By Allyson Pang, AsAmNews Intern
In collaboration with various Filipino officials, community leaders and artists, the White House Thursday celebrated 30 years since the first Filipino American History month.
“When Filipino American history is preserved and shared, the millions of Filipino Americans that helped to build this country can see themselves in the story of America,” Emcee and White House Liaison Jason Tengco read from President Biden’s statement.
Filipinos are the third largest Asian ethnic group in the U.S, according to White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders Executive Director Krystal Ka’ai.
With 4.2 million Filipinos in the U.S, panelists and community leaders discussed the importance of recognizing Filipino American contributions from when the first Filipinos arrived in 1587 in California to the present.
Member of the President’s Advisory Commission on AANHPI Teresita Batayola said that it’s not a matter of “mainstreaming” the community. It is having the acknowledgement and recognition of Filipinos’ contributions to the U.S in order to have a more united nation.
“From the farmworkers who fought to advance labor rights to the World War II veterans who defended our country’s freedom to the healthcare workers who served on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, the contributions of Filipino Americans can be felt in every sector and every aspect of American life,” Ka’ai said during the virtual celebration.
Experiences within families created motivation and a set of values for a majority of the panelists. For U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Maria Camille Calimlim Touton, it was about family, community and country.
Similarly, through her family, Deputy Director of Office of Management and Budget Nani Coloretti learned to value hard work and education, and understand the importance of empathy and looking after others.
Under Secretary of the Air Force and U.S. Department of Defense Gina Ortiz Jones said she was motivated by seeing her family work hard. She felt a need to give back to the country that provided for her and her family.
“On my day to day when I lead, I think about the fact that I’m honored to be the first woman of color to serve as an Under Secretary of any military department, the first out lesbian to serve as an Under Secretary of any military department–[and I] certainly wanna make sure I’m not the last,” Under Secretary Jones said during the panel discussion.
“We have to be the first, ensure we’re not the last by just showing up every day and doing our jobs,” Touton agreed.
Highlighting Filipino contributions and history
Sharing Filipino stories was another key point of discussion.
Member of the President’s Advisory Commission on AANHPI Luisa Blue encouraged curiosity in Filipino history and a drive to bring the history into classrooms. One example given was how Filipino workers have led various labor movements across history.
“We’re part of the U.S history, but yet we’re not,” Blue said.
According to Dr. Amy Agbayani, in Hawai’i, one out of four people you come across has some Filipino ancestry. Due to the large Filipino population in public schools, Dr. Agbayani said there is a plan to introduce Filipino curriculum for the first time.
“Our issues, Filipino issues, are actually issues that impact and can help the entire community,” Dr. Agbayani said.
In Hawai’i, Dr. Agbayani said Filipinos are major contributors to the economy, from working on the plantations in the past to being the majority of workers in the tourism industry in the present.
“When you have unfortunate instances like the rash of anti-AAPI hate, hopefully the telling of our stories [helps] people [to] see how critical…our contributions have been to this country,” Under Secretary Jones said.
The first panel’s speakers agreed that there is a responsibility to ensure inclusive opportunities for future generations. Sometimes, this meant asking the hard questions once you have a “seat at the table.”
“When FilAms have a seat at the table, everyone benefits,” California’s first Filipino American Attorney General Rob Banta said. “It’s not just about having a seat at the table, it’s about using our seat. The manongs and manangs–they didn’t sit idle and neither do we.”
Advice for future generations
Both panel discussions were positive that there are many ways for younger generations to become involved with public service. From participating in campaigns to finding fellowships, the speakers agreed on the range of doorways into becoming a participant.
Despite what path is chosen, Batayola emphasized always having culture at the heart of who you are, what drives you and makes you contribute.
“I say get to know yourself because public service demands that you know what your values are and that your values are oriented towards everybody,” Batayola said.
Dr. Agbayani encouraged younger generations to do their best in whatever career they choose or interests they pursue. “Do your best and that is public service,” she said.
“Our numbers are significant enough that we cannot be overlooked as one tiny bit of the population,” Coloretti said. “We are everywhere. And so the role Filipino Americans can play in this very diverse country is really to lead and to lead with values first.”
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