The essay contest was organized by the San Francisco Philippine Consulate, EDSA/People Power@30 Committee, Philippine American Writers & Artists, ABS-CBN International/TFC, Inquirer.net, and the Philippine American Press Club, with support from Goldilocks USA, Philippine News, Positively Filipino, Fil-Am Book Club, FACINE, Pusod Foundation and Philippine Folklife Museum Foundation.
First Place: Josh Severn
To My Grandparents,
How did you feel when Marcos’ government fell in 1986? What went through your mind when you heard the news? Were you happy that a regime that took so much from the people was gone? As Ilocanos, were you upset that a man who began with big promises for the people was unfairly slandered by opposition forces and unlawfully deposed? Were Ferdinand and Imelda your John and Jackie Kennedy? Were the people right in their revolution? What did your families say when they sent letters, or did they mostly ask for money? I wish I had asked before you went to God’s side. I knew of you, and spent time with you, but never had the chance to really know you. I was so young, and knew nothing of death. I felt you would be around for a long time.
I wish I could have asked you about your life in the Philippines. As a young child, I never learned about our Filipino culture and our Ilocano language. Now that you are both gone, I’ll never be able to recapture your unique stories. As an adult, I can now read about the conditions Filipinos faced in early twentieth century America. Having read America Is in the Heart, I can imagine a little of what you, Lolo,went through on your journey to Hawaii and California. Did you, like so many Pinoys, come to the United States in hopes of a better life? Did you see so little opportunity in your home that you felt a long voyage across the sea would open the doors for your success? What made you decide to purchase one hundred acres of Central Coast farmland with your brothers? How were you able to purchase the land, at a time when Filipinos were still looked at with suspicion and prejudice? So many questions, and yet so few answers.
How did you feel about your children? Were they raised to be wholly American, with so little expression or knowledge of their Filipino heritage? I know among many immigrant parents
it was better to cultivate the American culture, in order to assimilate more completely, and draw less attention from the government officials who tried to expel “illegal” workers and “lawfully” exclude Filipinos from free access to all being an American national meant. Were you proud of your children? Did you feel, as so many parents do, that there was more you could have done to make them even more successful?
Ours is not a physical conflict against an individual regime or tyrant, but a cultural struggle against anonymity in history and invisibility in society. – Josh Severn
How did you feel about me? A thirdgeneration Filipino American with so little knowledge or cultural ties with our family’s Filipino culture. A young person who must rely on books, secondhand stories and friends’ families to learn anything about our Philippines? Who knew so little that, prior to this assignment, didn’t even know what the 1986 People Power Revolution referred to? I knew who Ferdinand Marcos was, but only as a dictator who styled himself a political playboy. I knew of Imelda Marcos’ shoes.
How can I recapture that narrative which, through my upbringing and that of my parents, was so quickly lost within two generations? While I feel so blessed to have unrestricted access to a wealth of virtual resources I can use to study our culture, they are not you. They are not your individual stories. How can we young, third and fourth generation Filipino Americans with, at times, so little connection with our Filipino heritage, recover a lost history that’s so often ignored in our American and world history courses? We must ask questions and take action.
Would you, our manongs and manangs, be proud of where we have come? We have a TV show that depicts a Filipino American family sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner without over the top stereotypes. We fought to rename a high school after two of our most prominent, but largely forgotten, labor union warriors in Larry Itliong and Philip Vera Cruz. We produced a documentary that introduces so many of our own to the fight in Delano, and its role in the great labor battles of the twentieth century. We’ve done much but, like those who came in support of their personal values and rights as citizens on the Epifanio de los Santos Avenue, there’s still much work to be done. Neither the Filipino people nor we are truly free of the status quo.
Ours is not a physical conflict against an individual regime or tyrant, but a cultural struggle against anonymity in history and invisibility in society. Our conflicts are not waged in revolutionary language with great public displays, but with a quiet determination in the halls of government and behind our cameras. In speaking with you and your children, and telling or
retelling the story of our people, we honor our culture and those who fight for their beliefs. We are the offspring of Filipinos, but we are also Americans. Our charge may not be to overthrow a government, but like the Revolutionaries we must change minds and hearts of others who do not know about us. We must save our cultures from disappearing into the shadows of history, lest we ourselves forget. We owe our lives to the sacrifices of men and women like you, Lolo and Lola.
Without you, I would not be here, able to enjoy the benefits of this great country. I hope our young people are up to the challenge of honoring the lives of our grandparents and great grandparents, and honoring the spirit of those who fought for a better life for themselves and their families on EDSA in 1986. Though we are in different arenas, we both fight for our right to relevancy and visibility in our national stories.
To my grandparents, I hope I made you proud. I wish we had had more time to get to know each other, and share our stories with family and food. I look forward to showing you more about my life when I see you again.
The grandson of Ilocano immigrants, Josh has studied his Filipino heritage with great enthusiasm in the last few years. He earned a master of arts degree in Modern American and Pacific Regional history (June, 2015) from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. His professional interests include US ethnic relations and popular culture. He currently teaches California history at Allan Hancock College in Santa Maria, California. When not writing, Josh enjoys foreign language learning, cycling and mixed martial arts.
Second Place: Jon Luigi Abella Caña
Although I grew up in the Philippines, it was only when I moved to the United States that I learned to appreciate the 1986 People Power Revolution. Allow me to explain myself.
I was raised in the metropolitan sprawl of Cebu City, in a tiny dead-end street near the Capitol building. Growing up, I attended an international school, where speaking the local language – Cebuano -- was forbidden. Any education about Filipino history and culture was reduced to one week out of the school year -- Linggo ng Wika. I vaguely remember learning about Jose Rizal, the pros and cons of colonization, and even a traditional dance for a school performance. What I don’t recall learning about, however, is a historical revolution that put the world’s eyes on the Philippines, inspiring millions of others across the world to topple down their own repressive governments.
My family and I -- with the exclusion of my eldest brother -- migrated to the United States in August of 2006. We joined the Filipino diaspora, 10 million+ strong. As a 1.5 generation immigrant struggling with identity, I clung onto the most tangible facet of it at the time: my Filipino heritage. Because such was not instructed in classrooms, I began researching about Filipino and Filipino American history, subsequently gaining a stronger sense of my place within that legacy. I never had myself quite figured out, but my deep roots allowed me to face the turbulent winds of adolescence. This rootednes helped me transition between the East & West Coast, between communities where I often was the only Filipino.
The Bantayog ng mga Bayani museum took us back to a time often forgotten today, when freedom was not a right for all as much as it was a privilege for a few. - Jon Luigi Abella Caña
My search for community was resolved upon the start of my college experience. While choosing colleges, I visited the UC Berkeley campus and noted the presence of a Filipino student organization -- a place I knew could call a home away from home. I wasn’t wrong. Throughout my involvement with Cal’s Filipino community, I’ve been able to grapple with my identity alongside a supportive network of individuals striving to do the same. I was in awe at the spirit of students reaching beyond their academic commitments to discuss topics like Filipino beauty standards and US military presence in the Philippines, simultaneously pushing for campus diversity and each other’s development as community leaders.
I took the exploration of my Filipino identity beyond campus borders; in fact, beyond the nation’s borders. During the summer of 2015, I was privileged to participate in Kaya Collaborative’s Summer Fellowship Program. For two months, I lived and worked in Manila, immersing myself in the nation’s rich history, culture and camaraderie. In a span of two months, I developed a relationship with the Philippines that I never had during my 13-year upbringing there. I met with government officials, indigenous community leaders and corporate officers, all of whom gave me a better understanding of a country I left, but never forgot. One instance over that summer shook me to realize a dark time in Philippine history, and the strength in community it took to overcome that hardship.
We visited the Bantayog ng Mga Bayani Memorial Museum in Quezon City, dedicated to commemorating those who lost their lives in the fight against Martial Law -- in the fight
for Filipino freedom. The museum took us back to a time often forgotten today, when freedom was not a right for all as much as it was a privilege for a few. In seeing clips of the EDSA protests, to the engraved names of the People Power Revolution martyrs -- including Benigno Aquino -- I was crippled with emotion at the hardship endured by so many, of which I knew so little about. How could I enjoy my freedom without remembering the strife it took to have it?
In reflecting on the struggles for Philippine freedom, I realized that the value central to the People Power Revolution and movements throughout Philippine history was one I practice in my own daily life: unity. It is unity that allowed the Filipino people to topple down a repressive dictatorship during the 1986 People Power Revolution. It is unity that allows Overseas Filipino Workers across the globe to come together in spite of separation from their families. It is unity that allows Filipino students to stand together at their campuses, pushing for diversity and representation.
Historical events such as the People Power Revolution inevitably become more and more distant in the minds of Filipinos with each passing day. We wake up to face not the past, but the present -- society’s current events. As for myself, a 1.5 generation, queer, Filipino American immigrant, at the threshold of entering the work force, martial law and the Marcos regime are not an imminent concern, thanks to those that fought during the People Power Revolution. With this freedom comes the ability to self-determine my future and reach for my dreams. As I step beyond the comfort zone of UC Berkeley’s Filipino community,
it is the spirit of unity that will continue to serve as a means of support and strength in my pursuit of such goals.
Within the campus Filipino community, we practice a cliché: “When one falls, we all fall, but when one rises, we all rise.” As a Filipino American, the legacy of the 1986 People Power Revolution lives on till this day through the unity embodied by Filipino students, OFWs and communities alike, across the world. It is unity that supports us in our individual pursuits, knowing that there are people there to catch us when we fall, and cheer us on as we rise.
Jon is a graduating senior pursuing Media Studies at University of California, Berkeley. He was born and raised in Cebu, Philippines, until he was 13, and resided in New Jersey & Sacramento before moving to Berkeley for college. An aspiring reporter, he has worked for ABS-CBN International and is currently interning at KTVU Channel 2. Jon is an active member of UC Berkeley's Filipino community, serving leadership positions in Pilipino American Alliance as Chief of Staff and Vice Executive Co-Chair. In the future, he hopes to continue pursuing work in broadcast journalism, writing, and serving and engaging with the Filipino community.