"Buti pa kayo nasa America na. Kami umaasa pa lang" (You're lucky you're already in America. We're still just hoping), said the woman we chatted with while waiting for our flight back to San Francisco at a European airport.
Like other OFWs scattered all over the world, she was aiming to get to the US via jobs in other countries. She knew there wasn’t much chance for her to get a US visa in Manila, where about 200,000 apply each year for the coveted pass into the land of milk and honey. It’s alternately admirable and heartbreaking, this grasping for the America of their dreams, a paradise of their imaginations, because we who are living here know that a thin line separates dream from nightmare, that America's milk and honey could often be laced with arsenic.
Yet, there's no denying that Filipinos in the US today are in a much better place than those who came earlier. There were the manongs who labored through intense heat, low wages and extreme racism that equated them with dogs. There were the war veterans who had to deny their children their language and their heritage so they would quickly become Americans and not go through what they went through. There were the activists who fought authorities, bureaucracy and social stigma to get Filipinos classified as a distinct ethnicity so that Philippine studies programs could be offered in US universities, so that the next generation of Filipino Americans could learn and appreciate what it means to be Filipino.
To these pioneers and fighters we owe our status and recognition as a significant part of the American tapestry. And though there's more work to be done, we can stand tall because we have been gifted the right to claim a part of this nation by the toil and the sacrifices of our predecessors.
This October as in all Octobers—officially declared by the US Congress as Filipino American History Month—we celebrate them and us for having endured in claiming a place in our adopted country.