually don’t: Labor organizers Larry Itliong and Philip Vera Cruz. 

Itliong and Vera Cruz were the heart and soul of the farm worker movement when Filipinos dominated California’s Central Valley fields. But they were overshadowed in the 60s by Cesar Chavez, who took advantage of a wave of Mexican immigrant labor, and became the face of the farmworker movement.

Itliong and VeraCruz have been ignored. Chavez gets streets and schools named for him.

A generation later and Latinos seem poised to trump us again as our politicians consider comprehensive immigration reform.

One would think it shouldn’t be so hard to find common ground between us and Latinos. Thanks (or “no thanks”) to imperialism,the broad group of American Filipinos, both born here and immigrants, legal and illegal, usually have Hispanic last names, as well as the Catholic Church in our DNA. 

For these purposes, I like to call us “Aspanics,” Asian Hispanics by way of those wayward explorers. 

But we definitely screw up the political puzzle in the U.S. especially in this new immigration debate where those of Mexican descent dominate the discussion.

And while there are a lot of them in the 11 million estimated undocumented immigrants, there are a lot of Asian Americans too. It’s estimated there’s an undocumented community of around 270,000 Filipinos, and another 200,000 Asian Indian.

Half a million and we’ll likely not even be seen as significant in the debate.

Instead, we’ll all be lumped together, as if you can apply a single standard to immigration reform.

You want to talk about immigration? Why is anything linking any reform to beefing up the Border Patrol and border security with more money and resources?

Does that even make sense if you’re talking about Asian immigration. Latino advocates say it doesn’t even make sense for them.

I know some Asian immigrants do come in through Mexico, but this is the problem about immigrant “lumping” that I see is a big problem in the ongoing debate.

I’d say for Filipinos and other Asians, the biggest problems are overstays and tourism. There’s something in the bureaucracy where people lose track, documents are forged.

How is Border Security relevant to our group? Or how about the “learning English” idea?  We run all the call centers, remember? 

Indeed, from some of the ideas being kicked around, everyone knows that the magic phrase that unifies us all is “pathway to citizenship.” But this is hardly a red-carpet or yellow-brick road. What if the pathway takes decades?

 And where would one wait?

If you have to go back to your ancestral home, there is no line where you put your life on hold.

And what if you get to stay here? 

Then congratulations, you’ve voluntarily turned yourself in and have become an official “documented undocumented person.”  You had jobs and paid taxes before (not all are paid under the table and skip taxes). Now will you be allowed to collect on the public benefits you contributed to?

Or will you now have have the official brand that allows for people to legally discriminate against you?

At least the bureaucracy that failed to keep tabs on your student or tourist visa, now has you in their sights.

Getting the Dream Act to finally pass is one thing. This week in his immigration speech in Las Vegas, President Obama mentioned how one Hispanic student took advantage of his deferred action program.

 But why discriminate against the older immigrant who works here, pays taxes but doesn’t have papers?

He has to start over in mid-life back in the Philippines?

Here’s hoping that Aspanics and other Asians don’t get lost in whatever compromise plan, if any, gets adopted.

But just thinking about what happened to Filipinos when Chavez took over the fields, gives me pause.

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Twitter @emilamok



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