A house divided is no longer a home – it has become a rental unit. This phrase can be equated to the Filipino American community’s lack of cohesiveness and internal unity. In her article, Revilla brings up the issue of differing opinions based largely on regional differences. She uses the example of Pilipino versus Filipino in academic and literary circles to illustrate internal divides – this difference in spelling is inconsequential and is “only an illustration of the diversity within our community” (106). What must be brought to light is the deeper issue of factionalism and internal division based on superficial characteristics. The Filipino American community is lacking a strong sense of ethnic identity and cultural power because of the underlying rivalries between internal groups. Whether the issue is economic class, birthplace, spoken language, physical appearance, or the spelling of an ethnic identifier, the behavior to generalize and draw boundaries – factionalism – is what truly prevents Filipino Americans from unifying as a strong and powerful collective group.
The roots of this divisional behavior can be found in the immigration of Filipinos to the United States. Upon arrival, they experienced life as second-class citizens in comparison to those of Anglo-Saxon descent. In order to effectively survive, two main defense mechanisms were used: assimilation and collective criticism. Adopting more Western values and mannerisms allowed Filipinos to fit into the framework of America in both economic and cultural terms. They desired to speak without an accent, look more Westernized, or drop any association with Filipino culture. As these behaviors took root, some Filipinos started being critical of others who had not gone through a similar process of assimilation. Group lines were drawn between Americanized Filipinos and recent immigrants. Those outside of their respective groups were criticized and ridiculed by the opposing faction. Unfortunately, this had an undesirable effect since their “lack of social organization
Over time, more and more divisions continued to be drawn among Filipino Americans; arguably, over trivial matters. Older Filipino immigrants looked down on younger Filipino Americans, claiming that they lacked ethnic roots. Personally, I have heard older Filipinos mention that the youth had lost respect for their past, describing them as walang hiya, or without shame. Whenever a group is highly critical of another set of people, a common reaction is to push back with equal and opposite criticism. There are now Filipino American youth who look at their parents with a sense of embarrassment or shame; inter-generational ties have degraded. Professor Roderick Daus-Magbual shared with me his experience of not understanding the custom of offering food to visitors and the awkwardness he felt whenever it happened. I remember being highly critical of my own mother when she would speak with an enunciated accent whenever White or Americanized people were around. Sadly, I have even see some Filipino American friends make fun of their parents’ accents while at home.
Moving past cultural differences, the Filipino American community also developed a critical class system based on economic achievements. While some Filipinos were able to achieve upward mobility, they also started to discriminate against new immigrants who entered the workforce at lower socioeconomic levels. Professional careers such as nurses and doctors started to hold more acclaim over service industry jobs – hotel workers or nannies. I have heard Filipinos speak about others in dismissive terms such as “caregiver lang sya” – or “she’s just a caregiver.” Values were placed on various jobs as per their economic viability and that determined value was then attached to the individuals themselves. While this behavior may be found across multiple ethnic groups, the transition from the Philippines to the United States amplified this trait since the whole purpose of immigration was fueled by economic desires. This competitiveness and criticism within the ethnic group was unproductive since it tracked success in an American context without the development of a viable economic community that would benefit Filipinos. The result can be seen in the lower number of Filipino Americans as executives and business owners in comparison to other Asian American groups.
Whether it is culturally or economically driven, this antagonistic factionalism in Filipino Americans points to a deeper issue brought about by the abrupt change in social norms. Scholars of Filipino psychology state that Kapwa, the belief that we are all “one and the same” (100), is the underlying principle of healthy Filipino culture. Because of our transition into Western behavior, we have become more individualistic in our pursuits. This elevation of personal preference has led to a hypercritical view of any differing opinion. Instead of finding common ground, the default behavior is to impose group homogeneity through criticism and competition. What is lacking is the core understanding that even with material and outward differences, there is a “unity of ‘self’ and ‘others”, [a] shared identity” (100) that humanizes our diversity – Kapwa. Because of the pressure to assimilate upon immigration, Filipino Americans have adopted the same discriminating mentality that was shown to them as new arrivals and have turned this critical eye onto their own people, with minimal, if any, positive result.
This disposition to factionalism has to change if Filipino Americans are to become a truly integrated community. There may be overarching cultural unifiers, such as the label of being Filipino, but the undercurrent of internal divides breaks down true progression and growth. I have seen a house full of Filipino Americans root for Manny Pacquaio, and then seconds later boisterously laugh and ridicule his Filipino accent. There is too much in-fighting and friction over smaller details that the bigger picture movement is forgotten. In order to get past this, we must come to terms with our varied makeup as a cultural group and foster a healthier sense of unity by embracing our differences. As Revilla states, “the diversity within the community is what should be recognized and encouraged” (106). We need an integration of our multiple parts so that the collective group can form a clearer picture of our ethnic identity as a whole. It must be understood that the puzzle of Filipino American culture is made up of a wide variety of different pieces. Once we find out how they all fit together, we can then decide what truly is the essence of being Filipino American. This process requires action and effective organization in order to shed light on the issues, foster group discussion, and bring people together on a real and personal level.
To bring about this change and manifest cultural integration, an organized front has to be established in order to unite people of all sectors – rich, poor, young, old, Tagalog, Visayan, etc. – in order to have honest discussions of what we can do as a collective. Bringing people together in physical spaces so that they can see, interact, and build bridges with one another will lead to the breakdown of preconceived notions. We must understand that the issue of factionalism is based on ideological differences and not reality. We need events and gatherings that foster a breakdown of discrimination, stereotypes, and biases so that we can revive the principle of communal understanding and acceptance. The goal is to build bridges between different groups and sectors through the creation of real, meaningful, and positive personal relationships. This work can be done by creating community spaces, holding barbecues and block parties, and inviting everyone to actually get together and interact on a one-on-one basis.
While community work is at the forefront of this movement, the individual must also take an active role in the breakdown of personal biases. Since the Filipino American community is a collective, its strength relies on the excellence and quality of each member. To reach higher points of growth, critical introspection must follow group exposure in order to assess whatever reaction may have come up. To be aware of the issue is the first step in this process of deconstruction, redevelopment, and further evolution. The personal responsibility of each individual is to improve one’s self as much as possible while consciously working towards an effective and healthy re-integration with the larger Filipino American community.
The whole process of finding unity lies in the confrontation, resolution, and management of contradictions. And so, the best parts of both Filipino and American cultures must be assessed and integrated in order to find the healthiest direction for the overall community. The breakdown of factionalism will only come through an active effort to build a genuine and socially responsible community. This can be done most effectively through personal relationships and mass interactions that span across multiple and opposing sectors of life. Through that process, we can build a clearer and healthier manifestation of the Filipino American community.
Revilla, Linda A. “Filipino American Identity,” Filipino Americans: Transformation and Identity. Ed. Maria P. P. Root. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, 1997. 95-111. Print.
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